At the U.S. Naval Academy the "Beat Army" signs never come down. They are always prominently displayed in the football coaches' offices, the locker rooms and elsewhere. They are scrawled on the practice-field fence. When the football players do calisthenics, they count cadence this way: "One, two, beat Army. One, two, beat Army." When they break a huddle, they clap in unison and yell, "Beat Army."
But, perhaps only to warm up for its annual game against the West Pointers, Navy does play other teams, often very good ones. Last Saturday in Annapolis the opponent was undefeated Syracuse the nation's leader in rushing defense and total defense, and the way the Midshipmen went at their work they must have been convinced the poor Orangemen were a division of infantrymen in disguise. Navy's margin of victory was 27-14, and it very well might have been larger.
During the week preceding the game there was the normal amount of anti-Army hoopla in the Yard, as the Academy grounds are called, but there were some unusual diversions, too. Retired Rear Admiral Tom Hamilton, a former Navy coach and All-America halfback, spoke at the pep rally and, on behalf of the class of 1927, presented the Brigade of Midshipmen with a shaggy Irish goat named King Puck, who smells even worse—hard as it is to believe—than the other current goat mascot, Bill XVI. Puck's mission is to help defeat Army, but the Class of 1927 said it was perfectly all right to use him against Syracuse, too.
On the practice field, meanwhile, Coach Bill Elias and his assistants were making more purposeful preparations for Syracuse. They were experimenting with not one, not two, but three flankers, all to one side. They assumed they could not run through Syracuse's defensive line, so they decided on a daring surprise attack using triple flankers, hoping to score early and force Syracuse, an unfancy, grind-it-out bunch, to turn fancy and play catch-up football. "I don't feel we can get down and knock heads with them," said Elias. "We'd like to challenge them to a passing duel if they promise not to run. Our team utilizes speed and execution. Although many opposing coaches think we're formation crazy, we feel we do execute well."
October 22, 1967
One man with whom Navy knew it would have to knock heads was Larry Csonka (pronounced Zonk-ah), Syracuse's crashing fullback who had become a crashing bore to Maryland the previous week, carrying the ball 43 times, four short of the NCAA record, for 181 yards. Earlier he had carried 23 times against West Virginia and 24 times against Baylor. Csonka, a 230-pound Hungarian from Stow, Ohio, not far from Akron, is "the most valuable player we ever had," according to Coach Ben Schwartzwalder.
"Csonka is a great fullback," said Elias. "I don't know if I have seen one as good in the last five years. He is good enough to play on any NFL team right now."
All week long Navy Defensive End Bill Dow, the team captain, kept harping at his teammates that they must not let Csonka fall forward to get his usual four yards. They must gang-tackle him and either keep him upright or knock him backward.
On Saturday afternoon in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, after the brigade paraded, Syracuse had all the best of the pregame goings-on. There was a platoon of comely cheerleaders on the Orange side of the field. Navy could only counter with its two stinky goats.
After the kickoff, however, Navy added its three-flanker attack to its two-goat display. Rob Taylor, Terry Murray and Jeri Balsly went out together on one side of the field like a warship convoy. Murray was the split end, and Balsly and Taylor were spread behind him in the backfield. On the sixth play from scrimmage Murray found himself covered by a linebacker. He got behind him and caught a pass from Quarterback John Cartwright for a 52-yard touchdown that put Navy ahead before some of the gold-braided admirals were comfortably settled in their seats.
Syracuse went nowhere when it got the subsequent kickoff, and on its second series of plays Navy moved down the field again on Cartwright's passes, scoring on a pitchout to Balsly. A rout looked in the making, but Navy fumbled on its own 25 and Csonka put himself into his powerful low gear. He chewed up 18 yards in three carries. On the next two plays Dow and the rest of Navy's defensive team piled on Csonka en masse. Unfortunately he did not have the ball. Quarterback Rick Cassata kept it, carrying it to the one and then in for the touchdown.
That proved to be the last sustained Syracuse drive until Elias put in Navy's second defensive unit late in the fourth quarter. Schwartzwalder adjusted his pass defense to cope with Navy's surprise formation, but John Church added second- and third-quarter 42-yard field goals for Navy, and in the fourth period Terry Murray returned a punt 52 yards to the Syracuse 13 to set up a third Middie touchdown.
"You can safely say that after this game everyone will know how bad we are," Schwartzwalder had accurately predicted last week. "We already know it."
Csonka seemed to be the only effective Syracuse weapon, but he did not play much in the second half and finished the game with only 31 yards in 10 carries—which for him is a day off. "He hurt his ankle in practice and hurt it again in the game," said Schwartzwalder. "He wasn't as good as we'd like to see him, but the way Navy was playing he would have had to have had a tremendous game to offset it."
Neither Cassata nor sophomore Quarterback Rich Panczyszyn (rhymes with transition) were able to throw many respectable passes. Panczyszyn, who says his surname is merely the shortened version of the European original, which even he cannot spell, fits in nicely on a team that has a Zanieski, Cheyunski, Pietryka, Bulicz and a total of eight Zs, 11 Ys, and 14 Ks, not counting Schwartzwalder. He has been given the famous Syracuse No. 44, worn in past glory seasons by Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. "He probably has more elusiveness than about any kid we've ever had," says a Syracuse coach, but he is not much of a passer. This is an unhandy failing for a quarterback.
In the Navy dressing room after the game, it was as if the Midshipmen had just won a war. Their record was improved to 3-1, their lone loss being to Rice, and although they were no threat just yet for national honors, they were strongly in the running for the Lambert Trophy, symbolic of eastern supremacy. Their chief opposition seemed to be a school that had lambasted SMU the night before—Army.
After a few minutes the Midshipmen calmed their victory backslapping and yelling long enough to award the game ball to Flanker Murray, who in addition to his punt runback caught six passes for 99 yards. And then, led by Bill Dow, there came this resounding ritual roar that seemed to wipe out the memory of the Syracuse game: "Beat Army, Beat Army."