The Great Service Rivalry is all that it appears, but it is more. It is a once-a-year exercise in schizophrenia. Everything gets turned around. You don't quite catch it, because in all the excitement it passes quickly, like a face on the subway platform, and because conditioning—68 years of it—has made some of the looniness predictable. For example, in the days leading up to last week's Army-Navy game, Army players were hauled into print with words sure to give Navy a psychological lift. One was quoted as saying the Navy quarterback, John Cartwright, "rattles" under pressure. Another said he was "not impressed with the Navy pass defense." Crazy. Ara Parseghian would have had their tongues. Meanwhile, at Annapolis, the Midshipmen collected $6,960 for a full-page ad in The New York Times that was pointed enough (it showed a dead Army mule under an RIP headstone) to give the incentive right back to Army. Crazy. A Navy officer was the guest speaker at the Army pep rally and through a barrage of snowballs yelled for the Army to "beat Army!" Crazy.
Introductory incidents were, as usual, deliciously unmilitary. A delegation of Army first classmen, taught to be gentlemen, stole into the night and away with the Navy mascot, a goat named Bill. Navy knew Bill would next appear in the Cadet mess hall the week of the game as an object of inspiration, so it declared Bill arthritic and mustered him out of the service in absentia. A little later the Army reveille cannon disappeared. This was blamed, wrongly, on Navy. West Point night riders burned loose the chains and slipped the cannon into the Hudson River. The game was just an excuse.
Navy called to complain formally that naval officers instructing at West Point were taking a terrific hazing the week of the game. Army said wasn't that nice, and how about the time a few years ago when one of your commanders up here got back to his quarters and couldn't get in because his room had been filled with scrap paper, and what else can we do for you?
The big game is played at Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium, which used to be Municipal Stadium. By any name it would be the same: the world's most massive inconvenience. It exists almost solely for Army-Navy. It is too dirty to be called a white elephant. It was designed to put 102,000 people in, but mostly they are put out. So every year the game is standing-room-only at $8.50 a seat, and stern, correct officers of the service arrive with yellow panties hanging from their car windows that say "Go, Navy" on the stern. The Army-Navy program weighs two pounds and sells for $1 and is the only one in the world that has baby pictures of the players. This year's revealed that John Cartwright weighed 35 pounds when he was one year old.
It seems that only Army Coach Tom Cahill takes a calm, sane approach to the game, in the manner customary among successful coaches. "If we lose, there's always next year," he says. This, of course, is not the way you do it for Army-Navy. The way you do it is you violate every tenet of successful coaching camouflage by openly pointing for the game. Navy's Bill Elias calls it "self-inflicted pressure," and he started inflicting early. When he was asked last spring how much time he spent thinking about Army, he said, "How many days are there in a year?" He has "Beat Army" signs on everything in his office that does not move. His assistant coach in charge of offense, Lee Corso, made a Days-to-Army calendar and began counting down. Elias said that it was all right for Tom Cahill to call it "just another game," because Cahill had won last year, his first as Army's head coach. "It's just another game if you win," said Elias. "It's not just another game if you lose."
Consistent with the insanity beforehand, the game itself usually gets turned around. Army-Navy has always been a boneyard for favorites. Army was favored by 6½ points over Navy last week. Army's defense was to be decisive. John Cartwright was going to rattle—he did have that tendency in seasons past, and both coaching staffs knew it. Navy's unimpressive pass defense was going to get shelled by Army Quarterback Steve Lindell, who had passed for two touchdowns to win the 1966 game. Army Fullback Charlie Jarvis was going to pick up where he left off a year ago, which was somewhere in the Navy secondary running with the football.
And? Cartwright was so rattled he had the best game of his life. Navy's pass defense almost had a shutout. Lindell could have passed his helmet better than he did the ball. Jarvis gained 16 yards, net, and to this nonperformance added a fumble at the end to kill Army's last chance. The Middies won 19-14, and in their wildly happy, depressurized dressing room they showered each other with—milk. This is Army-Navy.
It is impossible to tell how significant a part psychology played. Cartwright said he kept Army's remark "up here," tapping his forehead, but if he were indeed so inclined it might just as well have served to make him more jittery. You never know. There are, however, some tangibles to help explain Navy's turnabout and Cartwright's brilliant season, in which he broke six of Roger Staubach's Academy passing and total-offense records and got Elias so puffed up with admiration that he called him "better than Gary Beban."
Navy this year allowed more points (253) than any team in Academy history, so for the last two weeks of practice Elias devoted almost all his time to mending defenses. He even announced that he would start—and he did, and they played almost the entire game—three men in the secondary who were the rawest of rookies, Shelly Buttrill, Gerry Motl and Jimmy Sheppard. Corso, meanwhile, was allowed to do what he wanted with the offense.
What Corso wanted was to resurrect a formation from his quarterbacking days at Florida State 14 years before, one Navy had been itching to use all season. It was a straight I formation, originated by Corso's coach at FSU, Tom Nugent, and the forerunner of all the fancy I's you see winking and blinking at places like USC and Notre Dame today. A straight I is just what it sounds like: all four backs line up behind the center, conga fashion. Corso is a keen student of offenses, but he is also a very enthusiastic young man. and he could not keep his own secret. Nugent, now a sportscaster in Miami, called him on the air last Thursday night, and Corso said to the world, "Coach, you better watch the game Saturday. We're going back to what we used to do at FSU." No need to worry about tipping his hand, however, because Army would never believe anything Navy said.
The I gave Navy an extra blocker in the backfield—which meant more power to attack Army's tackles and to kick out on Army's ends. Halfbacks Jeri Balsly and Terry Murray could have walked through some of the holes that resulted. But it was Cartwright's passing and, as important, his selection of passes that made the difference as Navy built up a 19-0 lead before Army finally shook itself of a bad case of the fiats and started moving. This year Navy's former 35-pound one-year-old had been reconstituted from a straight drop-back passer to an expert on play-action and roll-out passes, and when he set up deep it was always at an angle. Aggressive teams like Army were not able to rush him as well as in the past, and this proved critical, for Army had planned to show Cartwright some muscle in this game. In addition, to help Cartwright's confidence, he had been told to "play it loose," to throw whenever he wanted to.
The second time Navy got the ball last Saturday, Cartwright gave a broad hint of what was to follow. Faced with a third down and less than a yard at the Army 49, he brought Navy out in a tight I, no flankers, no splits. Army bunched in to stop the expected ground thrust, and everybody but the mayor of Philadelphia headed for the hole at right tackle. But Cartwright dropped back and floated a little teaser down the middle to End Rob Taylor. Army did not recover until Taylor was on the 13.
Navy only managed a field goal out of that one, but it scored on a 45-yard drive after a pass interception moments later. Then in the second quarter Cartwright took the Middies 93 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown. Calling the plays himself, he was Solomon in shoulder pads. He never made an unwise move, nor was there ever a loss. He completed four passes out of four, two to Tight End Mike Clark, who was so open he looked like he had popped out of the ground. At the Army 13, Cartwright reverted to Balsly and Balsly ran it in.
If there is one thing you can be sure of since calm-and-collected Cahill came to be West Point's coach, it is that at moments like this—behind 19-0 after a safety and people tumbling for the exits to beat the awful traffic—Army will not fold its tent. Seven times this season Army had come from behind to win. This was almost No. 8. With only 13 minutes left to play and Lindell's ineffectiveness unimpaired, Cahill called on a second-stringer, Jimmy O'Toole, who is a better passer but does not happen to be a better quarterback. Enthusiastic for the first time all day, Army drove 51 yards for a touchdown. Now the Cadet defense got interested. Army put Cartwright on his back and another punt was forced. With a little more than seven minutes to go, Army was again near midfield. On the first play O'Toole reared back and passed long downfield to End Gary Steele, who had been dropping passes all day. Steele, half a step in the clear, dropped this one, too. But O'Toole called the same play to the same steel-handed but winged-footed Steele. Connection. Fifty yards and a touchdown. Crazy. See, everything gets all turned around. Now Navy led only 19-14 with 7:05 to play. Moments later a short, hurried Navy punt gave Army the ball only 26 yards from the Navy goal. The madhouse was a madhouse.
But O'Toole no sooner had Army driving than Jarvis fumbled at the 20, and the game belonged to Navy.
Navy finished the year with a 5-4-1 record, its first winning season in three under Elias, who can say truthfully as they said all week in Annapolis, "Winning is good for the soul." He can also say it is good for the future, because his job was in doubt had Navy lost. Army finished 8-2 for the second straight year under its remarkable coach. Whether Tom Cahill would trade records with Bill Elias for a victory over Navy only he can say. Perhaps there is a Days-to-Navy calendar hanging in his office right now. Crazy.