On his 12th carry, with nine minutes left in the first half of Navy's homecoming game last Saturday against Pitt, Mids (as Midshipmen are called at the Naval Academy these days) Tailback Napoleon Ardel McCallum set sail from his own 11-yard line on a sweep right. Navy was losing 14-7 and appeared hopelessly out-manned. McCallum, a junior, shifted into glide and cut back—right into Panther Linebacker Troy Benson. But Benson didn't get all of McCallum, who had instinctively lowered his center of gravity, pressed his advantage in leverage, driven Benson onto his back and gained six yards all in one motion. Benson was left clinging to McCallum's right ankle. McCallum rose slowly and limped off the field, whereupon something special left Navy, if only just for a few minutes.
The Mids' trainer, Red Romo, hovered over McCallum's now tender right ankle for the next four snaps of the ball, McCallum jogged along the sideline through a fifth play, and on the sixth he returned to action by breaking two tackles and gaining 10 yards on another sweep right. Navy extended its drive to 19 plays and 79 yards before finally, with seconds left in the half, turning the ball over on an intercepted pass. McCallum threw the pass. The point is, McCallum, the nation's leader in rushing and all-purpose yardage, not only does everything he can for Navy—he is Navy.
"I don't know how many tackles McCallum broke, but he broke three right in front of me on one play," said Pittsburgh Coach Foge Fazio after the Panthers survived 21-14 and dropped Navy's record to 2-5. The Panthers, however, did anything but tarnish McCallum's reputation.
He was coming off a 229-yard, 37-carry rushing performance against Princeton on Oct. 15 and a 211-yard, 23-carry outing against Air Force a week before that. But the Tigers and Falcons are pushovers compared with the Panthers, who had allowed only 113 yards rushing per game against blue-chip teams. So all McCallum did on 38 carries was rip Pitt for 172 yards, the most any runner has gained against the Panthers since Penn State's Lydell Mitchell got 181 in 1971. That put McCallum's season average at 159.7 yards rushing a game, 7.3 better than the average of national runner-up Mike Rozier of Nebraska. In all-purpose running, which combines rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns, McCallum's average is 233.7 yards a game. And McCallum has done that while working with a line that features three non-lettermen.
October 31, 1983
After an unnotable plebe season, McCallum was solid as a sophomore, rushing for 739 yards, but nobody could have forecast how good his numbers would be this year. "He was a little timid at first," says Marine Second Lieutenant Eddie Meyers, a former Navy running back who was a senior when McCallum was a plebe and who is among those whose records McCallum is rewriting. "He needed time to grow." Says Navy Coach Gary Tranquill, "What Nap has done has come through hard work."
McCallum started his hard work years ago on his parents' 11-acre farm in Milford, Ohio, just east of Cincinnati. "We are country people," says Napoleon, the father. "We believe in work. We had cows and goats, and sometimes they'd get out over three or four miles of hills. We had to go get them. Didn't matter what time. Good work." The younger Napoleon, who is 6'2" and 208 pounds, labored long hours over the livestock, crops and farm equipment. His father says, "I believe he started to play sports to get away from that work. I didn't mind. I just don't believe in idleness."
Wrestling came first. The older Napoleon was the wrestling coach at Princeton High in Sharonville, Ohio for years, and Little Nap, though he started playing football at the peewee level, preferred wrestling. "You go out, shake hands with your opponent and then try to put him on his back," he says. He wrestled at Milford High but finally gave it up to concentrate on football when he went to Annapolis.
The wrestler's quickness and constitution help make McCallum a successful, intriguing runner. He rarely takes a full, hard shot, and when he does he adjusts to it instinctively upon impact, thus lightening the effects of the blow. He isn't ultra-fast—4.55 in the 40—but he can cut both ways. When finesse is ruled out, he resorts to leverage. In the fourth-quarter drive to Navy's final score, Troy Hill, Pitt's left cornerback and tri-captain, raced up on a sweep right. The hit he delivered on McCallum was so vicious that heads along the sideline turned away—but when those heads turned back, McCallum was 19 yards downfield, completing his longest run of the day.
"He's the toughest back, in terms of taking him down, that I've ever faced," says Hill, who has played against the likes of Kelvin Bryant of North Carolina, Curt Warner of Penn State and Eric Dickerson when Pitt faced SMU in the '83 Cotton Bowl. "To take a shot like that—a man is supposed to go down. I take my hat off. He's a great back."
What Heisman talk there is regarding McCallum is usually muted by mere mention of the likes of Rozier and BYU Quarterback Steve Young. But though McCallum may not be the fastest or the shiftiest back around, there's no player more valuable to his team.
McCallum, who maintains a 2.2 GPA, has an abiding interest in flying. He planned to major in aerospace engineering at Annapolis, but the three hours a day required for football changed his mind. "There was no way," he says, "so I switched to computer science. I've crammed things into my mind I didn't know I could learn. And besides, you don't need aero to fly."
"I'm not a veteran," McCallum's father says, "but the Naval Academy is good for him. They say that if he'd attended another school [the younger Napoleon was recruited by North Carolina State and Tennessee, among other football powers] he could go pro and make big dollars, but you have got to have some sense with money. Napoleon was a sheltered kid. They have curfew here. Discipline. It makes me comfortable." The older Napoleon, his wife, Virginia, and daughters, Ova and Tammy, drive to nearly every Navy game, home and away. "If it's 600 miles or less, we make it," he says.
McCallum holds or, if he continues apace, will hold nearly every rushing record at Annapolis, surpassing the likes of Meyers, Cleveland Cooper ('72-74) and Heisman winner Joe Bellino ('58-60). McCallum is already Navy's top all-purpose runner with 3,755 yards.
With less than a minute left to play against Pitt, Navy was on its 20 and trailing 21-14. Fourth-and-10. Navy Quarterback Rick Williamson threw over the middle. The roar was mighty as McCallum made a diving reception for 24 yards. The Mids then drove to the Pitt 28, and white caps were flying. With :10 left, on fourth down, Williamson floated a pass into the end zone. McCallum was in the area, but Hill caught the ball. Pitt had won. The Navy offense walked off, dejected.
What followed was remarkable. The Mids in the stands began to roar again: "Navy! Navy! Navy!" The cheers were for their team's effort. Later, Navy Middle Guard George Herlong, one of only three aerospace engineering majors on the team, emerged from the locker room with a bloodied but unbowed head. He said McCallum proved that "you really don't need aero to fly."