SIR! ARMY'S 9-0, SIR!
Nobody ever complained that Army couldn't dress up a football
game. Where else does a decorated veteran, so moved by the
unbeaten start of his alma mater, drop by a midweek practice and
bequeath his Congressional Medal of Honor to the entire team?
Where else does a national hero commanding a reported $60,000 a
pop on the rubber-chicken circuit stop in the afternoon before a
game to deliver a little fire and brimstone, pro bono?
Yes, the inspirational trappings have always come easy to Army.
Producing football games to match has proved more taxing. Eight
years have passed since the Cadets last appeared in a bowl, and
only a few years have gone by since the cognoscenti were
debating whether Army--and Navy, too--belonged in Division I-A.
But such talk is a remote memory these days. Navy is a
respectable 6-2 this season, and last Saturday, Army defeated
Air Force 23-7 to improve its record to 9-0. "I would hope
people will respect us now," said inside linebacker Ben Kotwica
after the game. "Though I'm not sure everyone will."
Kotwica was not being a killjoy. He was merely echoing the
keynote that he and his teammates have sounded all season.
Despite being only one of five unbeaten teams in Division I-A,
the Cadets have been regularly flayed for their downy-soft
schedule, which has included two I-AA teams, Yale and Lafayette,
and just three opponents with winning records. Only after the
win over the Falcons, who three weeks earlier had defeated Notre
Dame in South Bend, did the pollsters finally deem Army fit for
a Top 25 ranking; the Cadets are now No. 22. But they could
finish the regular season undefeated--games against Syracuse and
Navy remain--and still be denied a bid to a major bowl.
If the thought of such slights were not enough to stoke Army's
fire, two events leading to last Saturday's game were certain to
keep the embers smoldering. Last Thursday, Vietnam war hero Paul
(Buddy) Bucha, West Point '65, delivered a five-minute speech to
the team. In 1967 Bucha, then a second lieutenant in the 101st
Airborne Division, received the Congressional Medal of Honor
after, among other acts of bravery, crawling through a hail of
gunfire to destroy a bunker with a grenade. "When you have your
backs against the wall, I want you to look at this," he told the
Cadets. He then pulled from his pocket the medal, handed it to
coach Bob Sutton and asked that Sutton act as its caretaker
until the end of the season.
The following afternoon Norman Schwarzkopf, the retired Desert
Storm general and now a banquet-circuit favorite, gave the team
a 15-minute pep talk filled with gulf war analogies. "You're
fighting a war," he said. "You're here to win, and nothing else
For the Cadets, Schwarzkopf's words were especially rousing. "In
the past we had these generals, these big politicians, come in
and say, 'Hey, as long as you represent the Army and don't quit,
it's O.K.,'" tight end Ron Leshinski said after Saturday's game.
"Essentially they were saying it's O.K. if you lose. And that's
bull. Finally, we had somebody say, 'Go out there and kick their
asses.' After listening to the general, the team wanted to play
right there and then."
Emotion can carry a team only so far. The Cadets owe most of
their success to impeccable execution on the field. Their
wishbone attack has produced a nation-leading 353.8 rushing
yards per game, even after a relatively modest 260 against Air
Force, with only 11 turnovers. Few teams are more effective at
physically wearing down the opposition. Indeed, Army's offense
takes an almost sadistic pleasure in grinding out four or five
yards per play. "Don't get me wrong," says quarterback Ronnie
McAda. "I'd love to see more 60-yard plays. But those four- and
five-yarders add up. You should see the look in the eyes of some
of these defenses by late in the third quarter."
But then the Cadets' efficiency at running the wishbone comes as
little surprise, given that service academies have deftly run
the offense for years. What's more surprising is Army's
defensive success--or, more specifically, its success while
using a system that, because it relies on speed, doesn't seem
well suited to the Cadets. During the 1993 season Sutton was
alarmed at the ease with which opposing offenses were moving the
ball downfield, so he decided to change to a more aggressive,
attacking scheme. In the spring of 1994 he and his defensive
staff visited Arizona to learn the Wildcats' double-eagle flex,
or Desert Swarm defense, which Arizona had employed to limit
opponents to 47.6 rushing yards per game in 1992 and '93. The
Cadets recruited swifter athletes and have used the double-eagle
flex with great effectiveness, surrendering 604 yards rushing
all season. "I wouldn't want to play against our defense,"
fullback Joe Hewitt said after the win over the Falcons. "Look
at the way it shut their quarterback down today."
To say the Cadets' defense merely shut down Air Force senior
quarterback Beau Morgan is an understatement. Entering the game,
Morgan, who this weekend will probably become the first player
to both pass and run for 1,000 yards in consecutive years, was
the nation's fourth-leading rusher, with 1,185 yards. The Cadets
held him to six yards on the ground and held the entire Air
Force offense, which entered the game as the nation's No. 2
rushing team (353.9 yards per game), to just 69.
But then Army had been anything but intimidated by the prospect
of facing the Falcons and their hotshot quarterback. "Who's
Morgan?" queried Hewitt before the game. It was the type of
subtle dissing that Air Force, winner of seven straight against
the Cadets before Saturday, has traditionally directed toward
Army. But forgive Hewitt his irreverence. Last year, his mother,
Shirley, retired from her position as a medical administrator in
the Air Force. "It was a pretty bitter experience for her," says
Joe. "She felt she was treated terribly by some people she
worked for." Much of that bitterness apparently lingers. On
Friday night Shirley fed her son a bit of Schwarzkopfian
invective. "She basically told me to go out there and knock the
crap out of somebody," recalls Joe. "And then stand over the guy
and tell him, 'This one was from my mom.'"
The 6'1", 197-pound anvil of a fullback did indeed knock the
stuffing out of numerous Falcons defenders, rushing for a
career-high 161 yards on 29 carries. Afterward, though, he
sheepishly confessed that he had failed to deliver Mom's
message. "Awww, that's not really my style, sir," Hewitt said.
"I think the message we sent to them with our play was loud
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
In Florida State's 44-7 win over Wake Forest, the Seminoles' Dan
Kendra became the first freshman in 11 years to start at
quarterback for coach Bobby Bowden. "He comes in there with as
much confidence as anybody," says tackle Todd Fordham of Kendra,
who completed 20 of 39 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns
in place of Thad Busby, who was out with a hairline fracture of
his left wrist. "It's like he's a fifth-year starter."
For Bowden, the afternoon recalled a performance by another
freshman signal-caller 22 years ago when Bowden was the coach at
West Virginia. Desperate to end a four-game losing streak,
Bowden put Kendra's father, also named Dan, into a game against
Syracuse. The elder Kendra promptly threw a 97-yard touchdown
pass and led the Mountaineers to a 39-11 victory. Two weeks
later, he rallied West Virginia to a 22-21 win over Virginia
Tech. To this day Bowden believes those two performances saved
his job and perhaps his career. "I was getting hanged in effigy
every week," says Bowden. "I was a favorite for the rope." The
next year, 1975, the senior Kendra led the Mountaineers to a 9-3
record. The following year Florida State hired Bowden.