“Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.” Douglas MacArthur.
“Untutored courage is useless in the face of educated bullets.” George Patton.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” Dwight Eisenhower.
Army –Navy, the Old Man and Me
We begin this week, in the spirit of the season, and on the 75th anniversary of attack on Pearl Harbor, with our annual piece of taking my “old man” to the last pure amateur sporting event left in America, in this case; The 1998 Army/Navy Football Game.
It’s our version of; “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
On December 7, 1963, at the age of eleven, and some two weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy, I watched my first college football game.
It was Army versus Navy, and featured the Midshipmen’s Heisman Trophy winner; Roger Staubach.
I viewed the game with my dad sharing the ends of the couch in the living room on the top floor of our Dorchester “Wattendorf-owned” three-decker.
We watched on a black and white Philco television accompanied with the mandatory rabbit ears, and even though the “old man” was WW II Army, I was rooting for Navy.
The game ended on a controversial time expiring no call, with the Cadets perched on the Navy one-yard line, as the “Sons of Joe Bellino” (a Winchester native) escaped with a 21-15 victory.
It began a lifelong affair with the game of college football, one in which I remain intimately involved by writing a seasonal on-line column for the Patriot Ledger, as well as serving as a participating voter in the selection of the Heisman Trophy winner.
But now, a shade over a half-century later, the game for me, has much deeper roots.
My dad, Ed, passed fifteen-years ago, and four years before his demise, in the spring of 1998, he suffered what was diagnosed as a “mini-stroke.”
Luckily he came through without any complications, but it made me realize that this 75-year old former soldier wouldn’t be around forever, and that epiphany inspired me to put a plan into action.
I would surprise my “old man” by taking him to witness the classic first hand, a “full-circle” father-son football and life journey.
It would be a one day whirlwind excursion.
The airline reservations were a snap, remember this was pre 9/11, but now I needed some game tickets, and not just any seats, but something decent, especially for a guy in his mid-seventies.
I called my pal Bill Brett, the retired prize winning photographer of the Boston Globe, who is still actively and successfully snapping away.
I asked Billy, if he would ask, the since deceased Globe sports columnist Will McDonough, to ask his son Sean, who at the time was working for CBS Sports and calling the game, for assistance in securing a pair of good seats.
They all came through.
I picked up the tickets at the stadium’s “Will Call” window, which were in a large manila envelope marked: CBS Sports.
The kid working the window glanced at the CBS logo and duly impressed, looked up and proclaimed; “You must be important!”
Little did he know!
We ventured to our seats; lower level at Philadelphia’s old Vet Stadium, eight rows up from the rail at the 45-yard line. Absolutely perfect!
Here we are sitting around various Naval brass, and after a few minutes of silence, the “old man” a former Army corporal, who walked in and out of France and Germany, looks at me and says; “Are you sure we are in the right seats?”
Translation: “How could a nitwit like you, pull off seats like these?!”
Even though it was the fifth of December, the weather was 60’s balmy, and we were treated to a great game, watching what was at the time (since surpassed) the highest scoring game in the series: a 34-30 Army victory.
Sitting in the plane, and just before we were about to take off, the “old man” leaned in and said, “In case I forget, I want to thank you.”
For a WW II father, that simple statement, was like; “War and Peace.”
My dad died three years later, but to paraphrase Bogie to Bergman in “Casablanca;” “We’ll always have Army/Navy!”
So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
Now to the game.
Army vs Navy – Baltimore (Ch. 4, 3 p.m.) The 117th edition of the Army/Navy classic (Navy leads 60-49-7) holds significance for two reasons.
First and foremost, it is the annual showcasing of the best and brightest that our country has to offer, handsomely packaged as the last pure amateur sporting event left in America.
And tangentially, it will be the last college football game to be called by everyone’s “Favorite Uncle;” the legendary HOF voice of SEC football – CBS’s Verne Lundquist. Best described as a; “Hail fellow well met,” kind of guy.
At West Point, the “Sons of Dwight D. Eisenhower ‘1915,” who are going bowling for only the second time in two-decades, are intent on ending the 14-year Hudson River drought against its bitter rival.
The last time the Cadets tasted the nectar of victory against Navy, the grit of the 9-11 attack, (which occurred only three-months prior), was still encasing New York City, and “W” was mispronouncing nuclear at meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff – 2001.
The well-rested (Army last played Nov. 19) Knights led by its Houdini-like option specialist, QB Ahmad Bradshaw, and assisted by a battalion of road-runners; Andy Davidson, Darnell Woolfolk, and Cole Macek, roll the caissons as the nation’s second best (328 yds) tillers of the turf.
When the Corps decides to go aerial, which happens about as often as our Eastern European pal J. W. pays for his own lodging, (Army is 128th and dead last in passing – 79 yards), its “pigskin poet” wideout Edgar Poe is the lock-on target. And despite only grabbing a total of 14-balls, he manages to squeegee out every yard, averaging 20-yards a catch.
But the biggest reason for the West Point turnaround is its D, the country’s 19th stingiest, and fifth ranked overall.
This stingy eleven, led by the linebacking trio; Andrew King (10.5 tfls-5 sacks), Jeremy Timpf (9 tfls), and Alex Aukeman (12 tfls – 5 sacks), surrender a miniscule 288-yards a game and may be worthy of a “Trumpian” Pentagon appointment. After all, he will be there.
In Annapolis, Navy’s Blue and Gold Renaissance remains in full bloom.
Coach Ken Niumataulo is a perfect 8-0 against his nemesis from West Point, an eye-popping 26-6 in his last 32 games, and when Navy wins the turnover battle, the “Sons of Jimmy Carter ‘47” showcase a record of near-perfection: 27- 1.
And a win over the Cadets would be like the addition of truffles into the sauce, as the Midshipmen would sail off with consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.
But there is sobering news in Annapolis, as Navy’s injury report reads like a MASH Unit in war-torn Syria.
In last week’s AAC Championship Game against Temple, Navy not only got stuffed by the Owls, but lost for the season on the same play, its starting QB, Will Worth (a nation’s best 25 rushing TDs), and his slot-back partner, and captain, Toneo Gulley.
For the Annapolis faithful, it is a nightmare of Hillary Clinton proportions, and dramatically levels the playing field for the Cadets.
But as we all know, panic is not a word in the military lexicon. It functions on the Belichickian/Patton philosophy; “Next man up.”
Tapped to preserve “The Streak” is sophomore QB Zach Abey, (his first game as a starter), who will lean heavily on his tailback pairing of; Dishan Romine, and Darryl Bomer, who are as banged up as a teenager’s first car, but have contributed to the nation’s third leading rushing attack averaging 327-yards per game.
And like its counterpart, in those rarest of occasions when the Midshipmen take to the skies, wideout Jamir Tillman is capable of sailing his way toward any goal line.
Amazingly, Navy’s season hasn’t been sunk by a barnacle encrusted defense led by backers; Micah Thomas, D.J. Palmore (10.5 tfls – 5 sacks), and safety Alohi Gilman, which ranks 86th overall, and allows a Big-12-esque average of; 30-points a game.
This is the highest-quality team that the Cadet Corps have fielded in at least six-years.
And despite the Mids record run of perfection, this game is causing some serious brow furrowing amongst its chest-puffing Admirals.
Nevertheless, we’ll stay with the “Boys of the Blue and Gold,” as Navy notches its 15th straight in this classic’s annual renewal.
[Note: President-elect Donald Trump will be in attendance. That is a first for this game. Usually it’s a sitting president that attends, but after all it is a Trump World, and we’re just living in it.
P.S. – If you are watching, make sure to stay for the game ending ceremony, where the losing side, many with tears streaming, stands behind the winning side and listens to the fight song of the victors sung in full throaty roar.
It’ll give you goose bumps, especially knowing where some of these kids might be next year. You can also bet that the tears will be gushing over the rotund cheeks of “Uncle Verne.”]
Last week; 4-1 Season record; 45-25.
That’s it from cyber space. We’ll be back with our analysis of the New Year’s Eve semi-finals on Christmas week. Until then, Merry Christmas to all, Peace, and listen to the music. PK