Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 49

December 5-11, 2002

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Army and Navy Scuffle Again
Go Navy!

Those two words will ring loud and clear this Saturday, and not just from East Rutherford, N.J., where the Middies take on the Cadets of Army in a rivalry that commenced eight years before Dewey demolished the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay and Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders overran San Juan Hill.

It will be the 103rd gridiron scrap in the series that originated at West Point in 1890, when the sailors tromped the soldiers 24 to zip. And every year since but nine, the two service academies have suited up to square off in their last game of the season. Thus far the count is 46 for Navy, 49 for Army and seven ties.

But who cares about the past in this tug of war of such long standing? For the academies, their graduates and those who served in either the Army or the Navy, or even their families, it’s the only game of the year. A win over Army makes the season for Navy — and vice versa.

This year, no matter which team heads home victorious after the big game, that single victory will double the season’s wins for the victor. Yes, both Army and Navy have endured disastrous seasons, each having won but a single game. The Midshipmen beat only Southern Methodist University, while the Cadets’ lone win was against Tulane, which had earlier beaten Navy.

But like Yale versus Harvard, there’s no handicapping an Army-Navy game. Each season, scores of games, rankings or anything else means little as these two teams face off. It’s as if all the previous games were little more than workouts building up to the big finale, the showdown.

There have been years when an outclassed Navy squad whipped a highly ranked Army team; likewise the other way around. There were years aplenty like this one when both teams were in the doldrums, but none of the luster was gone from the annual grudge match.

And there have been years when both teams were flying high when they met. One had to lose, as in 1945 when Navy was ranked second in the nation and unbeaten, only to lose to Army 32-13.

Coincidentally, Army was ranked first and had Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, the legendary Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.

The Match of ’45
I remember that game well. I listened to every play via radio while in a Navy hospital in Hawaii waiting to be shipped back stateside. I recall how solemn my hospital ward was as Army popped off to a 20-0 lead. Our team never really got into the game.

Our hopes had been high. Earlier that season, a Navy service team, Fleet City, had beaten the Quantico Marines in what many at the time claimed was a matchup between the two best teams in the country, college or pro.

Fleet City had Chuck’n Charlie O’Rouke, of Boston College renown, at quarterback and Buddy Young, later of Baltimore Colts fame, at halfback. Quantico had the legendary Crazy Legs Hersch, so good at carting the pigskin toward the opponent’s goal that Hollywood later made a movie on his pro career.

Still, the acclaim of mighty Fleet City by sportswriters and fans couldn’t wipe out our disappointment of Navy losing to Army. For weeks, the older sailors and marines (I was only 18 at the time) had hoarded rubbing alcohol and orange juice for a victory celebration once the game was over and it was lights out in our ward.

When mixed, one part pink alcohol and three parts fruit juice with ice cubes added, the result was a formidable cocktail referred to as a pink lady. Though the taste left much to be desired, it beat a concoction of Mennen shaving lotion and orange juice, a drink of last resort for sailors and marines cooped up in a hospital.

There was no celebratory shindig that night in the Navy hospital at Aiea Heights overlooking Honolulu. A few dispirited patients sipped from a water pitcher passed from bed to bed, but the foul taste of pink ladies (they were more orange than pink) required a fitting occasion before one was willing or able to drink much of the combination, which incidentally, if consumed in any quantity, punished tipplers with horrendous headaches the following morning.

Revenge Is Sweet
We lost that biggie in ’45, and there was no clandestine party, but the next year there was no listening to the Army-Navy game by radio for me. I sold my half interest in an ancient Model A coupe to finance my way from Goddard College to Philadelphia to be in the stands.

The old Ford wasn’t up to the trip, but the $75 I wrangled for my share of the jalopy — unreliable due to a bum clutch — was sufficient to buy me round-trip train fare from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., to Philadelphia, two nights in a flea-bag hotel, meals, a ticket to the big game — and something better to drink than pink ladies. Try doing that today.

Navy didn’t win, but it was one of the biggest games in the long history of the annual confrontations. Navy had lost most of its good players from the previous year when ranked second only to Army. Like this year, it went into the big game with only one previous win for the season.

Meanwhile, a confident Army squad was fighting it out with Notre Dame for tops in the nation. Though tradition had it — and still has it — that records didn’t mean much in an Army-Navy game, few gave the Middies a chance. Including me. Until …

Until, after trailing 21-6 at half-time, Navy came to life. Going into the final minutes, the Midshipmen came within three points of the mighty Cadets. They lost, 21-18. Close, but close doesn’t count. Yet in the end, Navy had its revenge

Of that I wasn’t aware until I had returned to college. Quite disappointed, I might add.

In collegiate circles, the season of ’46 was a wild one; Army and Notre Dame were fighting fiercely for first place in the polls. Both were undefeated, and each had one tie. That tie was a 0-0 affair between the two.

If Army could make a good showing against Navy, and Notre Dame either lost or made a poor showing against Southern California, the hated Cadets would be the national champs.

But lowly Navy gave Army a big scare, while the Fighting Irish whomped Southern California by a couple of touchdowns. The rest is history. Navy hadn’t scuttled Army by the scoreboard (it would have been a tie had the Mids made their extra points after their three touchdowns), but their determined play caught the attention of sportswriters, who easily decided Notre Dame was No. 1.

Back to the Present
This Saturday, there’s no national recognition on the line, no rankings. But there is something bigger. No longer can the game end in a tie (as it did when I returned to Philadelphia to watch a 7-7 game in ’56). So though one team will have only two victories, it will have a successful season.

Which team? Of course I’ll be rooting for Navy as I watch via TV, but cheers don’t score touchdowns or hold the line. The way I see it, if it’s a high-scoring game, Navy will torpedo the landlubbers from West Point. If a low-scoring game, I might not have the opportunity to celebrate with the traditional martini, three olives please, that has replaced pink ladies since that Saturday in 1945 in Hawaii.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly