Bucchianeri walked into the locker room looking utterly lost. "He was in shock," says Kubiak. "He was white as a ghost, and his eyes were wide open." To Kubiak he said: "I don't know what just happened out there. I think I'm in the stages of shock. I think I'm in denial...."
Someone leaned over and told Bucchianeri that the "gentlemen of the press" were waiting for him.
"Should I go?" he asked.
"If you don't feel like going, don't go," co-captain Van Matre said.
Bucchianeri thought a moment, then turned and left the room. "I knew I had to face the media," he says now. "Be responsible for your actions." Facing the microphones and the lights, he could not have been more ingenuous, more appealing. Asked, first off, how he felt, he paused, blinking. "I did the best I could," he finally said. "That's how I feel."
When someone gently lobbed him an excuse, wondering about the rainy conditions, about the snap and the hold, Bucchianeri let it sail past. "It doesn't matter," he said quietly. "I missed the kick, sir." And so, on and on, it went. Bucchianeri thus became, in failure, a kind of national hero—the kid who missed the kick, blamed only himself and addressed his inquisitors as sir. In an age of sport in which winners own the world and losers are lepers, at a time when talk is trash and the buck is passed, he strummed an old and cherished chord at the hour of his keenest disappointment.
No one felt worse for him than those who knew him at Annapolis. Senior Lisa Winslow attended an NHL hockey game at the Meadowlands that night. Afterward she called her mother, Betty, in Bowling Green, Ohio. Betty had seen the game and asked about the plebe who missed the kick. "He's in my squad," Lisa said. "I want to talk to him and make sure he understands that it was not his fault. If the team had done better, it wouldn't have hinged on his kick. It's just a game. I really want to make sure I'm there for him when he gets back."
The Navy caravan of buses did not leave the Meadowlands until the next morning. The memorial service for Grizzard was scheduled to be held at three o'clock, and the caravan set out for Annapolis at 10. For Bucchianeri, still stunned by the turn of events, it would be a long ride south. It would be a far longer journey for superintendent Lynch, who had received distressing news from his executive assistant at 8 a.m. in his Meadowlands hotel room. At about 6 a.m., in the rainy, windswept darkness, three midshipmen had been killed and a fourth seriously injured when the roof of the Ford Bronco in which they were riding back from New Jersey was sheared off by a rotted willow tree that had just fallen across a road about a mile from the Naval Academy.
The caravan from the Meadowlands arrived at the Academy gate at 2:30 p.m., and the chapel filled for Grizzard's memorial service. During the service, without naming the victims, Lynch announced what had happened that morning outside the gate.
Who had died? all hands wondered.