A WIN FOR THE INFANTRY
Robert Sullivan reports from West Point
: An Air Force B-52 bomber swooped down the Hudson River, banking low over West Point and the Army football team's afternoon practice last Thursday. "Man, it was low," said Army halfback Mike May weather. "You could throw a football and knock out one of its windows." All week long, F-4s, C-5s, A-10s and the huge B-52 had buzzed the campus. "We told ourselves we'd remember the planes," said Mayweather. "And we did."
Mayweather, a sophomore, was discussing the air raids shortly after he'd gained 192 yards on 30 carries to lead the surprising Cadets—now 7-1—to a 28-15 upset of Air Force on Saturday at Michie Stadium. "I know we have Navy down the road," he said, "but we wanted this game more."
There's some serious nastiness between the Cadets and the Falcons. Army grunts resent the fly-boys' sexy scarf-and-leather-jacket image; the jet jockeys consider the cadets, well, grimy. No one behaves like a gentleman when these future officers meet.
The weather Saturday was suitably raw: Rain fell in torrents. Army coach Jim Young loved it. "Cadets get rained on in foxholes all the time," he said. "What other people consider obstacles, they don't."
In the early going the weather looked as if it might help to slow Air Force, the nation's top rushing offense (399.3 yards per game). For 18 scoreless minutes the teams were mirror-images: From the wishbone, Air Force ran left-end, right-end, off-tackle; Army danced the same step. "We're very similar, and that's no accident," says Young. "We're modeled on them. When I came here in 1983, I used the same pro-type passing offense I had at Purdue. But it just didn't work."
After Army finished 2-9 that season, Young shopped for a new strategy. "I realized an option offense is perfect for the service academies," he says. "Our offensive linemen aren't that big, and in a wishbone with angle blocking, they don't have to be. We don't need great passing quarterbacks, and a wishbone fits an academy's philosophy. It requires discipline, execution of assignments, working as a unit."
Young has since led a no-nonsense, no-passing attack to a 33-18-1 record and two bowl victories. Today's Army ranks 104th in the country in passing, but it has lost only to Washington. Since 1984 the Cadets are 23-0 in games in which they've passed fewer than six times, 3-14-1 when they've attempted more than nine passes.
Not to be out-wishboned, Air Force ranks 100th in passing. So it was a huge surprise when, on the 42nd play from scrimmage in Saturday's game. Falcon quarterback Dee Dowis threw the day's first pass—for a 35-yard touchdown, no less—to halfback Albert Booker.
The Cadets resolutely stayed with their ground attack and scored on two consecutive possessions before the half. The first touchdown came on a five-yard run by quarterback Bryan McWilliams; the second was on a one-yard smash up the middle by fullback Ben Barnett. Air Force trailed 14-7 at the half.