But with a football in his hands and the bulging, muscular posts that serve him as legs drumming down a football field, Joe Bellino becomes something special. At Navy they class him with the legendary Buzz Borries as one of the two great halfbacks in academy football history. With the Army game yet to come, Joe Bellino has already scored more touchdowns in one season (17) and in one game (4) than any Navy football player ever has. He has scored more points in a season (104) and gained more yards rushing (749 in 148 carries for a five-yard average). He has also caught 15 passes for 264 yards, quick-kicked 11 times for a 47-yard average and completed five of 14 passes for 112 yards and two more touchdowns. He blocks and tackles, thanks his teammates for throwing blocks for him and compliments officials when they make a good call. Last year he scored three touchdowns against Army (which no Navy player had ever done before) and even before the 1960 season began he was headed for All-America, as sure as there are missiles on a Polaris submarine. Nothing he has done since has damaged his reputation a bit.
Bellino in action bears no resemblance to Borries, who was tall and graceful and ran with a long, racer's stride. Joe runs like a berserk butterfly that happened to grow up to weigh 180 pounds. Above the waist he is muscular but not big; most of his weight is in those legs, which measure 18 inches in circumference at the calf. As a plebe, he was unable to find a pair of football pants to fit him; finally, they crammed him into what was available and slit the back of the legs. Against Boston College last year, when Hardin put Navy into stockings as protection against the cold, Bellino couldn't get his on. And early this year, when he was afflicted by leg cramps (he had to come out of the Washington game three times), Joe finally decided that all the theories about the cramps being caused by the early-season heat and soft fields and lack of salt had nothing to do with the problem at all. His pants were just too tight. So Joe slit them again, at the back just below the knees, and now his legs are fine.
Some people feel that Bellino is not particularly fast, though the opposition will hardly buy this. It is probably true that Joe lacks the speed of Billy Cannon or Bobby Mitchell or Buddy Young or any of the other famed sprinter-halfbacks. He has run only one race under the clock in his life. That was in Lisbon, Portugal, at the end of his plebe year. He stepped off the cruiser
after 17 days at sea and won a 100-meter dash in 10.9 seconds. More to the point, Joe has been playing football since he was 10 years old and no one has yet caught him from behind.
Tacklers say Joe can go sideways faster than forward, like a frightened crab. He starts as if launched from a catapult, and he changes directions with incredible speed. Some of his longest runs came after he took the ball, jiggled around for a moment in one spot waiting for a hole to open, and then—zip! He uses blockers well, following them, going halfway across the field to find them, maneuvering the defense into position to be knocked out of the play. Yet he also has enough power to blast into the middle of a line for two or three or five yards unaided; it takes a hard, direct tackle to knock him off his feet. "With those big legs, Joe is bottom-heavy," explains an assistant Navy coach. "You knock him up in the air, he's got to come down on his feet."
Bellino can also make a tackler look pretty silly with his peculiarly effective head-and-shoulders fake. Against Duke he faked an end inside, then ran around him. There stood a linebacker, so Joe faked him inside and ran around him, too. And then a halfback was waiting—so Joe faked him inside, ran around him, too, and was finally knocked out of bounds when he ran out of room to fake anybody else.
His finest runs came against Boston College last year (the Boston coach, Mike Holovak, called Bellino's 50-yard touchdown, in which Joe seemed to get away from every BC tackler on the field at least twice, "the greatest do-it-yourself run I ever saw") and against Virginia two weeks ago. In this latter one Joe started outside right tackle on a quick hand-off and suddenly was surrounded by six Virginia men. "All I could see were white shirts," he said later, "and I figured I'd better get out of there." John Hewitt was right there with him and knocked one tackler down; Joe squirmed out of the arms of another and cut sharply to his left. He shook off some more Virginia hands, cruised over behind a blocker coming up from the left side and hit the sidelines. "After that," says Joe, "it was all the way, Suzie." He ran 90 yards for a touchdown.
When the Washington game was over, Jim Owens, the Husky coach, said, "Bellino made us look like we hadn't practiced tackling."
All defenses against Navy are keyed to stop Joe, of course. Duke, the only team to hold him scoreless, had three men dogging him on every play. Army will probably use the entire corps of cadets. It is possible to stop Joe Bellino, but if Army succeeds it may cost them too much in other ways. Bellino thinks this would be a wonderful thing.
The fame that has come to Bellino has changed him not a bit. He kids with the janitors at Annapolis and he kids with Red Coward, the director of athletics, who is a Navy captain. After one game he introduced his brother Sam, who is a garage mechanic, to an admiral. "He made me feel like I was the admiral," said Sam. Joe stops to shake hands with kids on the street who recognize him after a football game, and he will sign autographs until everyone has gone away. His enthusiasm for everyone and everything got him into the one spot that embarrasses him still, the now-famous haircutting bet with two academy barbers.
"It was really blown up too much," says Joe. "I walked into one of the barber shops in Bancroft Hall and sat down in the chair. 'How much you gonna beat the Air Force by?' this barber, Freddie Fernandez, asks me. 'Oh, 30 points,' I tell him. 'You got a bet,' he says.