There were long hours last week when the Army-Navy football game was not at all important. It would become so again when the nation had begun to rally from the loss of its Chief Executive. A true spectacle of U.S. sport, the game might well serve as both reaffirmation and inspiration to the 100,000 spectators in attendance in Philadelphia and 25 million more watching on television. The effect of President Kennedy's death was, of course, to produce chaos in athletic schedules everywhere. But no institutions were more directly concerned than the naval and military academies. Both wanted to carry on their 64th traditional game on Nov. 30, and waited for the decision to be made somewhere in the Pentagon. On Friday, the Navy and Army teams met just long enough to be told that practice had been called off. At Annapolis and West Point the players knelt and prayed. The next day they took their normal Saturday-before workouts.
Since the Army-Navy series began in 1890, there have been 10 cancellations. Five, from 1894 to 1898, resulted from a 6-4 Navy victory in 1893. So heated did a brigadier general and a rear admiral become, the story goes, that a duel was narrowly averted. President Grover Cleveland thereupon banned the game until 1899. The 1909 game was canceled because of a sudden outburst of collegiate football deaths. In 1917 and 1918 the academies did not play because of World War I. Interservice rivalries over player eligibility resulted in the cancellation of the 1928-29 games. President Herbert Hoover ordered a resumption in 1930.
Traditionally the Army-Navy game embraces the color of a flower show and the competitive urgency of an armed skirmish. It is the only major college football game at which both admirals and generals whoop into the crisp fall air with the enthusiasm of enlisted men on a weekend pass. Few meetings of the two teams have generated more precombat excitement, however, than the one scheduled for this year.
For one thing, Navy is favored to win—and win big. If it does, this will be Navy's fifth straight victory. Annapolis is as unaccustomed to this sort of luxury as West Point is to its own embarrassment. While the series is remarkably close (Army has 30 victories, Navy 28 and five games were tied), most casual followers of the game cling to the impression that Army has always dominated. Army was a tower of strength from 1922 through 1949, when it won 16, lost just seven and tied three. But West Point was seemingly more publicized during those years—through motion pictures and the New York press—than Navy. It comes as a distinct shock, therefore, to realize that Navy has won nine and tied one of the last 13 Army games, has been to three post-season bowl games in that span and has quietly become the persistent national power that Army once was. Now, sadly for Army, the 1963 Navy team is the best ever.
With one game still to play, Navy already has scored more points (293) than any predecessor in more than 50 years, and it is rated second in the national polls, the loftiest peak ever held by a Navy team so late in the season. It is a fast, aggressive, explosive team, fully capable of striking from any place on the field because of Quarterback Roger Staubach (see cover), one of the most gifted players of any year, who ignores the clock as readily as he ignores defenders. If there were not such an emotional rivalry attached to the game, Navy could almost name the score.
But emotion is often a great equalizer in football, particularly in this game, where the upset is commonplace. While Coach Paul Dietzel's Cadets clearly lack the ability of the Midshipmen, they have defeated some good teams ( Penn State, Air Force), and Navy has been upset by SMU 32-28, and frightened by Duke 38-25. Army's problems in the game are well defined. The team runs better than it passes. If the Cadets can control the ball Staubach cannot get his hands on it. Army should make a game of it for possibly three quarters. Eventually, though. Navy's speed, its agility and Roger Staubach should prevail, with Navy concluding one of its most successful seasons.
For all of its success and its bright future (Staubach is a junior), Annapolis has been a taut ship all season long. Its Spartan atmosphere has provided a perfect cloak for Wayne Hardin, Navy's grim-faced coach, who has beaten Army four straight years but apparently does not want anyone to know it.
Hardin became head coach in 1959 at the age of 32 after serving four years as an assistant to Eddie Erdelatz. He is a red-haired Californian who played at College of the Pacific, but his manner would make anyone believe he was reared on a military post. "I believe in Navy," he says. "When I stop believing in it I'll leave." Hardin has a lightly freckled, round face and agate eyes. His voice is soft, but his speech is rapid. In an age of public-relations-minded coaches, he casts himself as a rock-nosed grumbler who believes that winning takes care of everything. So far it has for him. Going into the Army game, Hardin has won 34, lost 14 and tied one.
There are those among his coaching contemporaries, however, who believe his contribution has not been all good. Hardin's teams have been accused of rough play (this year's team has set an academy record of 631 yards in penalties), of intimidating their opponents unnecessarily and of acting at times with conduct unbecoming future admirals. Hardin used a sleeper play against Pittsburgh last year that some thought was unethical. "That was my fault," Hardin says. "The kid limped too much on purpose. But only the press called it a sleeper. Pitt didn't." He pulled a stunt on Duke a year ago (sending his second-string quarterback in at fullback with a different jersey numeral to throw a touchdown pass) that Duke Coach Bill Murray felt was not entirely wholesome. In the SMU game this year a Navy player, Fullback Nick Markoff, was roundly booed when he returned to the field after an out-of-bounds pileup and threw a shoulder at a side-stepping SMU cheerleader. Hardin insists Markoff was cursed and kicked. There are other versions.
The incidents have not made Hardin the most popular coach in the fraternity, but no amount of censure seems to bother him. Hardin has his own explanations for every accusation against him as well as for every Navy loss. In a recent session he handled a flurry of innocent questions as if he were being asked for his bank statement. Given a choice with normal material, he was asked, does he consider himself an attacking coach or does he build from defense? "Both," he said. How would he describe Navy's current offense? "Diversified." Defensively, does he prefer an aggressive style or containing? "Multiple." How often does Roger Staubach change plays at the scrimmage line? "Never." How often does Hardin send in specific plays from the sideline? "What difference does it make?"