When Navy beat Army for its fifth straight national lacrosse championship last Saturday the score was 9-4, the star was from Uniondale, N.Y. and the style was early Indian. Worst of all, the whole Free State of Maryland was faced with finally admitting that the game it has cherished as all its own for years is now being played tougher and better by a bunch of foreigners.
The Naval Academy is, of course, as geographically Maryland as Fort Mc-Henry and The Star-Spangled Banner. Conceding, though, that Navy, like the national anthem, is federal in character, then Saturday was lacrosse's most national moment. All season long the two service academies have been much the best college teams in the country, and by the time they faced each other in front of a crowd of 7,200 at West Point's Michie Stadium both had come through their schedules undefeated, untied, unscarred and practically unscared. In five years Navy had lost only two games, both to Army, with whom it had to share the national title in 1961. Yet only a third of the players on the rosters of these two lacrosse titans last week were Marylanders. Instead, most of the representatives were from such mystic places as Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico and even Texas.
The service schools have accomplished their lacrosse coup of Maryland in two ways: they have found natural athletes who did not know a lacrosse stick from a howitzer and taught them the sport, and they have, in a sense, given the game back to the Indians. The Indians used to play lacrosse among whole tribes, scheduling "games" to keep their hand in when no excuse for a massacre was readily available. Sometimes it was difficult to tell where lacrosse left off and a massacre began. And this is the way the service schools now play the game. They run more and they brawl more as they play a most untraditional but effective brand of lacrosse.
Since lacrosse rules no longer permit the whole Algonquin nation on the field at the same time, the academies help themselves by substituting incessantly, wearing their outmanned opposition to a frazzle. "The University of Maryland was the best team that we've played," said Navy's Win Peterson before the Army game. "I mean they fought the longest. Most teams we play just give out in the third quarter."
Much of Navy's muscle comes from the football team, which finishes spring practice early in April. Army gets little gridiron help, because the cooler New York weather results in spring football running until late April. Seven of the Navy lacrosse regulars are football players, including the whole fourth midfield. The Torpedoes, made up of Pat Donnelly, the first-string football fullback, Steve Szabo and John Mickelson.
Two other football players. Ends Jim Campbell and Neil Henderson, are also noteworthy Navy players, even though Henderson missed this whole season with a pulled hamstring. They are known on the team as "the bumper cars." "When I was at Maryland," Midfielder Brian Lantier, a transfer student, says, "it was stressed that we must stay on our feet at all times. The coaches figured if you went down, whatever the reason, the other team gained an advantage. At Navy it is a lot different. You see, if someone like one of the bumper cars is knocked down, usually two or three of the other team go down with him." Lantier hits the ground so much himself now that he wears basketball kneepads.
But lacrosse has never been simply a game of stamina and brawn. Handling a stick is a deft art, and the most memorable players are the tricky little attackmen who do the slickest dodging and the most scoring. Navy has this season's best in Jimmy Lewis, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound wisp who is so exciting to watch that he ended up mesmerizing even his own teammates in the Army game. They tended to stand around and watch him whenever he got the ball.
Lewis, only a sophomore, comes from Long Island, about the only area outside of Maryland where lacrosse is played among the high schools. The quality is good enough, too, so good that now even the Maryland colleges are recruiting there. Lewis is heralded as the best player ever born or brought up outside Maryland, the best sophomore of any nativity and potentially the best man ever to pick up a lacrosse stick.
Navy, which usually is a carefree squad, came into this game annoyed because Army upset it last year. To guard against overconfidence or underattention—June Week was coming up at the academies—Navy Coach Bill Bilderback packed his whole team up four days before the game and took it to the naval base at Bainbridge, Md. Anybody wishing to see the team, or any other Navy secrets at Bainbridge, had to sign in at the gate, carry a large "Visitor" sign in the car and faithfully promise to obey a prohibition against carrying "firearms, cameras or intoxicating beverages." The lacrosse part of the base was, however, more casual. Coach Bilderback was seen with a camera, and the players relaxed to the point where a few of them slept through part of one afternoon practice.
They were wide awake for Army, though, jumping ahead 2-0 in the first six minutes. By half time it was 4-2, but in the third quarter Tim Vogel, a Cadet whose home is Annapolis, passed to Captain Roy Buckner, who bounced in a long shot to make it 4-3. Navy had not scored for more than 15 minutes and it appeared that Army was gaining momentum.