At west point last week the Army forgot a stern lesson from its own history and paid a dear price for the lapse. In 1763 it had invited the Chippewa and Sac tribes to demonstrate the Indian sport of lacrosse at Fort Mackinac in the Michigan territory. The Indians, using 200 braves to a side, obliged with a quick game, and then literally massacred their hosts. On Saturday Army again invited a lacrosse team in, and again the hosts got scalped.
The perpetrators of this latest indignity were a bunch of rough, brash extroverts from the U.S. Naval Academy. They came to West Point knowing that this game would decide the national championship, since both Army and Navy were undefeated in college competition. They played—as they have all season—with the ferocious joy of kids on a picnic.
For the past two years Army had held at least a share of the title, while Navy had foundered behind such traditional lacrosse powers as Johns Hopkins and Maryland. Though Navy had shown surprisingly well this year, Army still had to be considered the favorite. The Cadets were coached by Jim Adams, a slim, somber perfectionist. They had Bob Miser, a 6-foot 1-inch whirling dervish from Baltimore, who is the best attackman in lacrosse today. And they had a nationally known athlete, Bill Carpenter (the Lonesome End of football fame), who in a single year had become the best defenseman in college lacrosse. "They don't say much, but they get the job done," said Jim Adams of his quietly competent team.
Enter effervescent Navy, arriving on the serene athletic scene at West Point with a wig, a monkey, some crazy hats, an assistant coach with a pocketful of firecrackers and a conviction that it was going to run the black and gold pants right off Army.
"My boys love to run, run, run," said breezy Navy Coach Bill Bilderback as he downed a boilermaker in the bar at West Point's Hotel Thayer the night before the game. "You just can't keep them from running. They think this game is fun."
"You might say our approach is informal," said Assistant Coach Lou Phipps, setting off a firecracker under the table to help settle his nerves. "The kids have great spirit, though I don't know where they get the idea they can clown around as much as they do. On the way up here they bought me a wig. So what if I am bald? There's a limit! And they're nuts about hats. They bought some dizzy ones after our first game, against Rutgers, and they've worn them on every trip since."
But Navy had more than zany exuberance. It had at least one first-rate lacrosse star, too. He was Karl Rippelmeyer, a big, fast attackman from Baltimore with a knack of bulling his way around defensemen.
At 9:30 a.m. a standing-room crowd of 5,500 listened to the band play On Brave Old Army Team, and heard Navy's midget monkey scream back ei! ei! ei! Then came an outstanding show of lacrosse—that physically exhausting but psychologically satisfying game in which a player who has been fooled or outrun at least has the pleasure of clubbing his opponent with a stick.
The initial question—can Carpenter hold Rippelmeyer?—was settled in two minutes, and a painful secret was out. Tough Bill Carpenter, who once played an entire football game against Oklahoma with a dislocated shoulder, had a badly infected leg. He had refused to go into the hospital ("It's easy to get in, hard to get out," he said), and hoped the leg would improve. It hadn't. At 2:03 of the first period, Ripplemeyer gave Carpenter a wonderful head fake, whirled past the Lonesome End's injured left leg, and scored.
With Carpenter obviously lame the game was a tossup, and a new factor became crucial. In lacrosse, attackmen and defensemen are limited to their ends of the field, but the three midfielders play over the entire 120-yard-long, 60-yard-wide expanse. All season Navy had used three shifts of midfielders, letting each play three minutes and rest six. With well-rested midfielders, Navy had employed Bilderback's "run, run, run" theory, and the opposition had collapsed trying to keep up. Would Army?