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A case of matter over minds
Walter Bingham
December 10, 1962
The air was thick with strategy when Army met Navy in Philadelphia, but it was the brilliant play of Roger Staubach that carried the day
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December 10, 1962

A Case Of Matter Over Minds

The air was thick with strategy when Army met Navy in Philadelphia, but it was the brilliant play of Roger Staubach that carried the day

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Several days before the Army-Navy game Coach Paul Dietzel of Army rigged up a dummy of Navy's quarterback, Roger Staubach, complete with uniform number 12, and let his senior players pummel it to shreds. It was an impressive demonstration of vicious tackling, but it was just a demonstration. When Army got another look at the dummy last Saturday in Philadelphia, it moved—this way, that way, sometimes both ways at once—and only rarely did Army even touch it. What's more, it threw passes, long ones and short ones, always accurately. Never in the long history of Army-Navy football has a quarterback so dominated a game. Roger Staubach, only a sophomore, who spent last year's game sitting in the stands with the rest of the midshipmen, biting his fingernails, passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more as Navy crushed Army 34-14.

Prior to the game Paul Dietzel had called Staubach a fantastic quarterback. People nodded their heads skeptically and accepted Dietzel's words as part of the typical pregame strategy of over-praising the opponent. But Dietzel, to his own sorrow, was correct. Almost everything Staubach did was perfect. Time and again he would roll out to his right, find his receivers covered, circle back the other way, see an Army man ahead, cut back again and, just when he was caught, complete his pass downfield. Sometimes he ran, picking his openings methodically, using his blockers to advantage. Even when Staubach was wrong he looked right. Late in the second period, he threw a pass on the run. An Army lineman reached up and swatted the ball. Still running, Staubach caught the ball and passed it again. The play was illegal, but it was sweet and it showed how completely this was Roger Staubach's day.

The game was attended by so much folderol, schmaltz and razzmatazz that at times it appeared to be more Barnum and Bailey than Army and Navy. Both academies reported that never had there been such excitement over the game. A group of midshipmen took a full-page ad in The New York Times, urging the team to victory. Just before game time, Army produced a huge gray machine with blinking lights. "This is the voice of the Navy subconscious," said the machine. "We know we are going to lose." Navy countered with a battleship chasing and finally destroying a Chinese junk, symbol of Army's Chinese Bandits. There were cadets dressed as spacemen and Chinamen, middies dressed as Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. There were also balloons and cannons and party horns and American flags and, of course, the constant roaring of the cadets and midshipmen.

The two teams tried gimmicks too, though nothing as sensational as Navy's luminescent helmets of last year. This year every Navy player had his name lettered on the back of his jersey, a skull and crossbones and—in Chinese—the inscription "Beat Army" on his helmet. Army's players wore white socks and white football shoes and had little Beat Navy emblems on their sleeves. Army also did without its customary pregame workout, and this last psychological twist may have cost it two points. Early in the game a snap from center sailed over the Army kicker's head and out of the end zone for a safety. For the next five minutes the Army center was over on the sidelines, warming up.

The carnival atmosphere that existed before and during the game was created by the teams' two coaches, Dietzel of Army and Wayne Hardin of Navy. While the game was Army against Navy, or at least Army against Roger Staubach, it was even more a battle between Dietzel and Hardin, their personalities and their systems of play. Hardin, in his three years at Navy, had beaten Army three times and his perfection had cost Dale Hall, Dietzel's predecessor, his job. Just before last week's game, Hardin pointed to his three winning scores, which were painted on the wall of the Navy athletic building. "That's the only difference between Dale Hall and myself," he said.

Dietzel was hired for the express purpose of beating Navy, much as an assassin is hired to rub a man out. So much publicity attended the appointment of Dietzel and his subsequent activities that Hardin found himself more the challenger than the champion. The situation irked him. When a reporter asked him the other day if any one person on Army bothered him, Hardin started to speak and then stopped. Finally he said: "Boy, I almost said something that would have gotten me into trouble."

The two coaches are both in their late 30s, trim in appearance and as energetic as a pair of bulldozers. But the similarity ends right there. Dietzel has a face of innocence, blond and youthful, the Billy Budd of football coaches. He is a master public relations man. When talking he is apt to rest a hand on the shoulder of his listener. Addressing a group of newspapermen, he will say, almost hypnotically: "We work together, don't we? We're both interested in the same thing."

Hardin's face, by contrast, registers latent anger. He is a redhead with a redhead's temper and it doesn't take much to make the tips of his ears glow like a stoplight. Unlike Dietzel, he appears nervous in public, often rubbing his hands together furiously as if drying them. "A lot of people have tried to figure me out," he says with a hint of pride. "No one has yet, not even my mother."

Curiously, with the start of a game, a total transformation takes place in both men. Hardin takes a position on the 50-yard line and rarely budges, looking as unconcerned as a man waiting for a bus. Against Army, he kept staring at a sheet of figures, barely glancing up in time to watch the play. And after Staubach made a remarkable 20-yard run for Navy's second touchdown and trotted off the field to be hugged by teammates, Hardin didn't even look his way.

Dietzel, in contrast, turns into a wild man. Clipboard in hand, he ranges up and down the sideline, cheering, waving, backslapping, kicking and sometimes jumping. Even when Army was hopelessly behind Navy, Dietzel continued his excited dance.

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