For years, officials at West Point and Annapolis agreed that football took care of all the needs for body contact sports between the service rivals. Wrestling in particular was held unwise. It was feared that overenthusiasm so deeply rooted in the tradition of academy rivalry might cause damage to the athletes.
"There was a feeling that it just wouldn't be good," said John Cox, Navy's athletic publicist.
His West Point counterpart, Joe Cahill, agreed. "We've always felt," he said, "that there was too much of the man-to-man in wrestling."
But somehow last week both academies threw prudence to the winds and gave wrestling a cautious try for the first time in the history of the Army-Navy rivalry.
Manners were perfect on the mat. After the final match between Tony Stremic, 205 pounds, a guard on the Navy football team last year, and Loren Reid, 198 pounds, who played tackle for Army, the two shook hands and congratulated each other.
"You wrestled a very good match," said Stremic, the winner on a close decision. "So did you," answered Reid politely.
In the stands cadets from both academies behaved like perfect gentlemen too, perhaps because of the presence of a generally civilizing force: a goodly quota of young ladies, present as dates.
The only person who got out of hand, and then only slightly, was a fellow named William R. Smedberg III, an admiral, who, by the way, is superintendent of the Naval Academy. He bounded out of his seat at every stirring moment, bounced a few feet forward to the mat edge and shouted encouragement to the Navy wrestlers a few feet away. At times he resembled a cheerleader (which Army had, but Navy did not), turning to the stands and shouting encouragement to his friends.
His enthusiasm was understandable. He was a 115-pound wrestling champ in his Annapolis days but never got a crack at Army. The admiral had done as much as any man to bring the meeting about, and he went away happy. Navy won 17-8.
THE TRUTH ABOUT UMPIRES