“He said, ‘I’m not going to say anything negative about your son, but you need to put him up with the older kids in tackle football because he’s going to kill somebody out here,’” Bob Steelman recalled. “So they threw him out of touch and put him in tackle as a 6-year-old.”
And so began a love affair with a game that means the world at West Point. Now a senior and facing the final game of his tenure — beating Navy on Saturday, something the Black Knights haven’t done in a decade.
The two academies meet on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
“It’d be the perfect ending,” Steelman said, “to a season where we’ve seen so many ups and downs.”
Army (2-9) has struggled against its rivals for what must seem like eons to the Black Knights. For the first time since 2005, both teams enter the 113th game in this storied rivalry with wins over Air Force, and the winner will decide who gets the Commander In Chief’s Trophy, emblematic of supremacy among the three schools.
Navy (7-4) beat Air Force 28-21 in overtime in early October and Army beat the Falcons 42-21 at Michie Stadium last month. That halted Army’s 13-game losing streak in service academy games, and now the Black Knights are focused on winning the coveted hardware for the first time since 1996.
Despite many heart wrenching losses, the 6-foot, 207-pound Steelman gives Army a legitimate chance this time. He has rewritten the Army record book with his keen mind and powerful legs, and he has directed the Black Knights’ ground-gobbling triple option attack with precision and poise:
⦁ He is the only player in school history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and pass for more than 2,000.
⦁ He leads the team with 1,152 yards rushing, a season record for any Army quarterback. His 755 rushes for 3,224 yards and 268 points are career records for the position.
⦁ He has reached the 100-yard rushing mark in a school-record five straight games, and another against Navy would tie the academy’s single-season record set in 1990 (Mike Mayweather).
⦁ Steelman has a school-record 44 rushing scores, one more than the mark set nearly six decades ago by the great Glenn Davis.
⦁ And he will become the first Army quarterback since the days of Davis and Doc Blanchard to start four times against Navy.
The latter is a feat in itself when you consider that Steelman’s dream of playing Division I football nearly was dashed despite a stellar high school career in Bowling Green, Ky.