Legendary coach Red Blaik must be whirling in his coffin. Ditto revered running backs Chris Cagle and Glenn Davis. Career Army personnel around the globe surely bow their heads whenever the painful subject of football arises.
Army’s recent gridiron misadventures are nothing new, of course, except that new depths are constantly being plumbed. The latest descent was Navy’s 34-0 breeze Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, another very black day for the Black Knights in their most heated and honored rivalry.
If this series wasn’t so traditional, it might be canceled faster than a TV sitcom without wisecracks. The Midshipmen have won the last seven confrontations, outscoring Army by an average of nearly 29 points.
And then some.
The latest carnage was viewed firsthand by President George W. Bush, who earned pregame snickers from the crowd of 69,144 when he walked onto the field for the coin toss and kicked a football set upon a tee about 15 yards. But that was the last amusing moment of the afternoon, other than for the most fervent Navy supporters.
“I’ll tell you why Navy always wins,” a disgruntled Army fan from Minnesota insisted as he waited to enter the Linc. “Our guys are smarter than theirs because they spend more time in class instead of on the field.”
Say what? If only it were that simple. Army coach Stan Brock, who endured his second 3-9 season, insisted afterward that his troops “are headed in the right direction.” Maybe he meant toward total oblivion.
Army hasn’t had a winning season since 1996, driving four coaches (Bob Sutton, Todd Berry, Bobby Ross and Brock) to at least figuratively strong drink. Over the last 12 seasons, the once-proud Black Knights are an unsnappy 30-108.
The historic series started in 1890, when Cadet Dennis Michie accepted a challenge from Navy to stage an annual pigskin scrum. If Michie were around today, he might want to reconsider, although Navy’s overall series lead is merely 53-49-7.
“I think we’re similar physically, but Navy has been tougher mentally,” Brock suggested. “But we have a plan, and I hope I’m allowed to stick with that plan.”
Well, OK, Coach, for another season or so. But you better beat Navy somewhere, somehow along the line.
A big part of the reason for Navy’s dominance is Paul Johnson, who inherited an abysmal program in Annapolis and produced five consecutive winning seasons before leaving for Georgia Tech last December. Successor Ken Niumatalolo has kept the Mids cruising nicely in 2008. They’re 8-4 with one date remaining in the first EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 20 at RFK Stadium against an opponent to be named.
For belabored Army, nothing at all went right this day. Slotback Shun White sprinted 65 yards for a touchdown on Navy’s third play, and the Mids led 17-0 when Army awoke briefly on Patrick Mealy’s 63-yard kickoff return to the Navy 27 late in the second quarter.
Aha, an opportunity - but not for long. On fourth down, with Matthew Campbell apparently set to try a 42-yard field goal, holder Andrew Rinehart surprisingly snatched the snap and ran the ball. He promptly was buried under a sea of white shirts.
End of threat. End of Army’s remote chances. End of interest for casual TV viewers around the country.
Future skirmishes will be played a week later, on the second Saturday in December, at the behest of CBS, which doesn’t want this increasingly inane affair cluttering a weekend when conference championship games are being contested around the nation. Never mind pomp and circumstance - give the fans a game that either team can win.
Army vs. Navy as a football afterthought? There can be no joy in that realization, even for the triumphant Mids and their supporters.