PHILADELPHIA — When the Navy football team plays Army on Dec. 8, three weeks will have passed since its last game, and events that unfolded off the field during that time are becoming part of the narrative as the Midshipmen try to reclaim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time in three years.
First on the minds of Navy players and coaches is the health of teammate Ralph Montalvo, who was involved in a one-car accident on Thanksgiving night near his home. The accident left the freshman quarterback in critical condition in a Miami hospital. Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo flew to Miami to be with Montalvo and his family on Saturday, and several Navy players from Florida also visited Kendall Regional Medical Center, where Montalvo was placed in a medically induced coma.
Montalvo, who goes by the nickname Rafi, spent most of this season on the scout team but was elevated to third string following an injury to John Hendrick. Montalvo was in line to be in uniform for the Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field, where on Wednesday Niumatalolo and seniors Bo Snelson and Brye French addressed the situation during Army-Navy media day.
“I think it just kind of stressed to everyone on the team that you just never know,” said Snelson, a slotback who is second on the team at 6.5 yards per carry. “It’s easy to get down on yourself and grumble that you’ve got to be out at practice, but how would you feel if you weren’t able to come to practice? I think that’s something that really impacted everybody.”
Niumatalolo said Navy’s players would be wearing an emblem on their helmets to show support for Montalvo. The jersey Montalvo would have worn in the Army-Navy game also was mailed to his family in another gesture of encouragement.
Montalvo’s condition has fluctuated since he was admitted to the hospital, according to Jeff Fair, a physician who serves as the team’s trainer and who has been in touch with officials at Kendall Regional Medical Center. Montalvo had a fever on Sunday, and doctors were concerned about an infection, although none was found. On Monday, pressure on Montalvo’s brain increased.
“It goes day to day,” said Niumatalolo, who received a text from the family shortly after arriving at Lincoln Financial Field to speak with reporters. “Really hour to hour. We’ve been getting updates from his dad. He’s sent us texts. He’s doing better today, but the parents said the doctors have been very cautious in their diagnosis, and I can understand that.”
An investigation into the accident by the Pinewood, Fla., police department is ongoing, but a police report, according to Florida law, is not made public for the first 60 days following an incident. Montalvo was riding in the passenger seat of the vehicle when the driver, who is a friend of Montalvo, apparently lost control and ran into a house on a dark street.
Players began learning more details about Montalvo’s condition after coming back to Annapolis from the Thanksgiving break, and in the last few days the team has kept him in its thoughts while trying to remain focused on extending its series-record winning streak over Army to 11 in a row.
For the first time since 2005, Army and Navy enter the game with victories over Air Force, which has won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy the past two years. The Falcons shipped the trophy to Philadelphia recently, and it was on display prominently during a welcome ceremony held Wednesday on the stadium’s club level.
In last year’s game at FedEx Field, Navy got a pair of fourth-quarter field goals from then-senior Jon Teague and a defensive stand on fourth down to secure a 27-21 win in front of a crowd that included President Obama and Vice President Biden.
The last time Navy lost to Army, in 2001, Niumatalolo was an assistant at UNLV. But Niumatalolo was Navy’s offensive coordinator in 1998 when the Black Knights beat the Midshipmen, 34-30.
“It’s the worst feeling in sports,” he said, “and I want to keep it that way.”