By Christian Swezey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk has his pitch to bowl organizers down cold.
"Navy comes with guarantees, I tell them that all the time," he said. "We can guarantee a competitive team. We can guarantee the pageantry of Navy football, with the Midshipmen march-on and the flyovers. We guarantee what our expectations are ticket-wise.
"We've been the number one choice across the board the past three years when a slot has become available. Our track record is what instills confidence in people."
Navy (9-3) faces No. 23 Boston College (9-3) in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
It is the fourth straight bowl game for the program, and there looks to be another on the horizon: Navy is close to agreeing on a deal to play in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego next year, according to Gladchuk. If the deal goes through, Navy would play in the game if it gets six wins and does not qualify for the Bowl Championship Series.
On the surface, Navy's path to a bowl game would seem difficult, mostly because it is not affiliated with a conference and thus has no automatic tie-ins to a game.
Bowl berths are a lucrative business: Most are worth at least $750,000. Navy is expected to make more than $1 million from the Meineke Car Care Bowl, according to organizers.
"Navy is getting a reputation through their ticket sales," said Bruce Binkowski, the executive director of the Poinsettia Bowl and the Holiday Bowl. "Last year they sold more than 20,000 tickets. We would like to have them here on a rotating basis. They're that good."
Navy is expected to bring between 20,000 to 24,000 fans on Saturday. That includes around 2,000 Midshipmen, many of whom purchased travel packages from the academy for around $400; the price includes airfare, two nights in a hotel and a game ticket.
This follows the 25,000 Navy fans who went to the Houston Bowl in 2003; the 18,000 who went to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco in 2004; and the 20,000 who went to the Poinsettia Bowl last year.
The ticket sales are one selling point. The pageantry is another. The Midshipmen will do a march-on 20 minutes before the game, just as they do at home games and at the Army-Navy contest. There will be a flyover of Navy jets before kickoff.
The pageantry kicked in not long after Navy arrived in Charlotte: Yesterday, the Midshipmen and Boston College visited a local hospital. Navy's players wore their formal service dress blue uniforms, or "SDBs" in academy parlance.
"This is Navy's first time playing in Charlotte, and people are excited to see what it's all about," said Will Webb, executive director of the Meineke Car Care Bowl. "People want to take their kids to see the sportsmanship, to see the Midshipmen march-on and to see the team that stands at attention for the other team's alma mater and then their own after the game. . . . Chet and I have agreed not to talk about this until after the game, but I think we'd be very much interested in having them again. I almost don't want to talk about Navy in case someone else finds out about them."
Navy's bowl berths are due largely to the work of Gladchuk. He began lobbying bowls to consider Navy in the summer of 2003, when the team was coming off a 2-10 record. The work paid off when Navy entered its regular season finale 7-4, and the Houston Bowl had an opening after only five SEC teams were eligible.
"It wasn't the eleventh hour, it was the eleventh-and-a-half hour," Gladchuk said. "We blanketed the South and hoped our fans and alumni would buy tickets. What we've done since then is basically guarantee bowls . . . that we could deliver 20,000 fans at a minimum."
Navy's players have noticed the support.
"I think people in the hall [Bancroft Hall, the dormitory at the academy] are excited, they're coming up to us and talking about it," said Tyler Tidwell, a starting linebacker. "There's military people everywhere. Anywhere in the country you wouldn't be far from a military base. . . . We had more than 2,000 Midshipmen at the game last year. I think that shows how great our support is."
And why, as long as Navy is able to win at least six games, it likely will have little problem finding a bowl.
"The number one thing is, I think most service academies are attractive to bowl games," said Jerry Ippoliti, who organized the Houston Bowl. "That's from a patriotic point of view and from the fact that there are servicemen and women all over the country. . . . Navy has established a tradition now. And once the tradition is established, it's hard to break."