December 1, 1993: On the Wednesday before the Army-Navy game, the Naval Academy was rocked by horrifying news: Three recent academy graduates had died in a double-murder/suicide at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, Calif., just outside San Diego. Kerryn O'Neill, who had been a cross-country star at Navy, had broken off her engagement with George Smith. Apparently that had been more than Smith could handle and he had snapped. He had gone to O'Neill's room at 1:45 in the morning and found her there talking to a friend. Armed with two pistols, Smith shot O'Neill's friend four times, then shot O'Neill in the back of the head before finally turning the 9mm Ruger pistol on himself.

When the football players heard the name of O'Neill's murdered friend, they could not believe their ears: Alton Lee Grizzard.

No one symbolized what was good about Navy football more than Alton Grizzard. He had been a four-year starter at quarterback, a team captain in 1990 and had remained someone that everyone associated with the program pointed to as the kind of person the Naval Academy was capable of producing.

Grizzard was so tough, so inspiring to other players, so respected that when Army players talked about the player who best represented what the Army-Navy game was all about, they brought up Grizzard's name. When Army Coach Bob Sutton, who barely knew Grizzard except as an opponent, heard the news of his death, he sat down and cried. "He stood for everything you want the academies to stand for," Sutton said. "He was indomitable."

Grizzard had last been at Navy in the fall of 1992, on the day Navy played Tulane. The Midshipmen were 0-7 going into the game, and Coach George Chaump had asked Grizzard to speak to the team before the game. By the time Grizzard was finished, he was in tears and there weren't a lot of dry eyes in the room. He talked about pride and staying together and what the Navy and Navy football and Navy football players meant to him. The Midshipmen beat Tulane that day. It was their only victory of the season.

And now, on a frigid, rainy afternoon, just three days before the Army game, Chaump had to tell his players that Alton Grizzard was dead. He broke down, and so did a lot of the players. "We almost didn't believe it," quarterback Jim Kubiak remembered. "It didn't seem possible that it was true. The whole thing was a nightmare."

They wore the name "Griz" on their gold helmets that Saturday in the New Jersey Meadowlands and, down 16-0 at the end of three quarters, they improbably battled back, cutting the margin to 16-14 in the final minutes. When their defense held Army again and the offense got the ball back at its own 20 with more than four minutes remaining, they knew that they were going to win the game they had dedicated to their fallen leader.

They drove the ball 79 yards, to the 1-yard line with less than a minute to play. On third down, Chaump called a running play designed to ensure that the ball would be in the center of the field if the touchdown wasn't scored. That would leave plenty of time for a chip-shot field goal that was all that was needed to win the game.

Kubiak handed the ball to halfback Brad Stramanak, who started to the left, but then saw a gaping hole to the right. Instinctively, he cut back toward the hole and seemed certain to score until Army linebacker Pat Work somehow lunged sideways and made a shoestring, diving tackle of Stramanak, who landed no more than a foot from the goal line. Fourth down. Six seconds left.

Chaump sent in the field goal team, which was led by Ryan Bucchianeri, a baby-faced freshman who had become the team's place kicker five weeks earlier. On that afternoon, against Notre Dame he coolly kicked two field goals on national TV in his college debut. Bucchianeri had been All-State and All-American at Ringgold High School in Monongahela, Pa. He had a strong leg and loads of confidence. He trotted onto the field believing it was his destiny to win the Army-Navy game with a last-second field goal.

What happened next is a piece of Army-Navy lore that still affects every single person who has any connection to either academy. Kubiak, who still gets angry replaying those moments, never wanted to kick the field goal. The field was wet and slick from a steady rain, the angle wasn't very good, and, even though Bucchianeri had kicked well against Notre Dame, he didn't like the idea of putting the entire game into the hands -- or, more accurately, onto the foot -- of a plebe.

"I wanted to go for it," he said. "I was certain we'd get in. Certain."

Players always feel that way. Clearly, the correct play was the field goal. Even on a wet field, with a tough angle, it was still only 18 yards -- shorter than an extra point. Bucchianeri trotted on with holder Tony Solliday. Army called time out.

On the Army sideline, Sutton couldn't help but think about the mistakes his team had made to blow what had seemed like a safe lead. "I was thinking about how this game always seems to be that way," he said. "No lead is safe. We knew that and yet we had let them come back anyway."

In the press box, Bob Beretta, Army's assistant sports information director, was surprised to find himself almost wanting Bucchianeri to make the kick. "I wanted Army to win the game, obviously," he said. "But I couldn't help but think to myself that the consequences for a kid of missing a kick, especially such a short one, in that situation, would be absolutely unbearable. I just couldn't make myself want anyone to go through that kind of misery."

Army had won the game a year earlier on Patmon Malcolm's 49-yarder. Now, all the Cadets could do was hope for a miracle -- a block or, even less likely, a Bucchianeri miss. The time out ended. Bucchianeri lined up. The snap was perfect, the hold was good. Bucchianeri swung his leg through the ball and it sailed over the arms of the flailing Cadets. But as soon as it came off his foot, he knew something was wrong. The ball didn't hook as much as he had thought it would and it sailed 18 inches to the right of the near goal post.

Wide right.

Those two words seemed to follow him off the field, up the tunnel, through the locker room and onto the team bus. Those two words would become his legacy, a larger-than-life one, because, when he was called on to explain them during a press conference that lasted less than five minutes, he unwittingly made himself into a hero.

As a plebe, a midshipman is allowed three answers when addressing an upperclassman:

"Yes, sir."

"No, sir."

"No excuse, sir."

The last is a critical part of training at the academy. If someone else spatters mud on your boots, you do not explain that to an upperclassman when he demands to know why they're muddy. You simply say -- you must say -- "No excuse, sir." No one else is responsible for your failures. And so, when the media offered Bucchianeri excuses: the wet field, the angle, the pressure, perhaps even the hold or the snap, he kept shaking his head and saying -- in essence -- "No excuse, sir."

"I missed the kick," he said repeatedly. "I did my best. I tried. I missed the kick."

In an era when athletes blame everyone and everything for their failures, Bucchianeri's simple "No excuse, sir" became national news. An entire country, it seemed, wanted to put its collective arms around him and say, "It's okay." Bucchianeri received hundreds of letters, from little kids to admirals to the secretary of the Navy, to congressmen and senators. Nine months later, in its college football preview issue, Sports Illustrated devoted seven full pages to Bucchianeri. William Nack, one of the magazine's most poetic and gifted writers, re-created what had happened during that week and on that day in a story that made Bucchianeri a national hero all over again.

But what an uneasy hero he would prove to be. December 2, 1994: On the morning before the Army game, Bucchianeri woke up early, in part because he was keyed up, in part because there was a commotion in the hallway outside his room. Commotion in Bancroft Hall during Army week is more the norm than unusual since Army week is traditionally a time for plebes to try and get even with the third classmen who have been making their lives miserable all semester.

When Bucchianeri opened his door there was a giant poster plastered on it. Poking his head around the poster so he could see what was on it, Bucchianeri read, "Go Navy, Beat Army," in block lettering. Below it was his number (15) and his company (32). He smiled. This was another traditional part of Army week, the plebes making posters for football players in their companies to spur them on. But just as Bucchianeri was about to go back into his room, he noticed more writing on the bottom of the poster. This wasn't as neatly done. In fact, it looked more like graffiti. In several different colors in several different places were the same two words: "wide right."

"It threw me," he admitted. "I had heard it occasionally in the halls, even seen it written on chalkboards, but I didn't expect people in my own company to put it on my door the morning before we played Army."

Shaken, Bucchianeri joined his teammates for the bus ride to Philadelphia. The next day, during pregame warmups, he heard the Corps of Cadets chanting, over and over again, "Wide right, wide right." That, he said, didn't bother him. "You expect that from the other team," he said. "If anything, it psyches me up."

On the opening drive of the game, Navy took the ball to the Army 20 and stalled. This time, the ball was in the center of the field. There was no problem with the angle. The game wasn't on the line. The turf was dry. The attempt was 37 yards. Bucchianeri had made one from five yards farther away against Rice the game before.

As Bucchianeri trotted on for the kick, Brent Musburger, doing the game for ABC-TV, commented that, "Making this kick would mean a lot, not only to Bucchianeri but to the whole Navy team. It would exorcise a lot of those ghosts lingering from last year."

Musburger didn't have time to talk about what a miss would do. Just as it had been 364 days earlier, the snap was good, the hold was good and the kick had plenty of distance. And, once again, it sailed wide right; this time by about four feet. The chants of "Wide right" engulfed the stadium again. Bucchianeri did make both his extra-point attempts later in the game, but there was no getting around another wide right; especially when the final margin was two points and the game-winner was a 52-yard field goal -- by the other's team's kicker.

"I saw my dream lived out," he remembered sadly. "A 50-yarder to win the Army-Navy game. Only I watched it instead of kicking it."

As Joe Gross, the sports editor of the Annapolis Evening Capital, pointed out later the next week, Bucchianeri's miss came with more than 50 minutes left to play in the game. Navy had plenty of chances to win and made several key errors. Kubiak threw three interceptions. Three Army fumbles went uncovered. With a chance to win the game in the final minutes, the offense went nowhere. And yet, Gross noted, the general sentiment in and around Annapolis seemed to be that Bucchianeri had lost another one.

Or, as the saying now went in the brigade, he had "booched it." That month, in the on-campus humor newspaper that the mids occasionally produced, the editors put together a Letterman-style Top 10 list of the reasons why their previously scheduled edition of the paper had never come out.

Reason No. 1? "We just booched it."

"They made me into a verb," Bucchianeri said.

If that was the worst thing they had made him into, he wouldn't have minded. This time, there was very little sympathy. It seemed to Bucchianeri that the words "wide right" followed him everywhere. He heard it in the halls, saw it written on the walls.

It was okay, though, he thought, because he knew he would come back and be a better kicker the next year. He still had two more years to make the big kick in an Army game, to dim the haunting memories of his first two years. August 1995: To be fair, Ryan Bucchianeri never asked to become a national hero for missing a field goal.

To be equally fair, all Charlie Weatherbie knew about Bucchianeri when he became Navy's new coach in 1995 was that he had missed two crucial kicks. What's more, as he tried to decide on a kicker for the '95 season, he found out quickly that those kicks were only a part of Bucchianeri's problems within the team and within the brigade.

Kickers are generally viewed with suspicion on football teams. They just aren't the same as the other players. They spend most of practice on the far side of the field, far away from the grunting and hitting and grinding that goes on for most of the afternoon. They don't need to spend as much time in the weight room during the off-season, and if they are asked to make one tackle during a season, that is a lot. Their uniforms never get dirty.

And, the fact is, kickers are different. They tend to be extremely superstitious, almost obsessed with routine and are easily thrown off their rhythm, almost like high-strung colts on race day.

Bucchianeri was different in other ways, too. Even as a college junior, he still looked like a ball boy who had stolen his older brother's uniform. At 5-8 and 155 pounds, he was the smallest player on the team. He had curly brown hair, wide brown eyes and a round face that seemed to radiate innocence. Around the locker room, he rarely smiled. In fact, in an environment that is usually a haven for acting childish, his serious demeanor seemed out of place.

He had never really fit in with the team, not before the infamous '93 miss and certainly not afterward. He came to Navy as one of those rare players who had lots of options but chose Navy anyway. He had been recruited by everyone from Penn State to Notre Dame. But he had always loved the idea of military academies, the discipline, the order, the uniforms. As William Nack explained in the Sports Illustrated story: "Navy didn't recruit him, he recruited Navy."

After struggling early in the fall, he had become the kicker eight games into his freshman season, making two field goals in his first start, at Notre Dame. That performance was the reason he was the kicker on that fateful day against Army.

No one at Navy was prepared for what came next: the press conference at which Bucchianeri made no excuses and won the respect of the entire country; the hundreds of letters that poured in, expressing both sympathy and admiration. And then the Sports Illustrated story, which cemented Bucchianeri's place in the national consciousness as an example of class and guts and having the Right Stuff.

It also cemented Bucchianeri's place as a veritable pariah among his teammates. "I knew, when I agreed to cooperate on the story, that there was a good chance that might happen," he said a year later. "But I thought it was important that people hear what I had to say. Not because I'm important but because a lot of people go through adversity in life."

Not everyone agreed. "What he said was, It's okay that I missed the kick because I tried and that's all anyone can ask of me and therefore I don't feel bad about it,' " Jim Kubiak said, his voice still rising 12 months after the story first appeared. "How can he say that? No one would get on him for missing the kick. We all make mistakes. Fine. But don't say, It's okay.' It wasn't okay. A lot of hearts were broken because he missed that kick. It should hurt him as much as it hurt everyone else. But it didn't. That's what upset everyone so much."

Kubiak had been so angry after reading the story that he fired off an e-mail message to Bucchianeri telling him what he thought. Bucchianeri was disturbed by the e-mail because he respected Kubiak and thought the quarterback had misunderstood what he was trying to say. He told Kubiak they should sit down and talk. But he never followed up.

"I just got to the point where I felt like explaining myself was pointless," he said. "No one really wanted to listen."

He was probably right in that assessment. Bucchianeri had been viewed as odd, even for a kicker, by his teammates almost from Day One. Traditionally, the football team makes a point not to haze plebe football players. The less hazing they have to deal with, the more likely they are to become contributors during the season. The football tables at lunch are a haven for plebes, an escape from the trivia questions and screaming that the other plebes are experiencing.

The same is true during football practice. People are judged on performance and effort by their peers, not by class rank. But Bucchianeri always seemed to keep to himself. Often, that can indicate shyness, especially when the person is a kicker. But Bucchianeri had strong opinions on subjects like weekend drinking or the bending of academy rules. He admitted that it bothered him when other mids routinely found ways around the rules. To most of his teammates, he came across more as a nerd than as a football player. Rumors spread among the players that he was an honor Nazi on the hall and that everyone in his company was wary of him.

Bucchianeri insists none of that is true, although he has heard the accusations. "Does it bother me when I see some of the things that go on here? Yes, I'd be lying if I told you different," he said. "But have I ever once turned someone in? No. Not once. If I thought someone was really cheating, I would turn them in, but I've never seen anyone do that. But I know there are people who think that I have."

No one was going to dump on Bucchianeri for missing that first kick against Army, especially in light of the tragic circumstances of that week, which included not just the deaths at the Coronado naval base but also those of three midshipmen killed in an automobile accident returning to the academy the morning after the game. But by the next spring, a sense had developed among the players that Bucchianeri reveled in the attention. Again, Bucchianeri insists that just wasn't the case.

"I never once asked anyone to interview me or do a story on me," he said. "Do they think I wanted to call attention to the fact that I had missed a kick? I tried to handle everything as low-key as possible. I got so many letters that I was swamped trying to write back to everyone."

In fact, swamped by mail and attention, he did very poorly academically during his second semester at Navy and had to go before an academic board to explain why. September 1995: The preseason practices had not gone well for Bucchianeri. At the team's final scrimmage before the opening game with Southern Methodist, he didn't kick at all. He had started the summer at the bottom of the depth chart and hadn't moved an inch. When the travel list for the trip to Dallas came out, two kickers were included: Ryan Bucchianeri was not one of them. He was listed as the sixth-string kicker.

That Friday, as the travel squad gathered in the lobby of Bancroft Hall, the rest of the brigade was forming up outside on T-Court (named after the bronze statue of the Indian hero Tecumseh that sits at the edge of the court area) for the team sendoff. Attendance was, of course, mandatory. In addition to the sendoff, a picture was to be taken of the entire brigade as part of the commemoration of the academy's 150th anniversary.

Bucchianeri stood with the rest of the brigade, a book in his hands and an ache in his stomach. Now, for the first time, everyone in the brigade would see that he wasn't with the team. He knew that a lot of them would think he had quit. He hated that idea.

When the team came out the doors of Bancroft, the band struck up "Anchors Aweigh" and everyone gathered on the steps for the anniversary picture. Bucchianeri was standing just under the "Happy Birthday Naval Academy" salute when he heard someone calling his name. He turned and saw a plebe named Eduardo Salazar, who was holding the "h" in birthday.

With his free hand, Salazar reached for Bucchianeri's hand. "Mr. Bucchianeri, I just wanted you to know how much your story inspired me," he said. "You're one of the reasons I'm here."

Bucchianeri was thrilled. And sickened. He wanted Salazar and others who remembered Wide Right I and Wide Right II to see The Make I, II and beyond. But if they didn't give him a chance to kick, there would only be the misses to remember.

When the speeches were finished, the brigade formed a cordon along the length of T-Court for the team to walk through to the buses. Bucchianeri joined the cordon and shook hands with his teammates as they walked past him. "I wanted to jump into the middle of the cordon and get on the buses with them," he said. "But I couldn't. I had to stand there and watch them go."

When the buses pulled away, Bucchianeri remembered the book in his hands. It was The Nightingale's Song, about five Naval Academy graduates who rose to become major influences in American life. Robert Timberg, the author, was doing a book-signing at the Mids Store that afternoon and Bucchianeri wanted to get his copy signed.

Waiting in line, Bucchianeri was convinced that people were staring at him, wondering if he had quit the team. He wanted to jump on a chair and scream, "I didn't quit, they wouldn't let me go!" Finally, it was his turn to have his book signed.

"What's your name?" Timberg asked.

"Ryan Bucchianeri, sir."

Timberg started to write, then stopped and looked up. "You're the kicker," he said. Bucchianeri's heart sank. When someone said, "You're the kicker," they meant, "You're the kicker who missed against Army."

"Yes, sir," he said.

"You showed a lot of courage," Timberg said. "You know, John McCain {the former prisoner of war who became a U.S. senator} told me that the adversity he went through as a POW made him a much stronger person. The same will happen for you."

"Thank you, sir," Bucchianeri answered.

Timberg wished him luck for the coming season. Bucchianeri didn't have the heart to tell him the coming season would start the next night -- without him.

Next evening, as soon as he heard the pregame show blasting through the hallways of Bancroft, Bucchianeri knew he had to get away. Since he had watch the next morning, he didn't have weekend liberty, so he couldn't leave the academy grounds, or Yard. He grabbed a couple of footballs and his mechanical holder and started across campus to the football practice fields.

He spent an hour kicking all by himself on the field, the sun setting spectacularly behind him. He was tired and sweating by the time the sun was down, and he knew the game would be starting any minute.

He decided to walk over to Mitscher Hall and play the piano in the auditorium there. As he walked into Mitscher, he heard the game beginning on a radio being blasted from a window. "And Jason Covarrubias will kick off for Navy . . ."

He played for a while, then walked out to the far corner of campus, to the Triton Light, which sits near the corner of the seawall where Chesapeake Bay meets the Severn River. He found a bench by the light, closed his eyes and tried to picture the Cotton Bowl, his teammates in white, SMU in blue.

"How could this be happening?" he thought. "How can I be on the outside looking in when I waited so long to be part of a winning team here?"

He got back to his room shortly after 11 o'clock. He heard the final score as he walked up the steps: Navy 33, SMU 2. He felt like the kid locked out of the candy store with his face pressed against the window.

He tried to go to sleep, but it was no use. His stomach hurt and he felt sick. Wild celebrations had broken out in the hallways. Then, just when things started to calm down, about 2:30 a.m., a fire alarm went off. Then, an announcement, "There will be a spontaneous pep rally to welcome back the football team on T-Court in two hours."

Bucchianeri groaned and tried to go back to sleep. No way. The fire alarms and the announcements continued: "Pep rally in one hour . . . Pep rally in 30 minutes . . . Pep rally in 20 minutes . . . Pep rally in 15 minutes . . . In 10 minutes . . . In nine minutes."

The buses rolled onto T-Court just after 4:30. The welcome was jubilant and genuine. Navy football, at least for one week, was back. Bucchianeri lay back in his bed and comforted himself with one thought: "This is as low I can go. It can only get better from here on." September 23, 1995: The Yard was abuzz the week of the Wake Forest game. Bucchianeri had hoped against hope that he would be on the dress list; that, since it was a home game, the coaches would dress him, if nothing else out of respect for his status as the starting kicker the previous two years.

When the list came out at midweek, his heart had sunk. Two kickers would travel to the Holiday Inn on Friday night: Again he was not one of them. There was a separate list of players who wouldn't go to the hotel but would be in uniform Saturday. That list usually consisted of seniors who were on the scout team or plebes whom the coaches wanted to get a taste of the sidelines on game day. Bucchianeri didn't qualify in either category.

"Now my worst fears had been realized," he said. "They couldn't even let me put on a uniform and stand on the sidelines with my teammates."

The worst part of it was that he couldn't hide this time. He couldn't go off and kick by himself during the game or escape the Yard. The entire brigade is required to take part in the march-on at home games, and since Bucchianeri wasn't dressing for the game, he had to participate in the march-on. Even in those early games as a plebe he had been in uniform for home games. He had never marched on for a game and had never watched a Navy game from the stands.

Now, he had to do both.

When the brigade marches on at home games, it forms up by the seawall near the practice fields and marches the two miles from the academy to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. The brigade marches out the main gate and over to the bottom of Rowe Boulevard. There, in the shadow of the State House and the governor's mansion, it turns right and marches about one mile to the stadium. Traffic is cut off in the area during the march and crowds often gather to watch the mids as they go by.

Bucchianeri joined up with the rest of the 32nd Company out by the seawall and took his place in the formation. He was trying hard to keep his eyes front and his mind blank as they turned onto Rowe Boulevard. A couple of hundred yards along, he heard one of the plebes in the company, marching a row behind him say, "Come on, let's do it, do the cadence on Booch."

"Are you sure?" someone else answered.

"Yes. Call it out."

And they did.

Cadences are a regular part of military marching. Anyone who has ever seen "An Officer and a Gentleman" or any other movie involving military trainees has seen soldiers marching while a drill sergeant calls out cadences in a sing-song voice. At Navy, the march-on cadences were a little different. They were called "slam cadences," because they slammed someone. They were written by the plebes and were generally considered a good-natured chance for the plebes to get back at some of the upperclassmen for what they were being put through.

The victims were usually people who had done something embarrassing: gotten sloppy drunk one night or showed up with an ugly date or completely botched a test. The cadences were supposed to be cleared in each company by the company's leadership since they were going to be called out on a public street. Nothing obscene was supposed to be allowed or anything that might in some way embarrass the academy. Most of them were such in-jokes that no one on the outside would know what was being talked about anyway.

Now, as they were crossing the long bridge on Rowe Boulevard that puts the marchers in sight of the stadium, Bucchianeri listened as the plebes began calling out the Booch-cadence. On the field for the biggest game,

Had a chance to make a name. All he had to do was kick it through,

Easy enough for any of you. Stepped to the ball, destination in sight,

I hooked it up -- kicked it to the right. Had my chance, to win it all,

Coach shouldn't have let me touch the ball. From two years of startin' and havin' it all,

Maybe there's a spot in company ball. There was a pause and then there was more: First march over to the stands,

How's it feel to be a fan. He can't kick and he can't punt,

Should've had the laces front. Since his kicks were so lame,

Navy lost the big game. The first time he did try,

Even though he made us cry. Second time was just sad,

Now we know he's really bad. Since his kicks were so lame,

Navy lost the big game. There is no one he can blame,

He should hang his head in shame. It's been said he had bad luck,

We all know that he just sucks. Since his kicks were so lame,

Navy lost the big game.

Bucchianeri couldn't believe his ears. These weren't just members of the brigade doing this to him, these were the people he lived with and worked with every day. "My family," he said. "If I had one consolation having to go through the march-on it was that I was with my company. I felt protected somehow. And then they did that to me."

Bucchianeri marched along, refusing to show any emotion or say anything. "That was my death march," he said. "My worst nightmare come to life. I didn't think we would ever get to the stadium."

When they finally got there, Bucchianeri found a place in the stands close to the field and watched the game unfold. Nothing went right for the Mids, and Wake Forest embarrassed them, 30-7.

Afterward, Bucchianeri made his way down to the field and stood watching the stands empty. He had never felt lower.

Long ago, Bucchianeri had figured out that the academy wasn't the idyllic, slice-of-Americana place he had imagined it to be. It could be a hard place, an unfair place. Now he had learned it could also be a cruel place.

"I said to myself, Where's the justice? Where's the honesty?" he said later. "This is supposed to be a place where people band together and work together and take care of each other in tough times. How could this have happened to me? What had I done to deserve this kind of treatment?"

There is no simple answer. A lot of it, no doubt, had to do with the group mentality. Individually, almost every member of Bucchianeri's company probably would have admitted to feeling embarrassed by what they had done to him. Within the group, though, they were hidden.

But it was more than that. Bucchianeri had committed a cardinal sin in a college atmosphere, not only of being different, but of being different in a way that left a lot of people with the impression that he thought he was better than they were. His teammates felt that; that somehow he thought that not smoking, not drinking, adhering strictly to academy rules that others regularly bent, made him a better midshipman than they were. Bucchianeri categorically denied feeling this way, but in conversation he would often make reference to people who "don't have the discipline to not drink or do drugs." Or those who "don't have enough respect for the rules to follow them."

Bucchianeri was completely sincere in his beliefs. He wasn't some zealot who went around telling people that his way was the only way or lecturing others. He kept to himself most of the time, and that too made people suspicious of him. It was a vicious circle.

If he had made the two field goals against Army, his eccentricities would undoubtedly have been seen in a more sympathetic light. "Oh yeah, Ryan's different, but when the game is on the line, he comes through for you."

Unfortunately, he hadn't come through. He had made other kicks in his career, some of them important ones. But twice, against Army, with, as Weatherbie always pointed out, "the entire Navy and Marine Corps watching," he had missed. If he had been one of the guys, he might have been forgiven. But being out there by himself to begin with and missing the kicks was a devastating combination.

Instead of being a sympathetic figure to the rest of the brigade, someone who had given his all even though he hadn't made the kicks, he was viewed as an oddball who was a failure. To them, he didn't deserve sympathy. As Bucchianeri said, "You can try once and fail and they'll give you another chance. But if you try twice and fail, as far as everyone around here is concerned, you're through trying."

Amazingly, after the nightmare on Rowe Boulevard, Bucchianeri still wasn't through trying. He was at practice on Monday, ready to go, still trying to prove he deserved another chance. He knew that no one would blink an eye if he walked in and quit. Which was exactly why he vowed that he never would. December 2, 1995: On an unseasonably warm day in Philadelphia, Bucchianeri sat with the rest of the brigade in a corner of Veterans Stadium watching another agonizing Army-Navy game unfold. By now, he was accustomed to sitting in the stands. "At that point all I wanted was to see the team win," he said later. "If one of the other kickers had been the hero, that would have been fine with me. Just as long as we won."

A kicker almost was the hero. With 8:26 left in the game and Navy leading, 13-7, the Mids had the ball six inches from the Army goal line. It was fourth down. Weatherbie called time to consider his options. His mind was racing.

A field goal would be 18 yards. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of his brain, he remembered that Bucchianeri's miss had been 18 yards. That close, the angle could be a factor. They could take a delay-of-game penalty and move the ball back five yards, making it a little easier angle from 23 yards. His kicker, Tom Vanderhorst, had been solid all day. But this was the fourth quarter; this was that moment with 70,000 people screaming that Weatherbie had worried about in the pregame coaches meeting.

He looked at his offensive coaches, who were all nodding as offensive coordinator Paul Johnson explained how they could score. There was only one dissenting voice: defensive backs coach Gary Patterson. He knew it was none of his business telling the offense what to do, but Patterson thought going for anything but a field goal was crazy. "It's all we need," he said. "They can't score twice, they just can't."

Weatherbie put his arm around quarterback Chris McCoy. "Three twenty-eight, A-pop," he said.

It was a quick pass play, a pop pass to the A-back, or slotback, in this case Cory Schemm. It was designed to take advantage of a defense lined up to stop the run at all costs. McCoy would take the snap, drop back a step and throw the ball quickly to Schemm, who only had to take two or three steps to be open.

No one was sitting on either sideline or in the stands. McCoy walked to the line and saw the entire Army defense pinching the middle to stop what they all thought would be a quarterback sneak or a fullback dive. "The play was wide open," he said. "No one was even on Cory."

Schemm was lined up on the right side, just behind the line. As soon as he stepped outside, toward the sideline, he would be all alone.

McCoy went on a quick count. No delay-of-game penalty coming here. He dropped back quickly and saw Schemm all alone.

"I got too excited," he said later. "I rushed it and I didn't have to. I never quite got my arm back right or the ball off the way I wanted to."

The ball wobbled off McCoy's hand. Seeing that it was low, Schemm dove, got his hands on it, bounced a little and then watched helplessly as it just rolled off his fingertips. He lay there for a moment, pounding the ground in frustration.

For a split second it was as if no one was quite sure what had happened. Then everyone understood. The Army bench exploded as if it had just scored the winning touchdown. People were jumping into one another's arms.

The football was sitting 99 yards, 2 feet and 6 inches from where it had to be for Army to win the game. And yet, there was no doubt that all the emotion in the stadium, all the adrenaline, all the momentum, was now on Army's side.

Before the offense took the field, quarterback Ronnie McAda gathered everyone around him. Even though there was still 8:23 left in the game, there was a sense of urgency. They all knew it was possible that if they gave the football back now, they might not see it again. The defense was exhausted and it was entirely possible that, given another possession, Navy might run out the clock with two or three first downs. "The D did its job," he said. "Now we have to do ours. Right now!"

Sixteen plays later, it was fourth-and-24 at the Navy 29. The clock was at 1:46. All Navy had to do was stop this play and the game would be over.

McAda took the snap and dropped back and nine Navy players came at him. The lead blitzer was still two steps from McAda when the quarterback's arm came up.

Wide receiver John Graves, 15 yards downfield, took a jab step toward the middle of the field, planted his right foot as hard as he could and spun to the outside.

McAda saw Graves come open. He stood up in the pocket as tall as he could and let the ball go. For one horrifying millisecond he thought he had put too much on it and thrown it too close to the sideline. Then he saw Graves race under it and he knew everything was okay.

The official spotted the ball on the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Army fullback John Conroy squeezed into the end zone. J. Parker came in and kicked the extra point -- putting it just a little closer to the right upright than anyone from Army cared for -- and the Cadets had won, 14-13. Spring 1996: While the seniors were preparing to get on with Life After Football, Ryan Bucchianeri still had one more chance -- or so he hoped.

He had suited up for just four games in his junior season. He had gotten in for a total of two plays -- kickoffs against Air Force and Villanova. He still felt he deserved another chance to prove to the coaches that he could be the team's kicker. He also knew the odds were stacked against him -- especially when he heard the coaches had recruited a highly rated kicker out of Texas.

"Once upon a time," he said, forcing a smile, "I was a highly rated kicker coming out of high school."

That seemed like several lifetimes ago as his junior year came to a close. Several weeks before spring practice, Bucchianeri requested a meeting with Weatherbie.

On the afternoon of March 20, they met in Weatherbie's office. Nothing had really changed since they had met at the end of the spring a year earlier. Weatherbie told Bucchianeri that his status was based solely on his performance in practice; Bucchianeri insisted that if that was the case, he would be the first-string kicker. Nothing was resolved.

The next day Bucchianeri met with Athletic Director Jack Lengyel, who listened to him and took copious notes. At the end, Lengyel gave Bucchianeri a pep talk and told him to hang in and keep fighting. But the message was essentially the same: The final word would come -- had to come -- from the coaching staff.

Bucchianeri felt trapped. He knew that Weatherbie and the coaches were doing what they thought was best for the team as a whole. He knew they weren't responsible for the two infamous wide rights or the feelings within the team and the brigade that had made his life so difficult.

But he felt as if he had been sentenced to go through life with a scarlet "WR" on his forehead. Nothing he did could change that because he wasn't going to get the chance to change the "WR" to "good!" before December 7, 1996 -- the date of his last Army-Navy game as a member of the brigade.

"I know in the grand scheme of things, in terms of what I'll become, football isn't important," he said, in a choked voice one bright spring day. "But I worked so hard, for so long, it's painful to think that my identity in football will always be those two missed kicks."

He got one chance to attempt a field goal in the spring game. It was a 31-yarder and it had plenty of distance as it sailed toward the uprights. But it began drifting, first a little, then a little more. By the time it reached the uprights it was wide -- wide right. This article was adapted from A Civil War: Army vs. Navy, by John Feinstein, published last month by Little, Brown. As this week's Magazine went to press, Ryan Bucchianeri was listed as Navy's fourth-string kicker. Adapted from A Civil War: Army vs. Navy, by John Feinstein. Copyright 1996 by John Feinstein. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company Inc. CAPTION: Holder Tony Solliday, left, consoles Bucchianeri after the chip-shot miss that cost Navy the 1993 game against Army. CAPTION: Bucchianeri in Navy-Marine Corps Stadium: "You can try once and fail and they'll give you another chance. But if you try twice and fail . . . you're through trying." CAPTION: Army's J. Parker, center, is hugged after kicking the winning point in 1995.