"It's corny for you, I guess," Ed Reid said, and, in these days of youthful skepticism he's probably right.
The subject was table 78 in the Naval Academy dinning hall, occupied three times a day for the past two years by 12 members of the Navy football team.
Sharing head-of-table status are the team's co-captains, Mike Galpin and Joe gattuso. Gattuso is the football poet, whose somewhat unpolished works are regularly recited by Roy Bookmiller, an offensive guard with dramatic flair. There is Kevin Ryan, a 230-pound offensive tackle from Vienna, Va., following in his father's tracks as a Navy football player.
There is John Kurowski, long the No. 1 quarterback in Navy's option offense, now a wingback in a pass-oriented system. And thereis Ed Reid.
In three seasons as a Navy defensive back. Reid played seven minutes. He sat and watched a good Navy team (7-4 in 1975) and not so good Navy teams (4-7 in 1974 and 1976). Except for an occcasional hit as a special-teams performer, Reid did little more than hold the dummies in practice sessions.
"Some times you'd feel kind of low," Reid recalled. "You'd decide to hang up your clothes and not go out tomorrow. The team's doing bad, you're doing had and you wonder if it's worth it."
Then would come breakfast at table 78 and there could be an uplifting of spirits, and Reid would be back out there holding the dummies.
"Somebody would pat me on the back and tell me to hang in there, and somebody else would tell me that was a good hit yesterday, and all 11 guys would keep me going.
It's really a feeling of togetherness. We rotate the prayer each night and while you'te looking one way you'll find somebody has poured you iced tea for you. It's corny for you, I guess, but it gives you a feeling of togetherness. When a few guys show that kind of leadership, the younger guys picks it up. We don't exclude anybody, we just hang together.It's the nature of the place, you need that feeling to keep going.
"In the summer, guys write letters to give you a lift. And if you're running and about to die, somebody like Jimmy Degree will turn and say, 'Hey, let's go' and you'll make it through. There's always encouragement. Those guys knew you could taste it, you wanted to play so bad."
Before spring practice, coach George Welsh approached Reid and suggested a switch, tothe weak-side defensive end, also known as "Willie."
"He came up to me and said, Why don't you try Willie?" Reid recalled. "I said 'Sure, I'll do anything to get on the team,' I started out and bombed out the first couple of days, and then I got used to it.
It's a fun position. You get to hit a lot, that's the fun part of football - as long as the fullbacks aren't too big. It's really like being an outside line backer, you're in the flats a lot. You do a lot of backpedaling, so it was a help to have worked at rover and the quick corner. I don't have blazing speed, but I was used to forcing sweeps and things. I seemed to fit in OK."
Reid fit in so well that he earned the William P. Mack Award as the most improved player in spring practice. It was cause for rejoicing at table 78, and the celebration spread to distant points. Six of the 12 comrades found themselves spending their summer cruise aboard the guided-missile cruiser Albany in the Mediterranean.
"Galpin, Kirowski, (Glenn) Flanagan, Bookmiller, Ryan and I were together and we managed to run and lift weights. We were running along the beach in Italy and they asked us if we were a basketball team.We told them American football and they just looked at us king of funny. We'd go into the wardroom aboard ship and you could hear people whispering, 'Here they come again.' We did some eating."
Midshipman cruises are dotted with gags like the announcement, "Will the duty chicken report to boost Reid 4 1/2 pounds - to 199 1/2, a long way from the 155 with which he first arrived in Annapolis.
"I was hoping to hit 200," Reid said, "but I didn't make it. When I weighed in last week, I wore my wrist watch and my ring, trying to hit 200. It didn't work."
Although Reid is designated No. 1 on the depth cahrt, there is a more experienced sophomore, Bart Nixon, close behind. Nixon, hurt in spring pratice, finished the season at the weak-side end spot.
"I was fortunate to win the Mack Award," Reid said. "But it's the season that counts. I haven't made one tackle yet. I can't go up to a Michigan back and say 'You can't block me. I was spring-award winner, I'm nervous about it now. My main goal is to get a letter. I've got to have it. It's very motivating thing, not having one."
Especially when those other guys at table 78 wear letter sweaters with the extra stars that signify all those victories over Army. And when they keep saying, "You can do it, Ed." Nobody wants to turn 11 buddies into liars.