It is the province of razzle-dazzle, onside kicks in the first quarter, guards who look more like hurdlers than shotputters and linebackers with that lean-and-hungry look. They play a swift, wide-open game in the Eastern 150-Pound Football League, where behemoths need not apply.
No pompon girls here. No marching bands, full stadiums, pro scouts, scholarships or bowl bids. And, most important, no 200-pound linemen.
But for many talented players who are not big enough, except perhaps in heart, to make it in heavyweight college football, the "lightweight varsity" provides a last chance to play the game at an organized, high level. And though the world at large pays little attention, those who participate find it imaginative, satisfying football.
"It's a lot quicker game because everybody is more or less the same size," says Arthur (Archie) Griffin, cocaptain of the Naval Academy's crack 150-pound varsity.
"Some of the linemen can outrun the backs. The contact seems to be more intense since there are no cases of shying away from a guy because he weights 270 and you're 180."
Griffin knows about the contact. He was operated on last week to repair ligaments and cartilage in his left knee damaged in Navy's 31-6 victory over Penn the previous Saturday at Annapolis.
He was in the hospital when Navy traveled to West Point last Friday and beat Army for the first time in eight years, 23-13, but was awarded the game ball by his teammates.
Griffin had never been injured in 16 years of football. An all-star running back in Atlanta, he was shifted to defensive back at Navy, where he played Plebe (freshman) and junior varsity football before joining the lightweights last year.
Despite his ripped-up knee, he had only praise for the 110-pound program that permitted him to indulge his competitive instincts long enough to wind up on crutches.
"Guys are out here because they want to play football. It's that simple," he said. "I think maybe we get more personal satisfaction out of the game than guys playing regular varsity football.
"Most of us were captains of high school teams or all-league players somewhere. There's good talent and good competition, and we play for the fun of it."
Lt. Gen. Nrdi, the first-year head coach of the Navy entry in the Eastern College Athletic Conference 150-Pound Football League, is 6-foot-4 and weights 220.
He was a three-year regular at defensive tackle for Navy, drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972. He didn't apply for his current coaching post, but he says convincingly that he is glad he was assigned to it.
"We get a variety of athletes - good high school players, a couple of kids who haven't played football before, a few who started with the heavyweight varsity and were told they were too small," he says. "They like contact and they like to win.
The 150s is much more low-key than the regular varsity. There is a league championship, an all-league team, and the Army-Navy game means a lot, but the pressure is not as intense.
"There's no recruiting. For that reason I think maybe the 150s enjoy practice and games more. I'm sure the program is a financial burden for many schools, but the benefits make it worthwhile."
It was a dreary, drizzly morning in Annapolis, but as the Navy and Penn 150-pounders warmed up, no spiritual descendents of grantland Rice were conjuring up dramatic lead paragraphs, thinking "Outlined against a gray October sky . . ."
In the stands around the Astroturf practice field at 10 a.m., game time, there were only about 100 spectators. Considerably more were watching bands from Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force in a drum-and-bugle corps competition on an adjacent field.
Navy broke out of its pregame huddle in the corner of a tennis court. Its shout of "Aw right, let's go" wouldn't have been noticed except that it came when the Coast Guard was playing a passage pianissimo, a solo for glocken-spiels.
At the gate to the field, three Midshipmen passed out single-page, mimeographed lineup sheets. Passersby seemed more interested in the sailboats bobbing in the harbor than in fake punts and quarterbacks who wrestle in the off-season.
On the Navy sideline, two young men in denim jackets, their hands stuffed in the pockets of their jeans, sized up the Quaker opposition.
"You tell me that No. 76 isn't more than 150 pounds?" grumbled one, staring at Penn defensive end Don Smith, whose considerate frame was not, an optical illusion created by mounds of padding.
Actually, 150-pound football is something of a misnomer. Few of the players are that light at game time.The rules state that, to be eligible, a player must weigh in at no more than 158 pounds two days before a game.
It would be more accurate to call it 158-pound football, but that would sound funny and needlessly picayune, like referring to baseball's traditional preseason as "late winter-early spring training."
Many players are normally 170-, 175- or even 180-pounders who sweat themselves down to size for the weigh-in, much like prize fighters struggling to make weight for a bout.
If one is a little over, he puts on a rubber suit and does a couple more miles of roadwork until he finally makes it, often discarding the towel around his waist as he steps on the scale to get rid of the last fraction of a pound.
"It's always a scene on weigh-in day," said Andy Karakos, head manager of 150-pound football at Navy.
"We have a training table, but a lot of guys skip meals for a couple of days to make weight. Then the two days after they do, they just shovel the food down. By game time they've gained back 10 or 15 pounds, and right afterward they start working on losing it again."
Jim Fawcett, Navy's all-league middle guard and an all-California honorable mention as a schoolboy in San Bernardino County, said team members have a common bond.
"I think the guys on this team are closer because they have to make weight," he said. "It's hell to come down from 180 pounds every week, but guys help each other make it.
"We had one, Mike Finley, get down from 205. Everybody's kind of down on weigh-in day, but then the spirit really picks up."
Few players fail to make the weight limit, which is stringently enforced by the coaches on an honor system, according to Karakos.
"If they don't make it, they don't play," he said. "About 50 players suit up for games from an 80-man squad, so there's always somebody to take your place.
"There is a certain amount of prestige and benefits that come with playing. It's a varsity sport here, so the guys who play 60 minutes during the season get the same letter as those on the regular team."
Other advantages: the training table, travel to away games and exemption from evening formations.
The games themselves are animated and frequently high-scoring. Winning is considered important, but Nardi tries to let everyone play. Conservative, three-yards-and-a-friction burn offense is frowned upon.
Against Penn, Navy scored on its first possession, immediately recovered an onside kick and went for a touchdown pass on the ensuing first down. The accent is on speed, offensively and defensively.
"You see almost every type of football," said Nardi, who presides over a 10-man coaching staff, all ex-Navy players.
"We've got a quarterback who can throw (Andy Cuca), so we do. Army plays a wishbone. Princeton still sometimes uses the single wing. Over the season you see a little of everything."
Teams are not polished and make lots of mistakes, primarily because there is no long preseason with two-a-day sessions to work on fundamentals. Practice starts two weeks before the first game.
But from then on the 150-pounders practice as much as the heavyweights, about 2 1/2 hours a day. The home team films games and supplies the footage and stat sheets to next week's opponent.
Despite an abundance of penalties and busted plays, the caliber of play is a hefty cut above the intramurals. Gambling offense should not be confused with improvised, Bill Cosby plays: "run down 20 yards, catch a bus to first street, and cut back for a pass."
Columbia, the longtime doormat of the league, dropped out this year for lack of funds, but the remaining six teams - Navy, Army, Penn, Princeton, Rutgers and Cornell - have strong programs.
At some schools, 150-pound football is a club sport, but well-funded by booster groups. Cornell's supporters, for instance, last year raised enough money to send the team to Japan.
At the service academies the lightweights have varsity status, with all the attendant benefits: equipment from the regular football program, a full complement of coaches and managers (Karakos has nine assistants), a doctor and trainer assigned to the team home and away.
And there is the passion of the Army-Navy rivalry.
"Everything is kind of put into that game for both sides. It's an emotional thing. It's kind of the season," said senior Bob Wrestner, an all-league defensive back from Philadelphia, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] that for the big game the stands are full of chanting Midshipmen and Cadets.
It was not like that for Penn, an average game, despite the efforts of two Midshipmen who hung a banner urging "Go Navy, Beat Penn" (it fell down after a few minutes).
Still, a blind 10-year-old in the stands whose brother played for Navy - was spellbound by the spectacle on the field.
"Why didn't we bring our football, Dad?" he asked, tugging on his father's shoulder. You could almost hear him thinking, 'I want to grow up and be a 150-pound football player."