Bob Tata never set out to become the best and most colorful place-kicker in Navy history.
"I just wanted to be a kicker in Navy history," said Tata, who now holds seven Navy kicking records. His 48-yard field goal last week against Boston College was the longest ever by a Midshipman and helped extend Navy's record to 3-0.
Things just seem to stumble into place for the senior from Virginia Beach. Listen to him tell why he took up place-kicking, and how he selected the Naval Academy:
"I wanted to be on my high school football team, to be around all those really cool guys," said Tata. "I was a sophomore, 5-foot-1 and 108 pounds. I wasn't big enought to play anything. I thought kicking would be better than being a manager.
"Anyone can kick if you practice for a month."
Tata made the team, even grew a few inches, and around graduation time singed a letter of intent to attend William and Mary.
Then he made a startling discovery - that a young man could attend school in the Navy, get paid for it and even play football.
"I had always watched the Army-Navy game, and I just thought Army got up a team and Navy got up a team and they played," said Tata. "I chose Navy for all the most immature, high school reasons. I thought - you mean you can play on TV and you can get paid to go to school. Where do I sign?
"I looked through all their catalogues, and all the guys looked so impressive. I thought it would be great - wouldn't have to buy any clothes.
"Maybe that's why I got into a lot of trouble right off. I was amazed at all these guys yelling at me. I just didn't quite know what I had gotten into.
"It became like a personal challenge because everyone was so negative about the place," said Tata. "I got tired of hearing everyone complaining, and I said, 'If you don't like it, why don't you leave? Nobody leaves. Where else can you get steak and potatoes and a dollar change back from your dollar? This is my kind of place.
"Over the long run, I found out that the education is tops, that you can't beat the job you get when you get out of here, and overall I've been pretty pleasantly surprised, considering I just came here to be on TV."
Navy Coach George Welsh and Tata have strong mutual respect, Tata saying of Welsh: "Look how he takes all these mediocre athletes and makes us win half our games." Welsh has said of Tata: "He's a free spirit. I wish we had more like him."
Welsh also points to the fact that Tata is at his best in crucial situations. Last year, Tata kicked a 25-yard field goal with 41 seconds left to beat Air Force, Navy's opponent this week.
"It's probably just a coincidence that I kick good when it matters. I try, to kick good all the time," said Tata. "I feel I have to kick good all the time.
"I feel bad because everyone else, works so hard. I do so little. I can't think of any time in my life when I feel worse than when I miss a field goal. I think of how hard these guys play, tackles who never get their names in the paper. I played five minutes last year. I feel guilty.
"People around the academy think football players get a good deal because we practice instead of march. But those guys are butting heads for three hours every day. I'm probably the only guy in school who get a good deal because I go out and do nothing.
"I watch the drills, talk to visitors, think of little games to play on the sidelines. i can juggle three footballs behind my back and through my legs, too. The toughest part of my day is doing all those hard exercises. I have it easier than the manager.
"Just for the heck of it, I'm learning to throw with my left arm so that I could throw with either arm if we ever had a bad snap. The coach told me, "If there's one thing you'll never do at the Naval Academy, it's throw a ball. But I'm ready, anyway."
Tata's preparedness is apparent in Navy's record book. He holds school marks for the longest field goal (46 yards), most field goals in one game (four), highest percentage for extra points (26 of 26 in 1977), most field goals attempted (32), most field goals scored (22), most points scored by a kicker (119) and msot extra points by a kicker (53).
"If I was good enough, I'd think about the pros, but I'm not good enough," said Tata. "I can't kick for enough. I'm as good as they are from 45 yards in. But I don't think that would be a very good investment."
Navy middle guard A. B. Miller underwent surgery yesterday to have a pin placed in a broken finger and will be out about three weeks.