So here came this van disguised as a blast furnace. You could tell because it had a sign on the side saying, 'Blas Furnace." These Naval Academy midshipmen are no dummies. This was homecoming, to say nothing of a Really Big Game, and before the kickoff here came this van carrying T-shirted steel-workers.
For the first time since 1960. Navy's football team had won its first six games of a season. With a victory over a strong Pittsburgh team yesterday, the Middies might climb into the Nation's Top 10, a status last achieved when Roger Staubach cut his hair in a flat-top.
And, well, Pittsburgh, the city, has blast furnaces and T-shirted steel-workers. So here came these guys climbing out of the van in hard hats. They carried sledgehammers and lead pipes. Obviously, they were up to no good.
Look, folks, no one said this was stuff Shakespeare would have written. But here came these old, old, old men walking with the help of canes and a young, young nurse. You could tell they were old because their hair was as white as, say, baby powder. And on the back of their shirts they carried printing that said, "Class of '05."
Next thing you know, these mean steelworkers with their muscles are using sledgehammers to comb the old men's hair. Pittsburgh is killing proud old Navy! Oh, me, oh, my, where is John Wayne when America needs him?
Never fear, for "Super Straight" is here. A caped figure in a gold flier's helmet and blue bikini shorts over black leotards, Super Straight is, in his words, "the idea midshipman - a stud and tall." He puffed out his chest.
Anyway, Super Straight came dashing in, cape aflutter, and grabbed those mean old steelworkers and threw them into the van - blast furnance. Whereupon, as his just reward, he took up the young nurse in his arms, bringing a rousing cheer from the 5,000 or so midshipmen watching this heavy drama on the turf of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium yesterday.
It has been a fall of heroes at Navy, and no hero, not even Super Straight, was larger than the dawn yesterday, for the sunrise delivered to the banks of the Severn as beautiful a day as any admiral could order.Sunlight danced against the golds, yellows and redding browns of autumn as a brass band played "Anchors Aweigh" for old grads come back to see Teccumseh.
Tecumseh is a statue of an Indian warrior, ever standing outside Bancroft Hall, the midshipmen's dormitory. They paint up Tecumseh for a Big Game, and yesterday the warrior carried Pitt's colors. Bed sheets decorated buildings, all asking dear victory over Pitt. The place was alive with smiles and chatter.
Not to be too silly about this, but a football Saturday at the Naval Academy is good for what ails you. If you like the college game, it is pure here. No one plays for Navy because he was given a big car. No professor donates grades to keep a star in cleats. The Navy players like the game, certainly, but it is only part of life, not the whole of it.
"Kids today think about the pros," said Don Whitmire, a retired admiral who was an AAll-America tackle at Navy in 1943 and '44. "They're in a great spot to make $200,000 or $300,000 right away.But our boys here aren't thinking that way. They're here for an education. They're dedicated."
Whitmire lifted his chin, ready to say something he was proud of it. "These boys at the Naval Academy are the kind this country needs. We need them around the world, we need them on our ships, we need them to lead us in combat."
Whitmire started playing football at Alabama, where he was an All-America too. Then he joined the Marines - until the Navy said it needed a big tackle at the Academy. He could have turned pro after graduation, "but I thought I owed the Navy something."
So he went to sea.
"And, you know, whe the Big Game comes, we're never lost one."
An Admiral's Big Game is not against the steel-workers of Pitt, nor even the cursed Cadets from the heights over the Hudson, but the Naval Academy is going giddy, anyway, over this fall's football success. For $1.50 at the souvenir stands here, you can buy a "Go Goat" button, complete with a picture of Bill XXI.
Which is all anyone has seen of Bill lately.
And on one much cares.
Bill was goatnapped Oct. 10, probably by a Hudson heights hoodlum. In other, lesser seasons, much would be made of the foul dead.
"Out feeling, rightly or wrongly," said Be Copage, the Navy atheltic director, "is that no great incident is going to overwhelm the publicity our team should be getting."
So Navy is making do with "Super Straight" and a football team that may go to a bowl game for the first time since Staubach's team lost in the 1963 season's Cotton Bowl.
Seven bowl teams had representatives here yesterday. For four decades an assistant athletic director at the academy, Rip Miller, now retired, believes one of those bowls will choose Navy. He'd be delighted to see it happen.
"We ought to go to ANY bowl game that asks," Miller said. "It's a good thing for us. It would help in recruiting. The loot would be good, too. And we'd get the flag out there."
What a nice day for bowl talk; a crisp and brilliant autumn jewel . . . Tailgate parties with wine and cheese . . . Thousands of the record 32,909 people sitting on a hill behind one end zone . . . A football team of real students aiming for an undefeated season . . . Old grad smiling . . . The Flag flying.
Overcome by it all, a man who never attended the Naval Academy shelled out $4.50 to buy a knit cap with "Navy" on the front of it.
Don't ask how I know.