Navy Coach George Welsh is looking forward to lunch today, because "the hard decisions have been made and I can get a bowl of soup and a sandwich and put my feet on the desk."
Yesterday's agenda, however, included another of those seemingly interminable formal luncheons, this one for a press contingent that carried substantial appetites here from up and down the East Coast.
Welsh was a cordial host, giving the same honest answers to the same tired questions. The menu provided steak, but the coach's digestion was not assisted by the demand of comment on the following observations from Dan Devine, his opposite number at Notre Dame, Saturday's opponent for the unbeaten and underdog Milds:
"Navy ha a great team and should be ranked in the top three in the nation."
"Navy could be one of the best defensive teams ever to play football."
"I'm naive enough not to know when you said seven-point spread whether Navy or Notre Dame was the favorite."
"We're in exams and I go into practice without some of my best players. And some of my best players were hurt in the Miami game. I'm just trying to get enough people to get to Cleveland."
As each comment from Devine's beeper-phone interview was presented to him, Welsh assumed a more incredulous expression.
"Coach Devine is blowing a little smoke," Welsh said. "He's building us up better than we are. Him and his poor little boys at Notre Dame. We're still Navy and he's still Notre Dame."
Although the Mids are ranked 11th and the Irish 15th in both polls, Welsh was isolating the key factor. Notre Dame is big and strong and deep and talented every season; this Navy team is an aberration of unknown intensity. It has been 15 years since the Mids have beaten the Irish and the scoreboard reads 41-9-1 entering this 52nd meeting in the nation's longest unbroken intersectional rivalry.
"You have to find and scratch and claw for everything against them," Welsh said. "We're more competitive than we've ever been, but they're bigger physically. We just don't match up with a team like that. Notre Dame is always one of the most physical games we play. When they hit you, they hit you."
Devine gushed about the merits of "anybody who can hold Pitt to minus 23 yards rushing. Pitt marched through us like Grant through Richmond."
He did not add that Notre Dame also beat Pitt, 26-17.
"Pitt has a little more speed than Notre Dame offensively," Welsh said, "but Notre Dame is stronger with bigger backs. When you hit them, they still go forward four yards.
"They're going to throw a lot and we have to rush them the way we did the Pitt quarterback. But it's more difficult. (Joe) Montana rolls out and throws a lot of play-action stuff. He can keep the ball and, if you send the linebackers inside, he can run away from them."
Welsh has tried to keep his team on an even keel, emotionally, but he concedes that the players have psyched themselves ever higher.
"Four of the last five games were very emotional," Welsh said. "It's a concern for us that they may eventually become drained. I didn't want Pitt to be a big game, but the players seemed to think it was.
"I'm particularly worried about the defense. They had so many plays Saturday. Some of the guys who were on the kicking teams, too, were in for almost 100 plays and that's too much. We're a little more bruised and batered this week. We're still feeling the effects on Saturday.
"The main thing, though, is that I just hope we can handle all this success and keep our feet on the ground. A real good team can come back and play a big game the week after it plays one. This is something new for us. If the players read their press clippings and think they're pretty good, then we've got problems.
"We have seven wins, but if you don't win a copule more, who's going to remember?"