Bowl-bound Navy is rated a 10-point favorite over Army today as college football's most spirited rivals clash for the 79th time at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. This is a game of emotion, however, and there is wonder whether the Mids exhausted their supply in winning their first seven games.
Army, able to defeat only lowly Lafayette in its first six contests, has won three of its last four. The folks at West Point have momentum in their favor and optimism as well. A month ago, they weren't expansive about their chances against the Mids; now they expect to win.
It is a tradition for the Mids to paint Tecumseh's statue on the Annapolis campus before the Army game. Yesterday, however, as the team solemnly boarded two buses for the ride to Philadelphia. Tecumseh looked on without adornment. He was last painted for that homecoming game with Pitt, when Navy played so magnificently to raise its record to 7-0 and surge to the No. 11 ranking nationally. The statue was steam-cleaned afterward and now there is fear the Mids have run out of steam.
Fewer than 100 persons bade farewell to the team at Tecumseh Court with polite applause and the ritual "Go Navy, Beat Army" cheer. The brigade was dismissed Thursday night -- a memorable food fight preceded Wednesday's big pep rally and few Midshipmen remained on the grounds.
A conglomeration of decorated bedsheets draped from Bancroft Hall, the work of the 7th Company. Huge letters read, "Swamp Army," smaller ones added, "Hi Mom and Dad" and the banner also carried the ABC logo.
This is, after all a television show, and the 85,000-plus in JFK Stadium will suffer from a 4 p.m. kickoff and the resultant chill so that the viewers at home (WJLA-TV-7 in Washington) can contribute to a whopping TV rating -- last year's was the highest among all regular-season games.
Officers wore buttons ordering Saturday's heroes to "Get The Point!" As far as the fleet is concerned, those seven victories were nice, and the Holiday Bowl will be fun, but the only purpose for having a football team at Annapolis is beating the one from West Point.
"I didn't realize what it meant losing to Army until I went on my summer cruise and all the officers would ask me why we lost," said Navy quarterback Bob Leszczynski. "I think we could go 10-0, than lose to Army, and it would be a disastrous season to them."
Navy's mental miseries derive from a feeling of disaster that has accompanied losses to Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Florida State, following those seven glorious victories. A 7-3 record viewed from season's start would have looked lovely, but that buildup of high hopes that accompanied 7-0 has somehow been mired in a feeling of what might have been.
Coach George Welsh and his players refuse to cite the injury report, however lengthy, as excuse for loss of stature.
"The execution just hasn't been as good," Welsh said.
"The problem is mental," said cornerback Herb Wilson. "We just haven't gotten the emotion back after Pitt."
Wilson is one of several returning from the injury list, a positive note that figures to give the Mids a lift. Linebacker Nick Mygas is healthy once more and tailback Steve Callahan, the team's leading rusher, is ready to go. Phil McConkey, the No. 1 receiver, will be in uniform, but his knee injury is likely to restrict him to a few plays.
"We can play the way we did early in the year," Mygas insisted. "We just have to cut down on those little mistakes."
Army has been banged up, too, but most of its wounded will suit up today. Halfback Jim Merriken, the Cadets' leading runner, who suffered a knee injury two weeks ago, will start. Nose guard George Mayes, the Cadets' best defender, has a more serious knee problem and will see limited action.
The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, which Army retained with its 17-14 victory a year ago, is at stake today, since both teams defeated Air Force. Both also whipped Boston College, while Navy thrashed Pitt and Virginia, two teams that licked the Cadets.
Army leads the series, 37-35-6, and last year the Cadets saved Coach Homer Smith's job with their upset triumph. Smith's employment is on the line once more, since he received only a one-year contract extension.
This could be Welsh's last Army game after six years at Annapolis. Welsh has been mentioned in speculation concerning jobs with the New York Giants, Baltimore Colts and Penn State, and he has admitted he is "not glued" to the academy.
While the service academies occupy the TV screen, Alabama meets Auburn in a critical contest at Birmingham. If Alabama wins, it will play Penn State for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl. An Auburn victory or a tie will send Georgia to New Orleans and Alabama to the Bluebonnet Bowl.
Houston will try to wrap up the host role against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl when it faces woeful Rice. CAPTION: Picture 1, Navy Coach George Welsh and his quarterback, Bob Leszczynski, survey John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, the field of combat for today's 79th Army-Navy football game . AP; Picture 2, Army quarterback Earle Mulrane and Coach Homer Smith are on the hot seat for today's traditional battle with Navy . AP