He had never seen anything more beautiful. Mike Sherlock, a running back on the Navy football team, watched the lighted numbers change. Time disappeared... 50 seconds, 49, now 48... and Mike Sherlook knelt at midfield, head tilted back so he could see his dream coming true.
Then the numbers were done... Navy had beaten Army, 28-0, yesterday... and Mike Sherlock was a hero in his hometown. He suited up a year ago, but didn't play. The first time he touched a ball in an Army-Navy game, he went 10 yards up the middle yesterday. By game's end, he had carried 23 times for 105 yards.
"Unbelievable... unbelievable... unreal." This was Sherlock on a hero's high. The son of an Irish immigrant, one of nine children, Sherlock grew up in Philadelphia. A neighborhood buddy was on the field, slapping Sherlook on the shoulder pads, and the hero said, "Wooooeeeayyy... I don't believe it."
Another kid from the neighborhood put a program in front of Sherlock and asked for an autograph. "Want a shot?" the kid said, moving a brown-bagged bottle toward the runner.
"Thanks," Sherlock said, "but I'm already shakin' enough."
A classic game, this wasn't. Navy was too good for Army, too big and strong. The 79,026 paying customers saw a simple demonstration of basic football. Knock down the ther guy when you have the ball, knock him down when he has it. Navy did most of the knocking down yesterday.
Not that everyone expected it to be this easy. If victory in its first seven games caused Navy to think of itself great, the 27-7 manhandling by Notre Dame caused hasty revisions of such evaluation. Two more losses followed, to mediocre Syracuse and to Florida State, before Navy came here yesterday.
And Navy came limping. Its single longrange weapon, split end Phil McConkey, still is lame. He was in for two plays yesterday, not as a weapon but as his begged-for reward in his last engagement with the Cadets. Without McConkey, how would Navy move the ball?
By giving it to Mike Sherlock.
But two days ago, Sherlock didn't even know he would start. He, too, was hurt, not yet recovered from a groin injury. He figured to share the tailback's job with Steve Callahan, with Callahan getting most of the work. That's the way Sherlock's season had gone.
Sherlock he was the starter yesterday, the runner became nervous. He grew up in this town and was All-Philadelphia two years ago. His family and maybe 100 relatives were in the seats.
"That all affected me," Sherlock said. "During warmups, I tried to relax, to get used to the idea. I'd be running along and just smile a little to relax. I'd never played in front of so many people before."
Sherlock relaxed best when he first took the football into the line.
On Navy's first play of the game, Sherlock ran off tackle, out to his left a step and went 10 yeards before he was knocked down.
He saw this was going to be fun.
"Right off, I could see the offensive line was going to have a great day," he said. "They just pushed those Army guys off the ball five yards. The hole was wide open."
Sherlock smiled. His eyes danced. The smile revealed a tooth missing on the left side, the vacancy a reminder that nothing in this game is easy, even a 10-yard run against Army. But this was Navy's day, and Sherlock said he knew it all along.
A loss to Notre Dame is never a disgrace, and the defeats at Syracuse and Florida State can be explained in part by injuries. So while some people may have stepped off the Navy bandwagon, Sherlock never lost faith.
"I was afraid a lot of people would forget those seven victories and remember the three losses," he said. "It is true that you're only as good as the last game you played. But today we did show them we are a good team."
An invitation to the Holiday Bowl came after the third straight defeat.
"There was nothing really to celebrate about then," Sherlock said. "But I still think we deserved it, and we proved it today."
Tom Sherlock, who works in a meat-packing factory, was the smiling host to a party at his house tonight, 15 minutes from JFK Stadium, where his son, Mike became a hero.
"Out there today, I was thinking of my father," Mike Sherlock said. "I wanted to do good for him and make him happy. He works hard. I know that. It takes long hours and he never had much time to be at home. We have a large family and that's a lot of pressure. I recognize what he's done for me.
"I was watching the seconds go down on the scoreboard and I was thinking about what happened out there and how happy it made me and how happy it would make any father."