The first man introuduced tonight in the Holiday Bowl was Navy senior Phil McConkey. The 164-pound flanker raced to midfield, leaping and exhorting his teammates to win their first bowl appearance since the glory days of Roger Staubach.
And it was little McConkey standing alone in the end zone in the fourth quarter, exulting once more, after his acrobatic 65-yard touchdown catch rallied Navy to its 23-16 victory over Brigham Young University.
Navy traled, 16-3, early in the second half in San Diego Stadium and seemed in danger of smothering itself in penaltes and conservative stragety.
But McConkey cured that. As the sellout crowd of 52,506 caught some of his bouncing, infectious spirit, McConkey ran two splendid reverses-one left, one right-ignting Navy drives that produced a touchdown and a field goal that made the score 16-13.
Then, with 11:44 to play, he latched onto a Bob Leszcynski pass at the BYU 30-yard line and hot-footed it into the end zone to complete the 65-yard strike and put Navy ahead to stay.
"We're just so, so happy to be here . . . to get to play in a bowl game," bubbled McConkey over the PA system minutes after the game as he received the game's outstanding offensive player trophy. "We'll remember this moment all our lives."
McConkey, whose 39-yard touchdown pass was nullified by a first-half penalty, shared some of the spotlight with kicker Bob Tata who nailed field goals of 40, 28 and 27 yards.
It was the two smallest Mids-McConkey and the 160-pound Tata-who gave this unheralded Navy team its 9-3 record, best since the 1963 Staubach-led team went 9-2.
BYU, switching two quarterbacks all night, finished its year 9-4.
This game had several twists and turns, but in the end, it is McConkey's flying catch of Leszcznski's pass that will be remembered.
It came as the visible culmination of a powerful turning tide. When McConkey fair-caught a punt at his 35-yard line with less than 12 miniutes to play, Navy trailing 16-13, the Midshipmen had been dominating the game for almost a full quarter.
That fair catch was the last fiar thing, McConkey did to BYU. On Navy's first play after the Cougar punt, McConkey ran the oldest and best of all pass patterns-the streak.
Leszczynski threw the pass well-long and hard so that McConkey could watch the ball and time it over his shoulder while the defensive back was tangled.
At the BYU 30, McConkey stutter-stepped to juke his defender into watching him instead of the ball, leaped higher than his 5-foot-10 fram ought to go.
He came down with the ball and he came down running. When he stopped, his one defender long since fallen in a heap, and Navy was in the captain's seat.
"That may not have been the best catch of may life, but it sure was the biggest," said McConkey, who has scored 17 touchdowns at Navy.
"My size has never been a hindrance to me," he said with a grin. "I'm a cocky little somethin' or other . . .
"There's a chemistry on this team that I can't quite explain. Earlier this year we were 7-0 and on top of the world. Then we lost three straight. But during that time there were no guys pointing fingers at each other. We just hung together."
After finishing its season with a 28-0 victory over Army and bowl triumph, Navy is close to top of its world again. "I never felt we'd loose," said Leszczynski.
"This was going to be the last game of my career and I was going to make sure it was good." said the quarter-back who went seven-for-13 for 123 yards, four of the completions to McConkey for 88 yards.
Navy's strong finish gave it a 352-to-255 edge in yards. BYU line backer Tom Enlow told the truth: "They sure have a lot of character. And I think maybe they're in better shape than us."
The first half of this game was vintge sleeper. A Navy holding penalty killed McConkey's first TD catch and the half ended with a Navy drive dying on fourth down at the BYU one-yard line. On the last Navy play, Leszcznski rolled left and ran, failing somehow to see that his primary receiver was open by 10 yards in the end zone.
The crowd, full of Navy supporters in this battleship and carrier-filled port, was so restive that the biggest cheers of the half were for the KGB Chicken, a colorful mascot who infests this stadium during San Diego Padre games.
He was not invited tonight and security guards tried eject him. But the Chicken pulled a sit-down strike that roused 50,000 people to chants of "KGB, KGB . . ." and forced the rent-a-cops to let the interloper stay.
When BYU's Jim McMahon, who alreadly had passed 10 yards to Mike Chronister for one touchdown, sprinted left and dove over the goal line flag for a two-yard score and a 16-3 lead, it looked like the night would be chicken feathers for Navy.
Navy might have cursed its penalty misfortunes, its blunders and folded before BYU's growing momentum. Instead, as befits military gentlemen, the Navy players decided it was time to fight.
McConkey's reverses were the inspiration. On a 76-yard Navy scoring march that ended with a three-yard touchdown plunge by Kevin Tolbert, McConkey sped left for 16 yards, then squirmed and wriggled so much when tackled that a Cougar grabbed his face mask-adding 15 yards to the gain.
Navy drove in its next possession, setting up a 27-yard Tata field goal that cut the deficit to 16-13, McConkey ran the same flanker-around play to the right for 26 yards, cutting back against the grain in traffic like a fearless 220-pounder.
Tata hit his final field goal with 7:14 to play, giving Navy a seven-point lead. The Mids looked comfortable.
In the closing minutes, McMahon was reinserted for Marc Wilson. He drove BYU across midfield with 1:58 to play. But that was the last gasp.