Yes, world, there is a Virginia.
Even a defeat today, it became increasingly apparent that the Caveliers -- impotent nearly every season since Truman was preparing to relinquish the White House to Eisenhower -- no longer are the team everybody wants to schedule on homecoming.
"I really, sincerely, believed we'd win the football game," Coach Dick Bestwick said. He began to really, seriously, get that notion after the longest field goal in the school's history lifted Virginia into a 10-10 tie with top-20 Navy with 3 1/2 minutes left.
The rest of us really, sincerely, believed Virginia has a fine chance for a tie which would have been only slightly less dazzling -- but allow Bestwick his say:
"I thought we'd hold 'em and get good field position. And then (with a wonderfully strong wind) kick the winning field goal.I thought it'd be 13-10, us. But they made the big plays.I didn't think they could go 80 yards in two minutes, but that's why it's 17-10, them."
A neutral witness could measure how far Virginia has come this season by talking with three people during a distance of 15 yards after the game. And also after watching a Virginia quarterback throw a football from Normandy to North Africa.
It is possible for that sort of thing to happen in Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, where the front of the upper stands facing the Navy bench is dotted with the names of more important battles. Each of the names is about 10 yards apart -- and Normandy to North Africa stretches all of 50 yards.
The game's most spectacular, if not most significant, play began with Virginia's Todd Kirtley dropping back to pass from his 22-yard line and Andre Grier in a sprint with Navy defender Jon Ross near the left sideline.
Kirtley pumped once -- and a patterned play all of a sudden became free-lance.
"The back took away the sideline," Kirtley said, "and I saw Andre break back toward the middle. All I did was rear back and let it go."
Big-time football is unaccostumed to a Virginia quarterback passing 50 yards in a game, let alone on one play. But this spiral led Grier the way Sonny Jurgensen used to lead Charley Taylor. Grier ran perhaps another five yards after the catch, for a total of 47. But Kirtley was well behind the line of scrimmage when he threw.
He is a slender quarterback from Robinson High, who finished that drive with a TD pass, and one of the first met by Bob Bowden immediately after the final Virginia effort ended 33 yards short of the end zone.
"Don't hang your head, don't hang your damn head," said Bowden, a Cavalier strong safety and linebacker from '74 through '77 who endured seasons of 4-7, 1-10, 2-9, and 1-9-1. When the team had gone into the dressing room after its record became 4-3, Bowden said:
"It's not that we ever gave up, but this team has a whole lot more character. We thought we might have a chance to win our games. These guys know they have a chance."
Virginia has reached the point of being able to say "if only" after games with Navy-like teams. That is, "if only" as in "If only we hadn't muffed that punt and gotten that one penalty." Not so long ago, it was "If only I'd have forgotten to fill the tank, I'd have missed this mess."
Indeed, Virginia mistakes directly led to Navy's field goal and first touchdown, the latter coming on a 28-yard dash by sophomore Duane Flowers after a face-mask penalty turned a sizable loss into a near-first down.
Flowers is a splendid runner, but was third team until injuries promoted him to starter today. He started the afternoon as a rather indecisive No. 25 and ended it as a confident No. 42 -- the nicest sort of transformation for Coach George Welsh.
Wearing No. 25, Flowers gained just 28 yards on nine carries.Wearing No. 42 after halftime because those Cavalier nasties tore his regular jersey, Flowers dashed to 108 yards on 18 tries. He also had better escorts than most battleships receive.
"Personnel-wise," said Kirtley, we're better than Navy, and I'm upset we didn't win." He was the third Cavalier, after Bowden and Bestwick, to offer a progress report -- and the most publicly positive.
Navy is excellent. Not the team Clemson or N.C. State is; maybe not a top 20 team on talent but up there because of its spirit.
"But we've turned the corner. It's our turn to win games like this. We are gonna have a winning season. We are not a bunch of losers. None of us was here when all that was going on. We don't want that attitude."