George Welsh walked into Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this afternoon and, without a visible expression of sentiment, led his Virginia Cavaliers through brief preparations for Saturday's opener against Navy.
"I have no special feelings," Welsh said. "It's a football game and just another field. I have to get them ready.
"It will be different tomorrow when I have the sun glaring in my face, though. I'll get a taste of what those other teams have put up with while I've had the sun at my back on the other side."
Welsh will be putting nine years of accomplishment behind him, during which he built Navy from a doormat into an annual bowl guest. The oddsmakers, by 10 points, figure he will pay a price for that success Saturday when he faces the team he left behind as the first step of reviving a Virginia program that dipped to 1-10 futility a year ago.
To add to Welsh's difficulty, 34 players missed part of preseason practice because of injuries, with 20 held out of last week's final scrimmage.
Virginia will start a freshman nose guard, Scott Matheson, opposite Navy's veteran center, cocaptain Dennis McCall, and there are other notable areas of inexperience, with the Cavaliers forced to go without a single linebacker who has made a collegiate tackle from that position.
"We are thin in some spots and we're young down the middle on defense," Welsh said. "We're not really as far advanced as we could have been without all these injuries. Over the course of a season, I've seen this many injuries, but certainly not in this short a period of time.
"This team is bigger and stronger physically than I remember my Navy teams. We have more speed and more people. But we're not as quick as the Navy teams of the last four years. Of course, we never had a guy like (offensive tackle Jim) Dombrowski at Navy, and when you're 6-5 and 285, you're not going to be as quick."
Welsh said said he didn't "want to make this a big game for our squad just because of me. You can only play so many big games."
It is obvious, however, that the ABC telecast, which forced a 3:50 kickoff (WJLA-TV-7), was inspired solely by Welsh's return. Virginia has made only one previous TV appearance, on a minuscule hookup for a 1975 game against VMI, and its 1981 record was hardly a lure.
Welsh also has helped to put some pressure on his opposite number, Gary Tranquill, a Welsh assistant for four years. If nobody expects Welsh to be an immediate miracle man at a school with two winning seasons in the last 29, a lot of folks around here see no reason why Tranquill should not orchestrate Navy's fifth straight winning season.
Tranquill, like Welsh, has tried to keep the players from thinking about who's coaching whom, instead emphasizing the need to start the season on a winning note.
"Openers are important, particularly in this case, where we have a new staff and no feel for the players under fire," Tranquill said. "We've had good practices and they've hustled and shown intensity. I can't ask any more of them."
Except to spoil Welsh's homecoming on the scoreboard.