For Steve Belichick, Navy's punting coach and scout par excellence, the three-week wait for his 27th Army-Navy game has bordered on the interminable.
"It seems like three months ago (Nov. 13) I saw Pitt and Army play," Belichick said today. "I don't even know what day it is, with the holidays thrown in. At least it's not like the NFL strike. The players got some time off, but we've worked on some things so they haven't forgotten the game."
For Dennis McCall, the Midshipmen's center and cocaptain, the wait for Army-Navy has been considerably longer. It dates back to his preteen years in Washington, Iowa.
"It's always been a goal of mine to play in the game," McCall said. "In grade school, I watched on TV and I wanted Navy to win and my brother was Army. Navy always seemed to lose by a point or two. My goal was to see Navy win it, and be part of it."
In 1979 and 1980, McCall at least saw the Midshipmen win. But Saturday in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium marks his first opportunity to participate in an Army-Navy game.
As a sophomore, McCall was wiped out by a shoulder injury in the second game of the season. As a junior, he started the first nine games, only to suffer a knee injury that required surgery and made him a spectator at an unpalatable 3-3 tie.
"Last year I was on the sidelines on crutches, watching the team basically flounder," McCall said. "I wanted so badly to be out on the field, to try to help get something going."
This fall, McCall sprained an ankle three days before the Notre Dame game. A center who cannot push off is of little use and McCall wondered if he was to be deprived of his last chance to face the Cadets.
"I thought about Army-Navy a lot, because it didn't seem to want to come back very fast," McCall said. "I wasn't really ready for South Carolina (Nov. 13), but the three or four-day layoff after that game helped it a lot. I'll be ready this time."
McCall thinks the Navy team will be ready, too, determined to atone for its dreadful performance a year ago.
"Last year I think we looked past Army as a gimme," McCall said. "We were going to the Liberty Bowl to face Ohio State and and we thought we were up here and they were down there. Army got a lot of bad press, and that tends to pick up any team.
"Now we're practicing harder and we're looking at last year's films to see what happened. They did a lot of slanting last year and I don't think we were prepared for it. We seemed to be hesitant to come off the ball. If they try slanting this time, it won't bother us a bit."
There will be no bowl game this year and Navy needs a victory for a winning season, but McCall has no bad feeling for the 10 games past.
"Sure we're 5-5, but one thing I'm proud of is that I'm playing on a team that didn't give up once, no matter how many bad things happened to us," McCall said. "The injuries were unbelievable, but when people got hurt, somebody else would step in and do the job.
"We're getting people back who were injured, and the people who replaced them have gotten experience and are ready, too. Right now, I'd have to say things are looking pretty good."