As Navy and Virginia prepare for Saturday night's engagement at Charlottesville, both coaches feel the tension of a meeting between ancient, evenly matched rivals. This time, however, there is none of that "screwy feeling" that was so much a part of last year's football game.
The 1982 opener for both clubs produced a situation in which George Welsh, the Navy coach for nine seasons, brought his first Virginia team here to make its debut against a Navy team coached for the first time by his successor, Gary Tranquill.
The Midshipmen, outplayed for most of the afternoon, pulled out a 20-16 victory and Tranquill went on to a 6-5 record, while Welsh's Cavaliers finished 2-9.
"Last year's circumstances were as unusual as you can ever get," Tranquill recalled today. "It wasn't exactly the pressure created by the situation, because there's always pressure. Just call it a screwy feeling. I mean, how often do you play a team where the other coach knows your players better than you do?
"I'm sure there were 10,000 people in the stands ready to second-guess me on every call. But that will probably be true this week, too. That's always the case. It would be interesting to poll the fans on a third-and-two call and see if anybody wanted the play I came up with.
"I do feel much more comfortable this year. There are still some question marks, and will be until we play the first game. But now the guys know what to expect from me, and I know pretty much what to expect from most of them. Last year, we were new to each other."
Much of the pressure that has perched, vulture-like, on Welsh's shoulders since his sudden move to Charlottesville evaporated with last week's 38-30 victory over Duke. That success, plus the passage of time, has made this Navy game more palatable than the last.
"There has been a lot less fuss down here about going up against Navy again," Welsh said by telephone today. "There aren't nearly as many requests for interviews as last year. In fact, except for the regular Monday press conference, this is the only time I've talked to anybody about it. I have to admit I like it a lot better this way."
Welsh, who dropped his first five games a year ago, pointed out the obvious, that it was far more pleasant starting out with a victory.
"There was a lot of excitement Saturday and I was pleased to see the excitement," Welsh said. "But I do think it's a little premature. We have to play a few more games right now before we can claim to have turned things around. I've had to quiet the excitement, in fact, because I didn't want to get the players caught up in that."
While Welsh has a good idea of his club's capabilities, Tranquill must await Saturday's kickoff to see how some of his inexperienced players will react. In especially critical roles are junior quarterback Ricky Williamson, whose only start a year ago came in the victory over Army; sophomore rover Eric Fudge, and sophomore safety Steve Brady.
"Certainly, our big question marks are Rick and the secondary," Tranquill said. "Rick has the physical capabilities to do what we want to do. It's a matter of giving him enough game-condition snaps to see how he responds.
"One thing, I put as much pressure on him a year ago as it's possible to put on a Navy player. He handled the pressure well, although I think he can execute better, and he definitely stepped ahead in the spring.
"In our secondary, we have four or five better athletes than we had last year, although two (cornerbacks Eric Wallace and Kurt Dixon) are the same. Of our two young guys, Fudge and Brady have good speed, good judgment and good instincts, but no game experience--well, not much, anyway. We had so many injuries last year that by the end, everybody was in the game.
"Fudge is big and tough. Brady can run. I know Virginia will go downtown a couple of times. They'll find out and we'll find out how good our secondary is."