Pentagon Alert.

Attention all Navy brass.

Distress signal.


Save Our Star.

The U.S.S. Napoleon McCallum is foundering and needs your help.

The career of the greatest running back in Navy history does not have to end Saturday with McCallum watching the Army-Navy game because of a broken leg.

McCallum can play for Navy next season. Perhaps gain 2,385 all-purpose yards as he did in 1983, or win the Heisman Trophy as some thought he would this year.

There's no legal, ethical or common-sense reason against it.

Even the NCAA says its okay for Navy to "redshirt" McCallum for a fifth year. Almost every college in the country does it.

Even precedent is on McCallum's side. Navy made an exception for a special young man (Brad Steffens) a decade ago and redshirted him for a fifth year of eligibility.

The Air Force Academy would re-up McCallum in a minute. In fact, Air Force already has two redshirt footballers playing right now.

Get off your Naval duffs over there at that five-sided box, get on the horn and start rattling cages in Annapolis.

Call the commandant, Commodore Leslie N. Palmer. Call the superintendent, Adm. Charles R. Larson. Ask 'em, "How many tough decisions does this kid McCallum have to make -- choosing five years as a Naval officer over a million-dollar contract in the NFL -- before we bend a little and make a tough decision for him?"

It'll be an injustice to McCallum if he can't come back in '85.

Here is a young man who has repeatedly put his desire for an Academy degree ahead of his self-interest. McCallum has come through for Navy every time it counted: on the football field, as a nationwide recruiter, as a visible symbol of a successful black man in military life.

At one point, McCallum decided to stay at Navy when, by quitting the Academy, he could have gotten to the NFL and its cash three years sooner.

Now it's time for Navy to come through for McCallum. Navy shouldn't ask McCallum to give up five years of his life and perhaps a pro football career and a million bucks as well, then give back nothing in return after he breaks his leg for them.

"There's nothing in the NCAA rules against me being a redshirt," McCallum said yesterday, nine weeks after he needed eight pins and a plate in his fibula. "The Navy has just never done it for a football player.

"If I came back next year, I would already have graduated with my class. I'd be an ensign. The Academy is very proud of its academics and Annapolis is thought of as a place for Midshipmen. The name of the team is The Mids. What would you call the team next year -- The Midshipmen and One Ensign?"

Leave it to McCallum to make the strongest case against himself.

Of course, the Navy athletic department hopes McCallum will play next year. "I think about it all the time," said Capt. J.O. Coppedge, Navy's athletic director.

"I've been in mourning since he was hurt -- wear black socks every day. What makes this so painful is that I don't know of anybody since Roger Staubach who has been so well-respected at the Academy as a person. The problem with this guy is that I've never heard anybody say anything bad about him."

McCallum has spent every day since his injury trying to defy doctors' advice and get back in uniform for the Army-Navy game.

"People have asked me about it constantly," said McCallum. "I'm running and making cuts now. I'm not in as good shape as I was to start the season, but I could try to return kickoffs and punts. I'm pretty sure the coach would like me to try it."

But McCallum's not going to.

"There's too much to lose," said the 6-foot-2, 210-pound tailback. "This injury isn't going to stop me from playing pro ball some day. It's not like it was a knee. I could probably play hurt (against Army), but I'd play badly and it's too big a risk. One of my old school principals told me I'd be a fool to play too soon after a broken leg."

McCallum's decision may have more to do with the redshirt issue than it seems. If he played against Army, or in any of the postseason all-star games for seniors, he would have burned up his last year of eligibility. Now, he said, he will not play in either.

On one hand, McCallum said, "All I think about now is the Army game and how much I want to play. I was watching old films at home over Thanksgiving, jumping over the coffee tables. I know I'm not finished with football. All ships have weight rooms now and you can jog on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

"Phil McConkey (former Navy star) is playing with the New York Giants now. I can do it, too. I haven't given up my dreams."

On the other hand, McCallum almost certainly has hopes that he hasn't played his last game for Navy. He still loves "laughing and carrying on" beside the bench in games such as Navy's stunning upset of No. 2-ranked South Carolina two weeks ago.

"Bill Byrne (the injured quarterback) and I said, 'Oh, no, if they win this game they won't even know who we are.' Sure enough, after the game, Coach Tranquill finished his two-cents worth to the team, then he had to add two more cents. He said, 'Hey, who are McCallum and Byrne.' "

Everybody at Navy, especially Tranquill, knows who McCallum is. It's already a poorly kept Annapolis secret that Navy has a perfectly reasonable way to get McCallum back for '85.

According to sources, here's the scenario. McCallum, a good student, neglects to sign up for enough spring semester courses to graduate in June. He can cite the trauma of his injury as a reason, or give no reason at all.

That would make him eligible to go before an academic board that could "stretch him out" for an extra semester at Navy. That's what happened with Steffens and with many nonathletes over the years.

If he did this, McCallum would take a great risk. The board, which includes the commandant and superintendent, theoretically might kick him out of the Academy. Or, the extra semester at Navy might be counted as part of his five-year Navy duty before he can play in the NFL.

"Anything is possible," said Cmdr. Ken Pease, the spokesman designated by Larson to address the topic of McCallum being redshirted. "The four-year course of study here has been 'stretched out' for Midshipmen with fine qualities of leadership. That's always a possibility for anyone, including McCallum. He's lost some (study) time here because of his injury. That could be a factor. He could petition the board to stay for an extra semester. Under those circumstances, it's hypothetically possible that he might play . . . Things similar to that have happened before."

What apparently can't happen is for McCallum to play it straight -- graduate on time like the fine student he is -- and still play next year.

Maryland, by contrast, can play a graduate student (Frank Reich) at quarterback. Navy can't, because it's got no grad school.

This is where the Pentagon and the distress call come in.

McCallum needs to know what will happen if he comes up a few credits short of graduation. Somebody has to whisper in his ear that he's got the top brass' seal of approval.

So, where will the buck stop?

Said one of the Naval Academy's top brass, wishing anonymity, "This will probably be decided during a high-level coffee break at the Pentagon. The 'final word' will probably just be a nod."

McCallum thought twice before he came to Navy.

If that nod doesn't go the right way, the next Napoleon McCallum may think three times.