Napoleon McCallum's second wind came only four short months after he lost the first. As if blessed by some divine and merciful hand, the most gifted running back the U.S. Naval Academy has ever known emerged today from the obscuring shadows with a bright smile and a benediction.
"It should be fun when I get back," he said, referring to the Navy's decision to allow him another year of eligibility.
"When something's taken away from you, you miss it a whole lot more than you could ever say . . . I made the request back in the middle of December after weighing how much I wanted to play and couldn't. I decided you can only go around once."
McCallum, the all-America from Milford, Ohio, who missed nine games last season after breaking his ankle, told a small gathering of reporters that he was "happy but not surprised" with the announcement. Tom Bates, Navy's sports information director, told him last week that Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Charles Larson's decision would be made public that Friday.
"I was at home with my parents and really hadn't thought about it," McCallum said. "I saw the decision on the front page of the (Baltimore) Sun . . . I had told my roommate Dave Moore that it would make the front page when it finally came out, and it did. I was ready for it one way or another . . . I only wish I had had the chance to celebrate, but I had to go to classes."
He said the dream of winning the Heisman trophy figured into his request to return for a fifth, "hardship" year, as did a fundamental desire to play the game again. "The Heisman's a pretty trophy," he said. "Maybe divine guidance made Doug Flutie get it this year so I can get it next."
His hopes of becoming a Navy pilot and astronaut were scrapped after doctors operated and placed a steel plate in his ankle in late September. "They don't want plates messing up the electronic gear," he said. "There's still a desire to fly. And in time I'll get a private license . . . The doctor has to take another X-ray to see when the plate comes out. The medical people just said with an injury that serious I wouldn't be able to fly."
McCallum, wearing a dapper suit of service dress blues, said his mother "didn't like the decision. She'd been looking forward to graduation and June week and all the white hats going in the air. But you have to give up a few things if you want something else. I'll get a double major out of this, in applied science now, and then one in physical science."
Navy Coach Gary Tranquill has certainly not worn the face of sorrow the last few days. He said McCallum's injury against Virginia "left me depressed for a while, and the squad reacted the same way. But we had to regroup and go on. We had to improvise and go on. Now we'll take our time making plans and just play it by ear."
Although McCallum expressed no regrets about having to endure another storm of media attention, Tranquill said the running back had "gone through it once already. I just hope that people leave him alone."
That seems highly unlikely. McCallum holds every all-purpose career yardage record at Navy and gained 1,587 yards in 1983. With the additional year of maturity, he undoubtedly will bring even more strength and confidence to the game.
"I didn't add any muscle over the last few months," he said. "In fact, I took a pinch test the other day and I've never been so fat."
He still must fulfill his five-year service obligation after graduating in December and before he can play professional football. "If I could do it in 1990," he said, "I figure I can do it just as well in 1991 . . . I'll be a half-year behind my class going in, but if I work hard I can catch up."
He met with Tranquill and "asked him, if it did happen, if I could come back, would I still be drafted this year? I was trying to find out what was my worth if I got out this year. Someone had said something really outrageous to me, something too good to be true. This guy said I could probably get about $350,000 a year while I was in the Navy, but I really didn't take that to heart. It was some guy who'd never played football just talking."
McCallum appealed only once to Larson, who decided without presenting the case to a review board. In the prepared statement issued last Friday, Larson said he decided, "We had an obligation to support him after all the support he has provided for the Naval Academy and the Navy itself in recent years."
The decision proved to be less controversial than expected. "I got only one strong letter of objection," McCallum said. "It was typed up real nice and went to a lot of important people . . . Basically, it said the main purpose of the Naval Academy is to graduate midshipmen, then have them serve five years. It said the purpose of going to school here was to be a good officer, not to play football."