Frustration marked the return of Napoleon McCallum to Navy's football team tonight.
Although he scored Navy's two touchdowns in a 21-19 defeat by North Carolina at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, McCallum expressed disappointment with his performance, saying, "I think I started out slow -- tentative." By the time he had hit his stride, he added, "we were running out for passes."
With 2:13 left in the game, McCallum even threw a scare into the crowd of 26,394 when he had the wind knocked out of him after falling on the ball following a reception and tackle during a Navy drive for a touchdown. But within a minute, he was back in the game, and taking the pass in the end zone that would have led to a tie game had not the two-point conversion been nullified by a illegal-man-downfield call.
McCallum rushed 16 times for 77 yards and ended with 166 total yards, including receptions and runbacks. He said the first time he was hit, "There were a lot of words by a lot of players," which he described as a "welcome back."
"Offensively," he said, "we kind of let down the team."
He added, "I was feeling strange. The day before the game, I was ready to play. As the game comes along, you start getting a little shaky, a little shy."
Navy Coach Gary Tranquill described McCallum's play as "all right. He did almost everything we asked of him. He didn't have much room."
But with anticipation and fan fervor high, McCallum received an extraordinary welcome from midshipmen and fans tonight.
"Good luck, Napoleon," called a well-wisher as McCallum stepped off the team bus two hours before game time. The prize carrier of the fleet responded with a smile and wave as he strolled toward the Navy locker room, looking not at all like he had been anticipating this opener against North Carolina for many months, looking instead in his midshipmen's whites like the coolest man on shore this evening.
And just as confident-looking suited up in his blue and gold uniform for an unprecedented "extra" season at the Academy, granted in the wake of a broken ankle he suffered in Navy's second game last season. Mere mention of his name among the starting 11 brought all the midshipmen and thousands in the crowd to their feet.
Obviously, McCallum needs no hype to introduce him. In fact, if he is to win the Heisman this year, he'll be doing it without much Naval Academy promotion. Last year, Navy publicists had made up posters of McCallum in John Paul Jones regalia for use in a publicity campaign with a caption, "I have not yet begun to run."
With his injury, the inscription proved sourly prophetic.
In the early going tonight, McCallum almost seemed as if he was going it alone. With the Navy offensive line unable to repulse a swarming defense in the first period, he was held to six yards in three carries. The Tar Heels did not merely key on McCallum, they glued themselves to him. Three times, he disappeared under seas of Carolina blue.
McCallum blamed himself: "I should be running up there, even if there isn't a hole."
But just give him a step and McCallum is a threat to score from anywhere. Early in the second period, he weaved up the middle for 21 yards on a draw play, breaking two ankle-tackle attempts and almost a third.
McCallum had begun to run. What's more, with 6:24 before the half, with North Carolina leading, 7-0, McCallum bolted 15 yards up the middle on third down and one for Navy's first touchdown of the season. Jubilant midshipmen poured from the seats to celebrate in the end zone.
By halftime, with the score tied, 7-7, and McCallum with at least two good running bursts against a stacked defense, it seemed that McCallum was off and running as well as could be hoped in the first 30 minutes of the season, even documenting what Tranquill said following spring practice: "You would not have suspected in watching him this spring that he had missed nine games last year. He was not tentative at all."
But McCallum felt he was "tentative." Still, catching seven passes for 44 yards, and serving as a decoy on other plays, he helped keep Navy in the game on its last drive. He ran twice and caught four passes, including the five-yarder for the touchdown.
But the penalty nullifying the two points that would have given Navy the tie left every Midshipman disappointed. Asked by a fan if he had been hurt in the game, McCallum responded, "I didn't run fast enough to get hurt."
Though he had done plenty, he felt he had not yet begun to run.