Napoleon McCallum's graduation from the Naval Academy will be an uncharacteristically quiet affair, in contrast to a football career that sprawls across the record books with an extravagance matched only by his name -- double C, double L and one emperor.
On Dec. 17, in a small ceremonial room in Bancroft Hall before a few braided onlookers, McCallum will receive his commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. This occurrence, he says, will be the first "real" thing to happen to him in the last five years, a near half-decade of surreal dramas played out in football stadiums and military formations.
McCallum will leave Navy as the owner of 26 school records and the NCAA's career leader in all-purpose yardage. But he also will leave without the Heisman Trophy, and with two consecutive losing seasons to end his happy-sad career.
Navy (3-7) will try to salvage something from McCallum's fifth year at the Academy with a victory over Army Saturday in the service rivalry classic at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, his final game before he begins his five-year service commitment. Sometime late Saturday night on some street in Philadelphia, the air will be filled with the tossing of several Naval Academy caps in an informal salute. The football team promised McCallum the private hat-tossing ceremony last spring when he decided to return to Navy for his unprecedented fifth year, forgoing graduation -- and the traditional hat toss that day -- with his class.
At that time, Navy was expected to have one of its finest seasons in recent memory and McCallum, returning from a broken leg that caused him to miss almost the entire 1984 season and allowed him another year of eligibility, was thought to be one of the favorites for the Heisman.
Instead, the Midshipmen have lost five games by a profoundly frustrating total of 15 points, and McCallum's 6,896 career all-purpose yards have gone largely unrecognized.
But regrets do not come easily to McCallum, who may be one of the most extraordinary student athletes of his era. To remain eligible, he went to summer school to enable him to take a second degree in physical science to go with the one in applied science he already had earned. For the season, he has 1,110 yards on 246 carries, 11th best in the country, on a team that was outmanned nearly everywhere it went.
"It was fun," he said. "Against all odds, maybe, but it was fun. Getting ready each week, the jitters, and actually playing are all good times. Right until the last second, until we lost, it was always fun. It was the losses themselves that were hard to take."
There will be surprisingly few remnants of McCallum's career other than the numbers in the record book. Although other schools might be tempted to build something in bronze, the Naval Academy is sparing in its recognition and has retired only two jerseys, those of Heisman winners Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino. McCallum's, however, may be another; the Navy Athletic Association is expected to make a recommendation, which then has to be approved by the Academy superintendent, Adm. Charles Larson.
One of the few displays of McCallum's accomplishments hangs on a wall in his family home in Ohio, a large bulletin board with a color photo against a yellow background designed by his father. Blue writing and a small blue football spell out each of his records, which are now too numerous to fit on the board, and in which McCallum takes obvious pleasure. Against Army, he probably will pass another milestone: He needs just 38 yards rushing to become the 22nd back in NCAA history to gain 4,000 yards in a career.
"I guess he's going to have to redo it," McCallum said with a smile. "The all-purpose record means a lot. The most rushing yards for Navy -- that means a lot, too."
Still, there is one undeniable regret: Navy's poor season undoubtedly hurt McCallum's Heisman chances. Auburn's Bo Jackson appears to be a lock, with Iowa's Chuck Long second. McCallum's name was rarely mentioned in the running after midseason, despite the fact that he passed Darrin Nelson's NCAA all-purpose record against South Carolina 2 1/2 weeks ago.
"I don't like to concede defeat, so I don't like to talk about it," he said. "It was important. I tried not to make it so important to me, but it was."
McCallum's lack of recognition in the Heisman voting is perceived as an injustice at Navy, where he has become a tremendously respected, almost revered fixture. He was a squad leader and a model student, and also the team cocaptain. At 6 feet 3, he looks the part of the officer and speaks with an articulate ease that makes him seem older than his years.
"If you spend five minutes with him and don't come away liking him, then you don't like anybody in the world," Navy Athletic Director Bo Coppedge said.
Among other things, Navy will miss him for his public relations value. Everyone's favorite interview, over his career he has been unfailingly gracious, regardless of whether the Midshipmen won or lost, or whether he had just broken his leg or set another record. While other colleges experienced NCAA scandals, he seemed one of the last true amateurs.
One oft-told McCallum story took place after Navy's 17-13 upset of Virginia on Sept. 28, one of the happier moments this season. McCallum rushed for 139 yards, scored both touchdowns and caught a crucial third-down pass on the final drive. On the team bus afterward, McCallum settled into a seat and put on a pair of headphones in the middle of the celebration around him.
"What are you listening to?" Navy quarterback Bill Byrne asked.
"French lessons," McCallum said.
"He was teaching it to himself," said an incredulous Byrne. "He carried the ball on every play, he got his head pounded, and back on the bus he's listening to French. He just thought he'd do a little studying."
It is hard to imagine what Navy would have done without McCallum, and his rushing accomplishments are enough to have interested a number of pro scouts; among those who have visited Navy are the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Although McCallum lacks great speed, and his workmanlike running style makes him look more like a pack camel than a polished tailback, his effectiveness for Navy was undeniable.
"I have no idea how I run," he said. "I know I don't dance around. I think you call it, 'Get the first down.' Whatever needs to be done."
McCallum's strong suits are the versatility that made him the all-purpose career rusher, a long stride and an uncanny ability to pick up an extra yard or two for a first down -- and he almost never fumbles. One factor that might have hurt him in the Heisman voting was his performance in a 41-17 loss to Notre Dame, when he fumbled three times on national television. But they were his only fumbles all year, and he still gained 124 yards.
"He was the best power runner we faced all year," said Notre Dame defensive coordinator Andy Christoff, who designed defenses for Michigan State's Lorenzo White and Penn State's D.J. Dozier, among others this season. "He runs harder than anyone. You tackle him for what you think is a two-yard gain and he turns it into five. His speed is deceptive because he's a long strider, and a forward leaner. It doesn't look like he's moving very fast but he is. He just sort of lopes along."
McCallum, who fully intends to take his shot at the NFL after fulfilling his Navy commitment, will use the same approach as his predecessor, Eddie Meyers, the former all-time leading Navy rusher who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and saves up his leave to attend training camp once a year.
McCallum's immediate plans are to play in three postseason all-star games -- the Blue Gray and the Senior and Hula Bowls. A few weeks later he will take his place in a gray entity called the Supply Corps, the increasingly popular choice of Midshipmen who want careers in business.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I want to get on with it. But it's not just getting on with it. It's doing something real."