In a corridor in the depths of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium Saturday, onlookers were somewhat startled to see tears streaming down the cheeks of a uniformed officer with an admiral's stars on his shoulder boards. Virgil L. Hill, the Naval Academy's superintendent, could not hide his feelings of what losing the Army-Navy football game meant.
For Navy's seniors, it was a disappointment they must carry forever. Only an occasional Roger Staubach, Phil McConkey or Napoleon McCallum will play another important football game, and even they admit not even a Super Bowl could top the drama of Army vs. Navy.
For the Midshipmen, Saturday's 30-20 setback meant an eighth straight losing season (5-6). Still, in the postgame depression, few were criticizing first-year coach George Chaump, despite the contradiction of his replacing a coach, Elliot Uzelac, who in his final game had defeated the Cadets.
If Chaump's first team was not a winner, it at least was exciting. The entire brigade of midshipmen stood and cheered when Navy's first play from scrimmage under Chaump this season was an incomplete pass.
Army won with superb execution of the wishbone offense, and both the Cadets and Air Force defeated Navy this season while completing only one pass.
Chaump resorted to option plays this fall to maximize the value of senior quarterback Alton Grizzard, a tenacious performer and resourceful leader but not a great passer. Chaump next season is expected to turn to the all-out offense he has used successfully in the past.
To run things he has a superb freshman, Jason Van Matre, who gained experience this fall as a tailback and kick-returner. Contending for the quarterback spot is sophomore Brian Ellis, a fine passer who led his high school team to a Georgia AAAA championship.
Chaump let a number of plebes get their baptism Saturday on the kickoff return unit. "I wanted to take the roughest, toughest scout team guys and give them a shot of confidence when they come back in the spring," he said. "There were a lot of rough warriors out there, the kind that play with reckless abandon."
Among the returnees will be plebe fullback Brad Stramanak, whose 45-yard touchdown run Saturday was Navy's longest of the season, and sophomore tailback Ivan Bullard, a talented runner who gained 36 yards on seven carries Saturday in only his third appearance of an injury-plagued season.
Key problems include the strengthening of an offensive line that often was overrun and the replacement of seven seniors who started on defense against Army.
Though Chaump was unhappy with his team's record, his first losing one as a head coach since his inaugural season at Indiana (Pa.) University in 1982, Athletic Director Jack Lengyel viewed matters positively.
"We have a lot of work to do in the offseason and in the spring, but there's no question this program has turned a corner," said Lengyel. "We didn't always win, but we always had a chance to win. It should lead to a lot of success in the future."