The 1963 Army-Navy game looked as if it easily belonged to Roger Staubach, hard-running Pat Donnelly and Navy until 10 minutes remained. Then, shadows and doubts began descending on the combatants and the crowd of 102,000 in Philadelphia. The lesser-known quarterback of the game, Rollie Stichweh, stirred the mammoth crowd to a state of delirium as he guided Army on a thrilling comeback. Like so many Army-Navy contests, the score became closer as time grew shorter.
Stichweh became the do-everything Cadet. He directed a drive and finished it himself with a touchdown plunge, ran for two points to cut Navy's lead to 21-15, recovered the ensuing onside kick and led his teammates to a fourth down on Navy's 2-yard line. Army was about to upset the heavily favored Mids. But the clock was ticking its final seconds--and, suddenly, Army encountered a problem apart from the Navy defense.
The noise of the crowd rolled down from the stands like thunder, making it impossible for the linemen to hear Stichweh call his signals at the line of scrimmage. But Army had no timeouts remaining. Stichweh waved frantically to referee Barney Finn that he could not hear, pleading for the official to stop the clock. The referee previously had granted time because of crowd noise. But on this occasion, after Army had broken its huddle and reached the scrimmage line, Stichweh's plea went unheeded. Time ran out on Army, and its gallant quarterback, who had scored 14 of Army's points and rushed for 103 yards. Stunned, the Cadets walked off the field silently. The Mids celebrated little even having won a Cotton Bowl berth, knowing they had been lucky.
Yet as frustrating for Army and as anticlimactic for Navy as the ending was, the 1963 encounter endures as one of the most memorable in the Army-Navy football series that will be celebrated Saturday in Philadelphia with the 100th game. The '63 contest also sparked a lasting friendship between Staubach and Stichweh--a relationship that symbolizes the finest aspect of the Army-Navy rivalry. As a century's worth of games has affirmed, Army-Navy football evokes an unsurpassable competitiveness on the field--and often creates permanent bonds among rival players.
"The stakes were high that year. Emotions were high," Stichweh recalled recently. "President Kennedy had been assassinated, and the game was delayed a week. Navy was ranked number two in the country. Representatives of the Orange Bowl visited the Army locker room before the game, indicating that a win would mean an invitation. Roger had been named the winner of the Heisman Trophy. Navy had won the Army-Navy game four years in a row. A lot of factors were involved.
"Near the end of the game, the excitement level, the noise level was incredible. It was bedlam. One play to decide the game. Dick Nowak, the senior captain and right guard, said, 'Can't hear you.' I looked over to Barney Finn. It was a judgment call. In his judgment there was not justification to grant a timeout. There was tremendous frustration. Although Navy clearly was happy to squeak away with the victory, there were regrets on both sides that the players were not the ones to decide the game.
"I do regret not having the opportunity for one more play. It would have been fun to see what the outcome would have been."
Finn said that he had abided by the rules throughout the tumultuous finish.
The following year, Army beat Navy, 11-8. Stichweh threw a touchdown pass while Staubach completed a pass for a two-point conversion but was sacked for a safety. By then their friendship had been forged. It almost seemed ordained.
The two had a mutual friend, Skip Orr, who knew Stichweh from Long Island; they grew up together and then played at rival schools. Orr attended the Naval Academy and became Staubach's roommate.
During their junior years, Staubach and Stichweh took part in an exchange weekend between the academies. Each visited the other's school, staying with one another. "There were a lot of pranks played on him up here and on me down there," Stichweh said.
The two quarterbacks followed similar career paths as successful business consultants after both served in Vietnam during the war and completed their military obligations, and Staubach had finished an 11-year career with the Dallas Cowboys.
Even in their family lives the pair can find a similarity: Both have first daughters named Jennifer.
Stichweh lives in Easton, Conn., Staubach in Dallas. But they often get together. Just as their lives have broadened, so have their conversations--still, the '63 game comes up. If it was the source of their friendship, it also was the origin of a competition between them that hasn't entirely lapsed.
"I was at his place, sitting on the couch one night watching ESPN, when he appears in sweats," Stichweh said. " 'Time to work out,' he says. He throws me Navy sweats. I had to put on Navy sweats, a West Point guy. He works out with all this gear in his garage. He starts on a stationary bike. I'm on one next to him. He's kind of smiling. There's no way I'm going to stop before he does."
Stichweh wearing Navy blue was an about-face of sorts from the time Staubach visited Army as a student. "I put on the West Point uniform and walked around. I was just fooling around," Staubach recalled. "We cut up the whole weekend."
They enjoyed each other's company from the outset, Staubach said, because they shared the same feelings about their common experience. "There's the competition between the schools but also a deep respect between them," he said, "and both being quarterbacks, we connected. I always find that when I meet somebody who attended one of the academies, I feel like I know him even if I don't."
To Staubach, all the Army-Navy games of his time in school deepened his appreciation of the rivalry and cemented his friendship with Stichweh. "As a plebe," Staubach said, "I watched the game from the stands because you couldn't play varsity then. I looked around at the 102,000 people. I felt everything. I thought, 'Geez, I might be in this next year.' That next year, I started the fourth game. By the time the Army game rolled around, the team was playing well. We almost upset Southern Cal, when they went on to the national championship.
"I was more nervous before my first Army-Navy game than even playing in my first Super Bowl game. I couldn't sleep. President Kennedy attended the game." But Staubach looked totally calm as he played one of his best games, throwing two touchdown passes and running for two other scores in Navy's 34-14 rout.
Staubach recalled the sad circumstances leading up to the '63 game, and the dedication of it to the slain president. And then the hectic last seconds when Staubach plotted with coach Wayne Hardin on the sideline about what to do if Army took the lead and the Mids got the ball back. "Suddenly," Staubach said, "we realized we weren't going to get the ball back. The game suddenly ended."
After their graduations, Staubach and Stichweh played in a college all-star game in Buffalo. It was June 1965, and now both wore the same uniform, that of the East squad against the West in what was known as the All-America game. The East won handily, 34-14.
Late in the game, Staubach was playing quarterback when Stichweh, who had played much of the time on defense, came in as a running back. The East had the ball on the West's 1-yard line. "I called his number because I wanted him to score," Staubach said. And Stichweh did.
This weekend's 100th Army-Navy game will bring them together once more, joined in spirit but in rivalry as well.
The 100th Army-Navy Game
When: Saturday, Noon.
Where: Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.
TV: WUSA-9, WJZ-13.
Army vs. Navy: Some of the Best
1890: Navy 24, Army 0 The first one, played at West Point.
1905: Army 6, Navy 6 The series' first tie. The game was played at Princeton. It was halted by darkness with four minutes to go.
1922: Army 17, Navy 14 A thriller at Philadelphia's Franklin Field decided by a desperation touchdown pass from George Smythe to Pat Timberlake.
1926: Army 21, Navy 21 The new Soldier Field was packed with 110,000 people as Navy jumped to a 14-0 lead but needed a last-minute touchdown on a reverse play with the tying point added on a dropkick.
1934: Navy 3, Army 0 Slade Cutter's 12-yard field goal was the difference in a rainstorm at Franklin Field.
1946: Army 21, Navy 18 Navy, on the verge of a colossal upset of a Doc Blanchard-Glenn Davis powerhouse team, had time run out on fourth down at Army's 3-yard line at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium. Army would suffer a similar fate in 1963.
1950: Navy 14, Army 2 Bob "Zug" Zastrow directed two scoring drives in a stunning upset.
1954: Navy 27, Army 20 Navy's "Team Named Desire" clinched a Sugar Bowl berth with a win engineered by quarterback George Welsh and preserved with a defensive stop at Navy's 8-yard line late in the game.
1955: Army 14, Navy 6 Don Holleder, Army's end-turned-quarterback, led the Cadets to a major upset.
1971: Army 24, Navy 23 A last-minute, fourth-down pass by Navy's Fred Stuvek grazed the receiver's fingertips at the goal line and fell incomplete.
1989: Navy 19, Army 17 Navy's Frank Schenk kicked a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining at Giants Stadium.
1992: Army 25, Navy 24 Army's Patmon Malcom kicked a 49-yard field goal with 12 seconds left at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.
1993: Army 16, Navy 14 Navy's Ryan Bucchianeri missed an 18-yard field goal attempt from a bad angle with six seconds remaining at Giants Stadium.
1994: Army 22, Navy 20 Army's Kurt Heiss kicked a 52-yard field goal with 6:19 to play at Veterans Stadium.
1996: Army 28, Navy 24 The Cadets posted the series' greatest comeback, from 18 points.