If you heard the increased volume of the "Beat Army" yell in the Mid cheering sections after the singing of "Navy Blue and Gold" last Saturday following the win over Delaware, you certainly would know that the BIG game is coming up next.
Attempting to add to the significance of the Army game on Dec. 8 in Philadelphia would be futile. It's all been -- and is being -- said as to the stature of this clash and its place in the minds of football enthusiasts everywhere.
The names change year in and year out but the spectacle lives on. Forget the frantic bowl picture on that one Saturday afternoon, there's only one Army-Navy from coast to coast and beyond.
There is one additional motivation, however, in this 68th playing of the game. Both the Midshipmen and the Cadets need a victory in this one to record a winning season. It would be Navy's first since the 6-5 season in 1982 under Gary Tranquill.
Incidentally, beating the West Pointers that year, 24-7, gave the Mids their sixth victory. The names of Marco Pagnanelli, Mark Stevens, Napoleon McCallum, Steve Brady and kicker Todd Solomon are recalled as Navy standouts that year when such powers as Syracuse, Arkansas, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Boston College and Duke highlighted the schedule along with Army.
It was the end of a five-year era of winning teams, which saw the Mids recording a .678 winning average with 38 victories, only 18 losses, and three bowl appearances.
But back to the present. After a magnificent 21-3 lead over Delaware last week at the conclusion of the first quarter, Navy mediocrity set in again for the next 2 periods. It was not pretty, and the Fighting Blue Hens came alive on Navy mistakes to actually take the lead, 27-24, rolling up 311 passing yards and 155 on the ground.
It's the kind of indescribable letdown that drives coaching staffs up the wall. It "ain't over till it's over," however, and after Jason Pace fumbled on the Delaware 8-yard line with seven minutes left, Navy held on and pushed once again to the Blue Hens' 5-yard line with 51 seconds to play.
Now, it's time to set the scene that will be remembered in similar instances in years to come.
Fourth down, time running out, a Schenk field goal will tie, a touchdown in crowded quarters will win. Coach George Chaump never hesitated even though another loss could have been the outcome and hopes for a winning season shattered. He went for the win. Quarterback Alton Grizzard somehow found tight end Dave Berghult open in the end zone and flipped him the winning touchdown pass. Old sailors particularly love this one, especially the coach's call.
As in most nail-biters like this one, someone emerges from the shadows to make the difference. Linebacker Byron Ogden, a 216-pound junior from Burke, Va., had an incredible day. He caused a fumble, recovered a fumble, blocked a punt and intercepted a pass -- all in the first half. His aggressive play led to three Navy touchdowns.
Grizzard completed 13-of-21 passes and rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown. Jason Pace and freshman Brad Stramanak picked up 98 yards between them, joining Grizzard in leading the rushing game.
Credit must be given to Delaware coach Tubby Raymond and his Blue Hens for another tough season-ending performance. However, their chance for a national Division I-A playoff berth was shot down with the loss.
It seems that every team coming into Navy-Marine Corps Stadium this year has a better-than-average quarterback. Bill Vergantino was no exception as he ripped the Middie defensive secondary with 19 completions in 31 tries and two touchdowns.
But Navy's rapidly improving defensive line and linebackers made it rugged in the trenches and the Blue Hens never really put together yard-eating, sustained drives other than taking advantage of several Middie mistakes deep in Navy's territory.
The lone interception of a Grizzard pass inside Navy's 12-yard line and normally dependable Jeff Triplett's mental error in attempting to kick in the second quarter set up two Delaware opportunities. Very likely the game would not have been as close if these mistakes had not occurred.
But winning was the name of the game on that day, and a great finish under intense pressure showed once again what makes up this team.
So, what can Middie supporters expect in the Army game? An all-out, body-sacrificing and ferocious physical effort, of course. Once again, it will be something to witness.
But is Navy going to match its wishbone against Army's excellent wishbone, come out in the so-called run-and-shoot aerial show that has had only modest success to date? Or will something else come out of the creative minds of the coaching staff? And, how about the defense?
Army shocked Southeastern Conference member Vanderbilt in Tennessee, 42-38, last week with four touchdowns by quarterback Willie McMillan and an outstanding rushing effort by West Point star Paul Mayweather, who has surpassed even the immortal Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis rushing records at Army.
Or, will it all come down to another field goal by Navy's outstanding place-kicker, Frank Schenk, the senior from Pembroke Pines, Fla., who beat Army last year in the last seconds of play?
The history of football between Navy and Army, played over the past 100 years, is filled with great and memorable moments involving personalities blazoned on the portrait of Americana.
Presidents, rocket scientists, war heroes, astronauts, intelligence specialists, professional football stars, medal of honor winners, world peace negotiators and industrial giants have played in this game and have considered their participation a notable highlight of their lives.
A recent Naval Academy sports information release quoting a Sports Illustrated columnist says it all: "And suddenly came the beautiful thought that there wasn't a pro scout among them (the crowd), that the young kids out there on the field weren't going to the Bears or the Packers or the Jets next year -- and maybe the halfbacks can't run the 100 in 10 seconds, but he just might be the next guy to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.
It no longer mattered what happened all the previous Saturdays, because this was something special."
In subsequent Friday columns leading up to the game, an attempt will be made here to recall many of the memorable moments and the contributions of the participants to the national welfare.
Earl Schubert, a free-lance writer, is a Baltimore native who lives in Annapolis. A former football coach, he was a secondary school administrator in Missouri and Montgomery County, and worked for 17 years as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education. His Navy "Blue and Gold" column appears every Friday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.