It is difficult to imagine what else bad could happen to the Navy football team this season.
Week after week, the Mids regroup and play with determination and spirit only to shoot themselves in the foot at critical moments.
Tomorrow they are in Houston to take on one of the developing powers in the Southwest Conference -- Rice University. The school a year ago was urged by a group of professors to give up football to protect its academic integrity.
But Rice has a 5-4 record, a 34-31 defeat last week of Baylor, and a third-place standing behind Texas and Texas A&M; to its credit. So much for dropping football.
Folks down there hardly can remember Rice's last winning season, although the Owls were a power in the mid-1950s. One of coach Eddie Erdelatz's Navy teams, captained by Ned Oldham, beat Rice, 20-7, in 1957 in the Cotton Bowl in a 9-1-1 season.
So, the Mids again face an opponent whose football fortunes are on the rise, another highly academic institution that discovered a coach in Fred Goldsmith, a man who could recruit intelligent young athletes and begin to mold a winner.
Against Vanderbilt last week the Navy offense finally came alive near the end of the first half and marched from its own 4-yard line to the Commodores' 7 only to break down on the 1-yard line as time ran out. The momentum continued in the second half, and the Mids moved the ball from their 22 to Vanderbilt's 2, only to be stopped again.
Two scores there would have put Navy right smack in the game and Vanderbilt on the defensive. This is enough to break the spirit of any team but, to their credit, the Mids won't give up. Yet, this is indicative of the season. For some reason, the killer instinct inside their opponent's 20-yard line is missing, or the wrong plays are being called or developed.
L But there have been some individual positives in the season.
The spectacular development of Javier Zuluaga at linebacker, Bob Kuberski at defensive tackle and Chad Chatlos at anchor back in the defense has greatly improved the defensive structure as the season progressed.
Cleavon Smith and Billy James (who wasn't even on the Navy depth chart when the season opened) have become serious running threats with Duke Ingraham injured.
Probably the best running back of all, Jason Van Matre, had to be moved into quarterback early in the season with injuries to Jim Kubiak and Brian Ellis.
Van Matre has carried the offensive load throughout the latter part of the season and has taken a real pounding, but has emerged as an exciting runner when given an opportunity to run wide.
With the injuries to Navy's two fine passers, Kubiak and Ellis, the aerial attack designed by coach George Chaump has not materialized.
The two outstanding pass receiving ends -- sophomores Tom Pritchard and Kevin Hickman, who performed so well last year as plebes -- haven't been used to any great degree, and this has stalled the offense time and again.
Once again this week the Navy team had to regroup and find a way to re-establish a sense of confidence needed to face a very tough opponent in Rice, a 24-point favorite.
The Mids will be looking at a genuine All-American in Trevor Cobb, winner of last year's Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation.
He runs behind a mammoth Rice offensive line anchored by two 300-pounders, All-Southwest Conference picks Mike Appelbaum and Billy Baldwin.
Ultra-mobile quarterback Josh La Rocca is the running-passing threat in the multiple "I-bone" offense.
The Mids have next week off before facing Army on Dec. 5 in Philadelphia.