It was five games ago when Chris Beck, a pint-sized linebacker by today's standards, got carried off the field in Colorado Springs and right into an operating room for repair work on his knee. It being the fifth game on Navy's schedule and nearing the middle of October, Beck's football career appeared over.
"Not for a moment did I think that," said the senior, three-year letterman from Palatine, Ill. Neither did Mids coach George Chaump.
"Chris and a couple more of our players stuck with it," Chaump said. "They came to practice and attended meetings. They did what they could, lifting weights and working out until they could take part in practice more fully. That says something about their character."
But Chris Beck wouldn't have had it any other way. He wasn't coming back for one more game, the biggie in Philadelphia Saturday, but for a feeling he expects to be with him the rest of his life.
"I can't describe what I felt coming into the locker room after we beat Army last year," Beck said. "All of us saw the Navy blue and gold and, well. . ."
Recall, as a 16-point underdog, the Midshipmen surrendered a field goal to the Cadets in the first quarter, then completely dominated things, rolling to a 24-3 triumph. Navy's an underdog again, but this time only a mild one, Army (4-6) having its problems this season, too.
"What I've learned since being here," continued Beck, "is there's a whole lot more to putting on the pads and going out and practicing or playing games. All of us have been taught how to overcome adversity and how important it is to have something to shoot for. No matter what happens in the game, this season will have been a successful one in my mind."
Navy enters 1-9. At least it's better than the record the Mids had heading into last year's showdown, 0-10.
"Those are just numbers," reminded Chaump. "What's more important in regard to this game is the people playing in it. We're talking about athletes who are students. We're talking about athletes who have great character. We're talking about people we can respect, the future leaders of our country. Anybody who doesn't see that misses the point, fails to see the big picture."
The coach didn't parade out the bromide about tossing out the record book when old rivals meet, but he did paint the adversaries as teams far superior to their lackluster records: "Army's much better than when it started out. It changed quarterbacks and the new kid, Rick Roper, has really done a job. They no longer just run the ball; they'll come at us in a dozen different formations.
"Roper's a good passer. His senior year in high school, he threw for 31 touchdowns. He doesn't throw the old flutterball like most 'wishbone' quarterbacks do. Army scored 24 points against Boston College when it was shutting everybody out. It gained over 400 yards that day."
Facing a team that can hurt you in a couple of different ways, Chaump ordered up some lengthy and strenuous practices after the players had been given a break to be with families at Thanksgiving. As far as Beck was concerned, it was like being handed a promotion or orders to some cushy duty assignment.
"We practiced for three or four hours last Saturday, and Sunday we were right back at it," said Beck. "But that's great in that we got more and more reps playing against the option [Army's offensive forte]. The more you see it [option], the better you get against it defensively, and we've seen it against Delaware, Vanderbilt and Air Force already."
He all but promised the Mids' defense would wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Black Knights in Veterans Stadium. "Being too high is never a problem in this game," said the 203-pound linebacker. "It's on your mind 24 hours a day for two weeks, but we learn to live with that.
"After a while you become confident that if everyone sticks to their assignments, the adrenalin and everything else will be there and we'll get the job done. As far as the seniors are concerned, what happened before doesn't matter. We want to go out with the feeling we contributed something and a win Saturday will accomplish that for us, I think."
Chaump was even more enthusiastic about the assignment ahead. In fact, given his druthers and obviously forgetting the troubled travail of the last three months, the coach said, "I wish we were just starting the season. Early on, we just didn't have the time we needed to be ready for the games. But seeing the kids stick together and jell as the season went on has been very gratifying.
"I don't hesitate to point out we're a good team in good shape now. I hope we can prove we're the type of team I think we are."
Chris Beck added, "The only way to have fun in this game is to win. And beating Army gives you a feeling that's almost indescribable. I want that feeling one more time."
Ditto all the lads going to make up the long gray line up at West Point.