George Chaump has seen a lot of weird stuff over the past four seasons as Navy coach, including a series of last-second losses that had a Stephen King look about them.
It was all taken with the proverbial stiff upper lip until yesterday, when Fisher DeBerry, Air Force coach on the horn from Colorado Springs, said, "I don't know why it caused a controversy. Our ball carrier was clearly down when the fumble occurred."
Chaump's jaw dropped a foot. His eyes widened in disbelief. He sputtered. The room came alive.
The Midshipmen, 21-point underdogs at Falcon Stadium last Oct. 10, had matched Air Force every step of the way and then some and held a 16-15 lead in the waning moments. The home team was driving, but it looked to be over when the ball fell to the ground and a Navy defender covered it. Ce-le-bra-tion, come on!
Fumble, what fumble?
Jarvis Baker was deemed to be down when the drop occurred -- the ground cannot cause a fumble, blah-blah-blah -- the Falcons retained possession and a lad named Chris MacInnes, attempting the first field goal of his career, made good for an 18-16 triumph.
Subsequently, the officiating crew, made aware of the injustice, began apologizing to anyone who would listen -- men, women, children, household pets, the Department of the Navy and all the ships at sea.
It took the Mids about a week to forgive and forget, their coach not much longer than that. One of Chaump's favorite lines is: "It's over, it's gone, don't even think about it."
He wouldn't have, either, had he not heard the claim of DeBerry that Air Force had, in effect, won the game on the up and up. "Why would he go on the air [phone, tape recorders, etc.] and say that?" Chaump wondered.
Asked the same question that had been put to his counterpart, Chaump considered last year's debacle and said, "I don't know whether I should be diplomatic or honest. Best to say nothing." But he did suggest that the media do something with DeBerry's words "so that I can have a headline to hang up in the locker room."
"Stuff like that gets you psyched up and going during the week," he said, "but once you're out on the field and after that first hit, you don't even think about it. Your emotion then comes from what you're doing, your pride and so on."
What the Mids will attempt to be doing come 1:30 p.m. Saturday at home is end an 11-year losing streak against Air Force, begin to cut in on the series deficit of 8-17 and stop the Wishbone attack of the 1-4 Falcs.
"If we can force them to throw the football, chances are we'll be celebrating after the game. If you have to play just the pass against a Wishbone team, you'll be successful," said Chaump.
This sounds like an overly boastful claim, a no-no in the coaching fraternity, until one considers the nature of the Wishbone. That's the offense wherein a team could use a quarterback unable to raise his arm above his shoulder for an entire season and it might not matter (or even be noticed).
After losing to four straight WAC foes after an opening victory over Indiana State (Larry Bird's school), DeBerry is a realist about his team: "Sure, the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is important to us. As a matter of fact, it's all we've got to look forward to now and we're looking to holding onto it."
Air Force made it four consecutive trophies, symbolizing service academy football supremacy, last year as a result of its gift win over Navy and a 7-3 squeaker over Army. Recall, Navy outplayed Army last year only to lose on a transcontinental field goal in the last 12 seconds by the immortal Patmon Malcom, 25-24.
With point margins of four, two and one in the series, the timmay come when corner kicks might have to be factored into which team wins the CC Trophy, presently dubbed the Clinton Cup.