EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- "When we were behind, I thought of him," Navy's senior leader, Javier Zuluaga, said yesterday, referring to former teammate Alton Grizzard, who, with two other Naval Academy graduates, had been killed in a double-murder-suicide three days before.
The Mids had dedicated their annual game against Army to the quarterback, and, in losing, they certainly couldn't be faulted in the effort put forth on behalf of their comrade while losing to the Cadets, 16-14.
"What I was thinking all the time we were behind was what a competitor 'Griz' was," Zuluaga continued. Trailing 16-0 after three periods, Navy made a stirring comeback only to miss an 18-yard field-goal attempt with six seconds remaining.
"I'm sure Alton was looking down on us and was proud of the way we gave it our all," said Zuluaga, a linebacker and the game's leading tackler. "With due cause, it has been an emotionally draining week, and, coming in, I felt it was very
important that we just keep our poise."
This the Midshipmen did in heroic fashion, recovering from a series of bad breaks, boots and blunders.
"If anybody wanted to see how much adversity we can take, they got a pretty good indication this week and season," said coach George Chaump. "We didn't say, 'Aw, shucks' and let it go at that. If anything, we've learned from our experience, taken it like men and gone on."
The Midshipmen weren't alone in their shock and grief last week.
Army quarterback Rick Roper said: "All of us who go to the academies are like brothers. We all feel for those guys."
This was apparent after Navy's plebe kicker, Ryan Bucchianeri, had hammered the ball wide right from the 18-yard line when victory was so close. One of the Black Knights was offering sincere condolences, which the kicker doesn't remember hearing.
"Everything went so fast," said Bucchianeri, "I wasn't sure what went wrong, what was said or who I even spoke to."
Army place-kicker Rocco Wicks said: "I told Ryan that he didn't lose the game for Navy. I put my arm around him and told him to hold his head high and that he might have a chance to come back and help his team win this game the next couple of years.
Roper said, "I would have said something to him if there wasn't so much commotion on the field afterward, but I'm not sure what I could say."
Roper gasped when told that Bucchianeri is 18 years old and a plebe.
"Whew, talk about pressure," he said. "Tell you one thing, I couldn't have made it."
"It's tough, sure," Chaump told his team afterward. "But always remember after your harrowing week, you performed like you did in the face of bad breaks, and that tells about your character."