Army football coach Bob Sutton boasts three straight victories over Navy, but his Cadets may have to beat the Midshipmen again at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon to assure Sutton's return next season.
The West Point brass has left Sutton's future uncertain in the final year of his five-year contract. He has one winning season and an overall record of 23-30-1.
But Sutton, 44, an unemotional type with a dry sense of humor, insists he is not coaching with job security on his mind.
He showed he wasn't running scared in a 28-27 loss to Notre Dame at Giants Stadium on Oct. 14. After Army scored a touchdown in the closing seconds, Sutton opted to go for the victory with a two-point conversion rather than settle for a tie.
Ronnie McAda completed a pass to Ron Leshinski on the 1-yard line, but the tight end could not break free of Ivory Covington's tackle and Notre Dame survived.
Said Sutton: "We'd bat tled back from a 28-7 deficit. I couldn't have gone into our dressing room knowing I hadn't given us a chance to beat Notre Dame. A tie would have looked great on paper, but you have to take your best shot in a game like that."
Army (4-5-1) easily could have a winning record, with two of its losses suffered in the closing minutes against Duke and Washington, plus a 21-21 tie with Rice. But Sutton offers no excuses.
"I just try to do everything in my power to be totally prepared every game," he said. "But in the end, you're accountable for what happens."
A longtime Army assistant to Jim Young before becoming head coach in 1991, Sutton remains popular with his players.
"He gives us a lot of confidence," said senior safety and co-captain Jim Canteloupe. "And he makes certain the players get the credit when we win."
The electrified atmosphere of Army-Navy, meanwhile, will be a new experience for first-year Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie.
Weatherbie served six years as an assistant at Air Force, which also plays Army and Navy, but he says that the fervor was not quite the same, nor the stakes as high.
"What's different at the Air Force is that you can still have a successful season by winning the Big West title and going to a bowl game," he said.
Weatherbie said he enjoys a host of big-game memories as a player and coach. In 1966, his senior year at Oklahoma State, he led the Cowboys to 31-24 upset of Oklahoma, throwing two touchdown passes to end a 10-year drought against the Sooners.
As an Arkansas assistant, he participated in the heated rivalry with Texas, and as Utah State coach, he shared the students' JTC fervor for the traditional Big West game with Brigham Young.
But nothing comes close to matching Army-Navy.
"From the first day I arrived on this campus, people started shouting at me, 'Beat Army!' and we hadn't even started spring practice," he said. "It's on every piece of academy stationary and on your voice mail. You can't escape it."
A victory over Army also would produce Navy's first winning season since 1982.
Although the team, at 5-5, has shown marked improvement over last year's 3-8 record, Weatherbie said he realizes Navy's football priorities.
Asked if he could accept a 5-6 record as a success in his initial season, Weatherbie shook his head and said, "We have no choice but to win Saturday. This is the game."
NOTES: Weatherbie wouldn't say if junior Ben Fay, the superior passer, or sophomore Chris McCoy, the deceptive runner, will start at quarterback. . . . The game is sold out.
Army vs. Navy
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
TV: Chs. 2, 7
2& Series record: Army leads 45-43-7.