By defeating visiting Virginia Military Institute on Saturday, Navy not only would take the first step toward what it hopes will become the program's first winning season since 1997 and only its third in 21 years.
The Midshipmen also would learn what it's like to savor a victory at home. No one on Navy's current roster has.
The last time the Midshipmen prevailed at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was Nov. 13, 1999, when Tulane went down, 45-21. Since then, Navy has lost 14 consecutive games in Annapolis and has been outscored 533-222 during the slide. Only five of the 14 losses have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
Seniors such as slot back Tony Lane are especially hungry for the chance to celebrate in front of their fans.
"We talk about it all the time, mostly during workouts in the offseason when we're trying to get better. Let's get that first win at home before we graduate," Lane said. "We're just itching for it. When we do it, it's going to be real big."
"You want to get off to a good start. I want to win the game to win the game. It would be nice to [win at home] so that everybody would quit asking me about it," Navy coach Paul Johnson said.
Navy is 97-83-1 at its 45-year-old home field, which is undergoing extensive renovations.
Junior wide receiver Corey Dryden (left ankle) and senior cornerback Marcus Sanders (pectoral) will not play in Saturday's season opener.
Dryden suffered his injury during the team's intrasquad scrimmage 10 days ago and is expected to return for next week's game at Texas Christian. His backup spot behind starter Lionel Wesley has been taken by freshman Jason Tomlinson.
Sanders, who had been working as the backup behind starting left cornerback Shalimar Brazier, is out indefinitely after having surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle he suffered in practice last week.
Not so good hands
Lane has been free to concentrate almost entirely on sharpening his skills at slotback, where he started all 12 games last year and generated 654 yards of offense, including an 8.4-yard average on 57 rushing attempts.
Until further notice, Lane will not be participating with the kickoff return team after bringing back a combined 56 kickoffs during his previous two seasons.
Fumbling problems pushed Johnson to demote Lane, whose former spot could soon be taken by freshman Brian Hampton. He has risen to No. 1 punt returner and No. 2 kickoff return man on the Midshipmen depth chart, behind junior fullback Kyle Eckel.
"[Lane] had a hard time catching them and putting them on the ground. One a year is too many, and we had several on the kickoff return team. You can't survive [that way]," Johnson said.
Hard to swallow
Johnson is determined to reverse the football team's losing state of mind. It only took Navy's second-year coach one rough season to digest as many defeats (10) as he had experienced in five years at Division I-AA power Georgia Southern.
"I have a 10-year-old daughter who had never been around losing. After games, you get in the car to go home and you're down and disappointed, and she is just bawling," Johnson said. "Sometimes, I think she took it harder than some of the people involved. That's part of building a program."
Since the NCAA adopted the overtime rule in 1996, Navy is one of just six schools that have yet to play in an extra period. ... The Midshipmen have lost 34 straight games to ranked opponents. The last time Navy upset one of the game's elite was Sept. 28, 1985, when 20th-ranked Virginia lost in Charlottesville, 17-13. ... Navy scored on 35 of its 44 trips inside the red zone in 2002, including touchdowns on 31 of those trips. The Midshipmen's defense also allowed opponents to score 41 touchdowns out of 59 appearances in the red zone last season.
Opponent: Virginia Military Institute
Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)