The best time to write about football games from 60 years ago probably isn’t just before the start of a new season. While I was off talking about how Irving Rumblesnot was running the single wing at Ursinus in nineteen dickety-two, the rest of the world was talking about more timely subjects like “practice” and “media day” in the “here” and “now.” It’s about time that I joined them, although at this point I doubt I have any original thoughts to offer. Tough luck, you’re going to get them anyway.
1949: Navy 21, Tulane 21
Among the members of the American Athletic Conference, no team has faced Navy more than the Tulane Green Wave. The two have squared off against each other 19 times dating back to 1949. Looking back on this list I’ve put together, Tulane is probably underrepresented. It wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a pretty decent list made up of Navy-Tulane games alone.
Why don’t we give it a try?
1960: Navy 26, SMU 7
The Naval Academy has produced two Heisman Trophy winners. While Joe Bellino was the first to win the award in 1960, he tends to be overshadowed some by Roger Staubach. Staubach’s professional accomplishments certainly contribute to that, as does the fact that he played quarterback, football’s most celebrated position. The 1963 team’s legendary status among Navy fans also plays a part. Navy has been blessed with other fine running backs, too, like Eddie Meyers, Napoleon McCallum, and several fine runners in the current triple-option era, making it more difficult for some of Bellino’s statistical accomplishments to stand out. As ridiculous as it may sound, one could say that Bellino– the Heisman Trophy winner, Maxwell Award winner, and consensus All-American– is actually underrated.
It shouldn’t be that way.
Losing Coach Green in any capacity is a significant blow. Fortunately, if anyone can step in and call the plays on Saturdays, it’s Coach Pehrson, who has seen everything that’s worked and not worked at Navy since 1996. Game day duties are only one part of the equation, though. Coach Green is one of Navy’s best recruiters, covering the Carolinas. And while he will apparently continue his role in film study and game prep, he has additional responsibilities in coaching Navy’s secondary. Coach Jones, who also coaches the secondary, will presumably pick up that slack, but it remains to be seen how the staff will adjust to make up for Green’s absence during the week.
1995: Navy 33, SMU 2
Navy lost to Southern Methodist 42-13 in 1993. It was not an atypical score for the George Chaump era, when Navy won only 14 games in five years.
Chaump came to the Naval Academy from Marshall, and his hiring was considered something of a coup at the time. Marshall had considered dropping football while suffering 18-straight losing seasons (including the 1970 plane crash). Only three years after the Thundering Herd ended that streak, Chaump had them playing in the I-AA championship game. A year later, they finished 11-2 and won the Southern Conference. That success made him a coach in demand; he was a finalist for the Missouri job a year before he came to Annapolis.
The key to Marshall’s turnaround was a passing offense that set 138 school, conference, and NCAA records in Chaump’s four years in Huntington. Surprisingly, his most successful campaign in Annapolis was his first, a 5-6 effort in 1990. It was surprising because his predecessor at Navy, Elliot Uzelac, ran the wishbone; there weren’t many players on the team well-suited for a passing-oriented offense. While those players would eventually come, wins did not, even as school records for passing offense were falling. After finishing 3-8 in 1994, Chaump was let go. He was replaced by Utah State head coach Charlie Weatherbie.
2008: Navy 33, Temple 27
The history of Navy’s football program over the last 60+ years has been one of extremes. When things have been good, they’ve been really good. The ’50s and ’60s were glory days by any definition, with the Mids producing multiple top-20 finishes, Heisman winners, and playing for a national championship. The George Welsh years ended with four consecutive winning seasons (five if you include Gary Tranquill’s first season), three bowl berths, nationally ranked defenses, and the occasional appearance in top-25 polls. Paul Johnson led the Mids to five straight winning seasons that each ended with a bowl berth, beat Notre Dame, finished ranked #24 in 2004, and never lost to Army.
Between those happier days were absolute deserts of futility. Navy played for the national championship in 1963, but only had two winning records over the next 14 years. Things were even worse after George Welsh left for Virginia, as the Mids could manage only three winning records from 1982-2002. They had twice as many seasons with two wins or less over the same period. Things got so bad that in 1994, Sports Illustrated suggested that Navy drop to Division I-AA. People weren’t exactly lining up to write dissenting opinions.