Remember when this was, like, a blog? With, like, posts and stuff? That was cool. Now it’s pretty much just a testing ground for the WordPress spam filter. Yeah, this football season was pretty much a punt as far as the blog was concerned. Not that anyone was all that upset over my absence.
Then again, the season isn’t *quite* finished yet, at least for one Navy football player. Ricky Dobbs, fresh off of being named First Team All-East by the ECAC, still has one more game to play. Ricky is one of three quarterbacks on the East roster for Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game to be played in Orlando. That’s a short drive for me, so I’ll be in attendance. I went to Mobile to cheer on Eric Kettani in the Senior Bowl a couple years ago; Eric got a lot of playing time, scored a touchdown, and came over to us after the game to talk for a few minutes. It was a good time, even if you had to make sure your vaccinations were up-to-date before you went into that stadium. I’m sure it’ll be a good time this Saturday, too; I wish I wasn’t going to miss the Army-Navy basketball doubleheader, but that’s what DVRs are for. It’s worth it for one last chance to see a Navy great in action.
The fact that Ricky is even in this game makes me chuckle a little. When quarterbacks from run-first offenses are invited to these games, they’re often switched to more NFL-friendly positions that highlight their athletic ability. Chris McCoy, you’ll recall, was invited to the old Blue-Gray Game in 1997 to play tailback (which he did well enough to be named the game’s MVP). Ricky, on the other hand, will be playing quarterback. Fortunately, whoever was in charge of inviting players to this game realized something that a lot of “experts” did not: that Ricky can throw the ball really, really well. I don’t know why ESPN trots out Bob Davie almost any time they’re showing an option team, but they do. Watching Air Force play Georgia Tech in the Independence Bowl, it got really old listening to Davie compare the Air Force offense to the spread options run by Georgia Tech and Navy. Or, to be more accurate, it got old listening to Davie compare the caricatures of each offense that he had drawn up in his head, talking about Air Force’s “diversity” and the “advantage” in being able to score quickly that comes from lining up in the shotgun. The whole “Navy isn’t a quick strike offense” line is something that we hear from every broadcast booth almost every week. And while I expected The Mtn’s Poinsettia Bowl preview show to be SDSU-centric (nothing wrong with that), their assessment of Navy was incredibly bad– calling Navy’s offense “simpler,” saying that Ricky “isn’t quite the same decision-maker as Tim Jefferson,” and calling Ricky a “questionable” passer. Really? Well, let’s compare the Navy and Air Force offenses, shall we? Which offense threw for more yards last year? That would be Navy. More touchdowns? Navy. Better yards per attempt and yards per completion? Navy. Lining up in a shotgun once in a while doesn’t make for a good passing team. Having a quarterback like Ricky Dobbs, though, does.
Ricky Dobbs can throw. He steps up into pressure without hesitation and throws on the run as well as anyone on any level. Now, there’s nothing inherently good or bad about throwing the ball, so this isn’t a commentary on the superiority of any offense. But if you’re going to make a comparison of each offense’s capability in the passing game, don’t you think that it would make sense to note which offense has actually thrown for more yards? Don’t you think that perhaps it might take more than one game to gauge a player’s passing ability? I expect national TV commentary to be generic and focused on the lowest common denominator, but not… wrong. Anyone who followed Navy football this year knows that the old option offense cliches don’t apply, thanks in large part to Ricky’s arm.
Postseason college all-star games aren’t really the biggest deal in the world, but if nothing else, playing in the East-West Shrine Game gives Ricky one more chance to highlight the Naval Academy. There are some people who resent the attention that Ricky gets. Those people, frankly, are idiots. The school fields a Division I-A football program because playing major college football puts the Naval Academy in the same conversation as other schools in America’s mainstream. It’s a medium to get USNA into the living rooms of high school students that otherwise wouldn’t consider or even have heard of the place. The attention that Ricky gets enhances that; it isn’t just good for the football program, it’s good for the school. Take, for example, Ricky winning the 2010 Lowes Senior CLASS Award. That’s a 30-second spot shown during the BCS Championship Game, which just happened to be the highest-rated show in cable history.
27.3 million people saw Ricky Dobbs as a role model, awarded for excellence on the field and in his community, all with the Navy name on the front of his jersey and in his service dress blues on stage. Ricky has a compelling story that people want to write about, a personality that people want to talk about, and happens to be kinda good at football. Naturally, people are going to be drawn to that. And if you care at all about the big picture, you should pray that players like Ricky will get the kind of attention he has.
The pride of Douglasville, GA (literally) started getting significant playing time as a sophomore in 2008, coming off the bench to lead the Mids to wins over Temple and SMU, and getting his first start in a 16-0 win at Northern Illinois. Everyone could tell that he was a special player right away, but for me there was something more. I mean, I don’t write poetry for just anybody. I wasn’t sure what it was until about halfway through this season, when it dawned on me: Ricky Dobbs reminds me of my childhood hero, Alton Grizzard.
Other than simply being two of the best quarterbacks in Navy history, they’re alike in so many ways:
Toughness— Grizz was the prototypical wishbone quarterback, built out of a mix of concrete and stubborn determination. He was a quarterback that wore a neck roll. He suffered a bruised lung against Boston College his senior year, but didn’t tell anyone until he started spitting up blood later in the week. When told he couldn’t play the following week against Air Force, he lobbied team doctors to let him switch to wide receiver, thinking that he’d take fewer hits (they said no). Everyone remembers Frank Schenk’s game-winning field goal to top Army in 1989. Not everyone remembers the drive that got the Mids in range, led by Alton as he fought for first down after first down. Ricky is no stranger to playing with injury himself. He played half of last season with a broken kneecap, an injury he first sustained in high school. Even after surgery in the offseason, he still was playing through pain to start 2010. For good measure, he went ahead and played through a sprained ankle and bruised sternum suffered in the first two weeks of the season.
Running Style— Neither quarterback was particularly fast, but they bored through the line like an auger. They both made a cut at the first sign of a hole, laughed at defenders trying to arm-tackle them, and excelled at turning back and running against the grain:
I got goosebumps putting that clip together. Eerily similar.
Passing— Grizzard didn’t exactly throw much in Elliot Uzelac’s wishbone offense, but that changed his senior year after George Chaump was hired. Alton took full advantage, throwing for 1438 yards and a school record 12 TDs. That stat line looks remarkably similar to Ricky’s senior year numbers of 1527 yards and a new school record of 13 TDs, especially when you consider that Ricky had an extra game.
In the Record Books— Alton ended his Navy career as the Mids’ career leader in yards from scrimmage with 5,666. Ricky had 5,435. Ricky set a school record for rushing touchdowns in his junior year, then followed it up with the school record for passing touchdowns in his senior year. The record he broke for passing TDs was Grizzard’s. Both finished with 20 passing TDs in their careers. Grizzard’s best day on the ground was a 225-yard performance against Penn in his freshman year. Dobbs’ best was 224 against SMU in his sophomore year. Grizzard is 7th on Navy’s career passing yardage list. Dobbs is 8th.
Larger Than Life Personality— Maybe the biggest similarity between Alton and Ricky is how they really were the big men on campus. It wasn’t just because they were star football players, either. Both have been described as genuine, engaging, and just plain friendly by the people who know them. They were as popular for who they were off the field as much as for anything they did on the field.
Navy played a lot of bad football for a long time, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some great players on those teams. With the Mids winning under the leadership of Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo, I always wonder how my favorite players from the past would have done if they had the kind of coaching that Navy has now. I used to wonder about Alton more than anyone else, but not anymore. I know how Alton would have looked. He’d look like Ricky. Over the last three years, I was able to relive part of what made me a Navy fan in the first place. And that’s why I will be in Orlando on Saturday.