THE BIRDDOG HALL OF AWESOME: CHRIS MCCOY

Who’s the best Navy quarterback to run the spread option? Among the old tales being retold when two or three of us meet, that’s a fairly common one. Some point to Kaipo’s grasp of the finer points of the offense. Some point to Craig Candeto’s leadership or Ricky Dobbs’ passing and toughness. Others remind us that the team went 10-2 behind Aaron Polanco. My moment of clarity came as I was scanning through the postgame media notes handed out following the Mids’ 38-37  win over Central Michigan in 2010. Kriss Proctor started that game in place of an injured Dobbs, and did so in grand fashion, running for 201 yards on only 20 carries. One of the notes was on the ten best rushing performances by a quarterback in Navy history. Kriss was on the list, as was Alton Grizzard, Ricky Dobbs, Brian Broadwater, and Brian Madden. There was one player, though, who claimed half of the list all for himself.  Five of the ten best QB rushing performances in Navy history (including #1 and #2) were turned in by Chris McCoy.

McCoy started his first game as a sophomore against SMU in 1995. I was a plebe that year, and as such I was forced to make a bet on the game. My second class wanted me to lay a “motivational” 99 points for Navy, since I was in the class of 1999. That didn’t seem very sporting to me, so I offered a compromise of taking Navy -28 instead, since we were in the 28th company. He graciously accepted, figuring it was almost as safe a bet given Navy’s recent football fortunes. The Mids won that game 33-2, led by McCoy and his 273 rushing yards. I won my bet and had my floor waxed. Chris McCoy earned himself the undying gratitude of a mediocre plebe.

As a runner, McCoy was a special talent. Nowadays, the only time we see a quarterback sweep is when the backup is in the game and the coaches are trying to run out the clock. With Chris McCoy, that play was a staple of the offense; anything to get him out into space with the ball. He was the master of turning sideways and scooting through a hole in the line, and nobody was better at the fake pitch. As a passer, McCoy wasn’t great, but he was better than a lot of people remember and made some huge plays with his arm.

He ran for 273 yards in his first game, and capped his career by running for 201 yards against Army. In between, he was a big part of making Navy football a lot of fun for one lifelong fan in the Brigade. For that, he is granted entry into the Birddog Hall of Awesome.

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THE BIRDDOG HALL OF AWESOME: ERIC RUTHERFORD

One of the quirks about Navy fans is that there aren’t very many that have been Navy fans all their lives. A lot of teams have fans that have no affiliation with the school outside of geographical proximity or just general bandwagon-ness; Navy’s sphere of influence doesn’t extend much farther than Anne Arundel County. Most people came to USNA dragging the allegiances of their youth with them, and unless you grew up in a Navy family, that allegiance wasn’t to the Mids. Because so many Navy fans spent the first 18 years of their lives cheering for someone else, they aren’t always familiar with the team’s history. So for the next long-overdue installment of the Hall of Awesome, I thought I’d go old school. We’re all looking forward to the South Carolina game this year, so it seems fitting to look back to the Mids’ colossal 38-21 win over the #2 Gamecocks in 1984, and the star of that game, defensive tackle Eric Rutherford.

By 1984, Navy’s spiral into the abyss was already well underway. George Welsh had left for Virginia after the 1981 season. The Mids were able to put together a 6-5 campaign in their first year under Gary Tranquill, but fell to 3-8 in 1983. Nevertheless, there was still some optimism heading into the 1984 season. 1983 had ended with a 42-13 mauling of Army in Pasadena, Napoleon McCallum was emerging as a legitimate star, and sophomore Bill Byrne showed great promise at quarterback. With a thrilling 33-30 win over North Carolina to start the season, the optimism seemed justified. Sadly, it all fell apart the following week against Virginia when McCallum was lost for the year. Byrne would go down as well later in the year, and the Mids limped into their home finale with a disappointing 3-5-1 record and seemingly little hope against the #2 team in the nation. South Carolina, on the other hand, was in the middle of the best season in school history. Joe Morrison had the Gamecocks sitting at 9-0 with wins over Georgia, Notre Dame, and Florida State. Their split-back veer offense was averaging 35 points per game. Orange Bowl officials were in attendance at the game, giddy at the thought of matching up #2 South Carolina with #1 Nebraska. A national championship was within reach.

Unfortunately for South Carolina, Navy had one last great performance left in them. What followed was the greatest win by a service academy in the modern age.

What was so remarkable about that game wasn’t just that Navy dominated, but that they dominated despite playing a game that was far from perfect. The offense turned the ball over 3 times, including giving South Carolina the ball in Navy territory on each of their first two possessions. Yet the Gamecocks came away with no points off of those turnovers thanks almost entirely to Eric Rutherford, who blocked a FG attempt on Carolina’s first possession, then had a 3rd-down sack on their second possession to set up 4th & a nautical mile and force the Gamecocks to punt. By game’s end, Rutherford had 11 tackles, 4 sacks, one forced fumble, one blocked field goal, and one halftime interview filled with enough swagger to make the hair on your chest grow half an inch. He barely missed out on a 5th sack when the quarterback was able to stumble forward for half a yard, and the pressure brought by Rutherford and others led to one of Mike Taylor’s two interceptions.

(I’m sure Stan White was provided with copious quantities of media notes by Tom Bates before the game, but he apparently didn’t find any of it nearly as interesting as the fact that this was the seniors’ last home game that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.)

It was 7-7 in the second quarter when Navy went on to score 31 straight points to take a 38-7  lead before South Carolina made a late run in garbage time. Despite the Mids’ scoring outburst, the defense was the story of the game, led by Chad Van Hulzen, Mike Taylor, and Rutherford. It was a performance for the ages, and one that clearly deserves to be remembered here.

THE BIRDDOG HALL OF AWESOME: JAROD BRYANT

Jarod Bryant’s was a long and strange college football career. Having been named Alabama’s Mr. Football in high school, fans saddled him with ridiculous expectations as a plebe, hailed him as the solution to all the team’s problems when he was on the bench, then blamed him for all the team’s problems when he was on the field. All the while, Jarod just kept trying to find ways to help the team win, whether as a quarterback, slotback, placekick holder, or whatever. It’s a quality that led to him being named team captain senior year, and hopefully it’s how he’ll be remembered in the long run.

With the occasional turmoil the offense saw in 2008, it would be easy to forget the fantastic job that Jarod did in relief of Kaipo on more than one occasion in 2007. He ran for 139 yards against Northern Illinois, sparked a comeback to force overtime against Ball State, went 8-11 passing against Delaware, and led touchdown drives on four of six possessions against North Texas. At the top of the heap, though, was Jarod’s performance against Duke on a hot September afternoon in Annapolis. Stepping in with the team trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter, Navy’s closer led a 17-play field goal drive, caught a touchdown pass from slotback Bobby Doyle, then scored on the ensuing two-point conversion to tie the game. Duke took over with 3:49 remaining, but their drive ended when Ketric Buffin made an interception inside the Navy 20. Buffin was pushed out of bounds at the 26, where the offense took over with only 38 seconds left. What followed was a 35-yard scamper to glory that can really only be appreciated in slow motion, with appropriate musical accompaniment.

Jarod ran out of bounds at the Duke 39. The big gain allowed Coach Johnson to run the ball to run down the clock and set up the game-winning field goal, a given when your kicker is a cruel, heartless cyborg like Joey Bullen.

There’s lots of greatness to be had on this play. There’s the expert setup of the draw, the 360 move to escape one tackle, the ankle-melting jukes to escape two others, the splendid use of downfield blocking, and the situational awareness to get out of bounds. But it all pales in comparison to the singular awesomeness of finding the time to adjust your helmet in the middle of that bedlam. Now that’s multi-tasking, and it earns Jarod a spot in the Hall of Awesome.

THE BIRDDOG HALL OF AWESOME: JASON MONTS

2004 is a year that Navy fans won’t forget anytime soon. The team went 10-2, proved that Navy football was here to stay by repeating as CIC Trophy winners, and finished ranked #24 in both polls. The campaign was capped off with a convincing 34-19 win over a solid New Mexico team at the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. It was a great game in a great city to wrap up a great season. The win was clinched when the Mids ate up almost the entire 4th quarter with a scoring drive that would last for an NCAA-record 14 minutes and 26 seconds, ending with a Geoff Blumenfeld field goal. Navy fans still talk about “The Drive” as the perfect example of just how soul-crushing this offense can be. What we don’t talk about nearly as much is the play that made that drive possible.

New Mexico had put together a drive of their own and faced 4th and goal from the Navy 1. Kicking a field goal when you’re down by 12 still leaves you needing two scores, so Lobos head coach Rocky Long didn’t hesitate to go for it. Running back D. D. Cox took a handoff and ran to the right, only to be met by a gaggle of Navy’s defensive stars. Cornerback (and game defensive MVP) Vaughn Kelley took him high. Linebacker Bobby McLarin grabbed his legs. Josh Smith came running in all the way from the other side of the formation to get to the ball, and Jeremy McGown stepped up from his free safety position. The referee was knocked to the ground, but when he stood up, he spotted the ball one foot short of the goal line. Navy had held, thanks to the collective effort of some of the season’s most celebrated players. But those guys weren’t alone. Cox was strung out to the sideline, unable to make a cut upfield towards the end zone. And that was thanks to the awesomeness of Jason Monts.

Monts wasn’t the most heralded player on the team, and you won’t find his play reflected on the stat sheet. If there was a stat for being badass, though, this definitely would qualify. When Cox took the handoff, all 6’7″ and 340 pounds of New Mexico tackle Terrance Pennington pulled around the tight end to clear a path to the end zone. Monts met him head on. And despite giving up 6 inches and 120 pounds to the future draft pick, it was Monts that got leverage and moved Pennington backwards. With his lead blocker being pushed back into him, Cox was forced to bounce outside and run toward the sideline, never getting the chance to turn the corner.

We have here a relatively unknown player, refusing to fail, making a play through sheer determination that he probably shouldn’t have been able to make. It wasn’t the most glorious of jobs, but it was his job nevertheless, and he did his part to lead his team to victory. In one play, Jason Monts embodied everything we love about Navy football. And that’s why he gets the nod for the Hall of Awesome.

THIS BLOG NEEDS SOME MORE WANT-TO.