More Than A Game


WEST POINT, N.Y.--Against a backdrop of blue, green and gray, sunflecked mountains and a small, calm lake, Army's Michie Stadium hardly seems an appropriate place for a football game. Perched on top of a hill and engulfed by an eerie pre-game quiet, the U.S. Military Academy's athletic battlefield is incongruously serene. As one plebe remarked with a smile, "Looks nice from the outside, doesn't it?"

But make no mistake. This meant war, despite the external equanimity and civility. Harvard was the enemy--and ultimately, a 15-10 conqueror. This did not sit well at a school that prides itself on precision and boasts a beautiful monument which proclaims, "There is no substitute for victory."

After the game, Army officials talked of the contest in the same brusque tones they use to discuss Vietnam. "We should've blown you out--in all fairness to your team. I just can't stand the frustration," one Army public relations worker said.

Before the game, the person in charge of Army's press box evicted a visiting reporter who lacked the proper credentials, although there was clearly enough room. "A yes is a yes and a no is a no," the Army sports information director barked, neatly summarizing what appears to be the prevailing philosophy at West Point.

Unfortunately for the Black Knights, things weren't so straightforward on the football field. While Cadet coach Ed Cavanaugh attributed the upset loss to a lack of emotional intensity, the Crimson defense clearly took the game to Army, forcing six turnovers and throwing a wrench into Army's heralded Jerryl Bennett-to-Mike Fahenstock passing duet.

Harvard's secondary was all over the field, crunching its opponents in as hard-hitting a match up as the gridders have played in a long time, and coming up with crucial interceptions. Cornerback Rocky Delgadillo snagged two errant passes to go with a fumble recovery, safety Mike Jacobs made his second acrobatic interception in as many weeks, and Peter Coppinger snared one pass to stall an early drive when the Cadets were threatening to jump out in front.

Adjuster Matt Foley blitzed repeatedly, and together with consistent pentration applied by the Crimson's always-impressive defensive line, freed the backfield to ball-hawk and usurp any of the home team's initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Cadets' faithful corps grew impatient. Their cheers evolved from the standard ("Go big O") to the ridiculous ("Nuke the nerds") to the desperate ("We want blood"). All in the name of victory.

Toward the end, though, things became a bit nerve-racking as the Army offense under second-string quarterback T.D. Decker put together a pair of late drives. As they did in last week's one-point cliffhanger with Holy Cross, the gridders clamped down and staved off the final campaign to preserve the triumph.

"We were dropping back into a prevent defense, and they began connecting on short quick-hitters," Delgadillo said yesterday. "But we buckled down and stopped them on fourth-and-six and it felt pretty good."

Although it didn't feel good for Army (one plebe sighed as the game ended, not enthusiastic about the frustration that upperclassmen would doubtlessly project onto his freshmen class), Saturday's showing was a boon for the Crimson. "Army's considered big-time and it was great to go there and beat them," Foley said yesterday. "We (the secondary) weren't lacking confidence in ourselves, but others were. This sets us up as a good, solid secondary."

After an uneven performance against Holy Cross, Saturday's contest showed that the Crimson secondary could prove a decisive force in Harvard's campaign for the Ivy League title. "We're starting to gel as a unit," Delgadillo said. And Coppinger said yesterday, "We got a little recognition for ourselves."

Any Army fan in the stands Saturday recognized the Crimson secondary a little too much for comfort. "that's more turnovers than the International House of Pancakes," one colonel said.

The Crimson defensive backfield adjusted well to the slippery astroturf, and managed to minimize the damage inflicted by the talented Fahenstock. The line played its usual firebrand style of football, and linebackers Bob Woolway and Brad Stinn plugged the gaps. Cavanaugh conceded that the Crimson defense's stunting tactics and ability to contain the Cadets' running attack confused Army. "Harvard is an extremely well-coached football team," he added.

But that meant little to the gray-clad fans who expected victory. To tall to "preppie" Harvard had implications of disgrace for the disciplined, ordered way of lite into which emotion enters only when you have to reach back for that little extra in order to succeed. Saturday, Army failed, despite the tightly orchestrated public-relations performance.

But plebe Gerry Grain added a little perspective to the game from the West Point side of things. "This is nothing compared to Navy. We can lose every game of the season and have a successful year if we beat Navy." Then, swigging coke from a paper cup that read, "Beat Navy," he added, "We plebes sure hope we beat Navy. Things around here get a little easier.