Army-Navy Classics: 1995
THE 1995 ARMY-NAVY GAME:
THE STORY OF A DRIVE AND A DECISION
The 1995 Army-Navy game was the first one for Navy head coach Charlie Weatherbie. Although he led Navy to a win in the 1996 Aloha Bowl, Weatherbie's tenure in Annapolis will be remembered by many as the tenure which produced one of the worst coaching decisions in Army-Navy history.
Navy led the game, 13-7, midway through the fourth quarter. The Midshipmen had fourth down on the Army one-yard line, and Weatherbie, perhaps caught up in the emotion of the moment, opted to go for a testosterone-fueled touchdown, rather than an easy field goal that would have given Navy a two-score lead and a near-certain victory.
The Midshipmen didn't get the touchdown, though, and as a result, they led by only one score, leaving themselves vulnerable to a 99-yard drive.
It wasn't likely, mind you... but it happened. Oh, how it happened.
Army quarterback Ronnie McAda affirmed his place in Army-Navy lore by driving his team 99 yards for a touchdown in 19 plays, winning the game by a 14-13 score. The legendary touchdown march was sustained by a 28-yard pass from McAda to John Graves on fourth and 24 from the Navy 29. Two plays later, fullback John Conroy plunged into the end zone with 1:03 left on the clock. Navy's offense wasn't able to drive down the field for a game-winning field goal attempt, and Army coach Bob Sutton – now the defensive coordinator for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs – saved his job in the process.
McAda's awesome feat will be celebrated until the end of time, but the even more poignant memory from this game was the Navy coach's reaction to an obvious mistake. Weatherbie was left to cry in the locker room, breaking down and sobbing in front of his team, saying that he felt responsible for losing the Navy seniors' last football game, and a fourth straight game to Army.
(Ironically and sadly, this game unfolded two years after Navy did attempt a field goal from the Army 1 in the fourth quarter, only to fail to center the ball. On a dive play, the possibility of a touchdown led the Navy ballcarrier to the right hash mark, creating a severe angle that made for a tricky kick, which was subsequently missed. The young man who missed the kick at the end of the 1993 game, Ryan Bucchianeri, would be tragically and horribly killed in a shooting incident not too many years afterward.)
Here's an excerpt of Weatherbie's reaction to this stomach punch, as written by Alan Goldstein of the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 7, 1996:
Later, Weatherbie offered a humble apology to his players for his tactical blunder.
"You deserved to win that football game," he said. "You won it. I was the one who [messed] it up. It hurts me more because we would have had a winning season. I'll tell you what, though. This ain't gonna happen again. You played your hearts out. I apologize."
Weatherbie's mea culpa won the sympathy of both his players and Navy personnel around the world. He received encouraging calls and E-mail from retired admirals to plebes on the Naval Academy ground.
Their feelings were typified by safety and co-captain Andy Thompson, who said, "Coach, I want you to know I would follow you into a blazing inferno."
However, it was Army – not Navy – which emerged from the fires of game pressure with a victory in 1995. All the passions of this timeless American sports classic were on full display 18 years ago in Philadelphia, at a time when West Point, not Annapolis, mastered the moment late in the fourth quarter.
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