50-35 or Fight

If you are a student of history--and most military folks are--you'll recall one of the famed slogans of the 1844 American presidential campaign, in an election won by James K. Polk: "54-40 or fight!" The reference was to Polk's desire to claim more land for the United States, and specifically in what is today the Pacific Northwest.

Today, Army head football coach Bobby Ross is trying to toe the fine line between instilling toughness into his trooops, and preaching the old-time religion of crisp execution. One part brawn figures into the equation for a winning football team, but that muscle has to be supplemented by another equally large dose of brain. Football requires the fuel of emotion, but this unforgiving sport also demands that those emotions--which do propel underdogs (like Army) to victory--must be finely channeled into the flow of the game, and specifically in pressure-cooker situations. Melding intensity and execution is the elusive goal of any football coach, and so it's no wonder that Boss Ross has tried to emphasize that very balance--fire and ice--in these past few weeks of practice.

With all this in mind, the Army football family would do well to consider this overlooked part of the sport of football, a facet of the game where intensity and focus, if combined, can really pay dividends for underdog teams.

There's an obvious need to succeed in the red zone, and to also generate three-and-outs on defense (or avoid them on offense). Any casual football fan knows that much.

But a part of the game where points can be stolen (or squandered) comes not at the ends of the field, but in the middle. More specifically, we're talking about the area between the 50-yard line and the opponent's 35-yard line.

Consider this: if you start a drive between the 50 and your opponent's 35, you're at a place on the field where one 15-yard gain definitely gets you into field goal range, and perhaps just six or seven yards (if starting a possession between the 40 and the 35) can do the deed. Basically, attaining one first down will often put a team within field goal range if it starts between the 50 and the opponent's 35. The ramifications for Army football are significant in light of this reality.

If you're able to see the Cadets in game-simulation-based practices or outright scrimmages as they run up to the Louisville opener (which is still a couple of weeks away), notice how the offense fares in that 15-yard zone between the 50 and the defense's 35. It is that area in which Boss Ross' dual emphasis on toughness and execution can really come into play for the Cadets this season.

Think about it: the Black Knights of the Hudson will sink or swim on the banks of the famed river not because they'll blow away their opponents--they won't. It will be by stealing points here and denying points there. Getting a three-and-out from the defense is always nice, but getting it when a team starts in the 50-to-35 zone will be incredibly important. Just the same, getting a first down is always good on offense, but getting that first down after a drive start at the opponent's 45-yard line will set up a chance to snag three possibly crucial points. If Army can maximize points on offense and minimize points allowed on defense relative to this part of the football field, the Black Knights could pull off some close wins in 2004.

Bobby Ross wants both the toughness and the precision, as any football coach would. If he wants to explain how that can make a difference for his players and the Army football program, he should mention how 15 yards in the middle third of the field can prove decisive in a contest.

54-40 or fight? That's so 19th-century, isn't it?

Bobby Ross' slogan for merging intensity and execution should be "50-35 or fight!"


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