Joe Steffy visits Army practice

West Point - The old-timer sits with a cane in the first row of bleachers at Michie Stadium near the 50-yard line. He wears a dark gray jacket with an 'A' on the front of it and a black Army football cap. Standing a few feet away from the man, on the field, is graduate assistant Doug Horaist.

Horaist - a former tight end for the Black Knights (2002-03) - doesn't know who the man is. But he's polite to him. They talk about Army's prospects for the season and the first day of spring practice.

That's when Bill Lynch, Army's director of football operations, tells Horaist who the visitor is.

It's Joe Steffy. Joe Steffy, the 1947 Outland Trophy winner, given each year to the best college lineman in the country.

Joe Steffy, who helped Army to back-to-back national championships in 1945-46.

Joe Steffy, who created countless holes for Heisman Trophy-winning running backs Glenn Davis and Felix "Doc" Blanchard.

Joe Steffy. A living Army legend.

Horaist seems honored to meet Steffy, 80, smiling and calling him 'sir' for the remainder of their conversation. The twenty-something isn't the only one around West Point who respects Steffy.

Army coach Bobby Ross routinely takes calls from Steffy and frequently invites him to practice. As Lynch tells Steffy that day before he leaves, anything we can do for you. Just call.

"I'm very appreciative of how they treat me," says Steffy, who lives in nearby Newburgh. "I think a lot of it has to do with Bobby Ross. He's always been nice to me and he doesn't have to be. It's great."

Steffy hasn't missed a game at West Point since 1952. That's when he returned as Army's freshman coach after a tour in the Korean War. Steffy saw a lot of soldiers die in Korea, including former Army football player John Trent, who served as the best man at his wedding.

Steffy, now retired, left the Army in '54 and opened a successful car dealership in Newburgh. He became a wealthy businessman. But Steffy is most proud of his days as an Army football player.

He was a tough and hard-hitting blocker. Steffy knocked out a Navy defender with a blindside hit in 1947. Legendary Army coach Earl "Red" Blaik dubbed it the "Joe Steffy" block and used it as a training video until the tape was lost almost a decade later.

Steffy, the oldest living Outland Trophy winner, has dealt with two tragedies in the past two years. His wife, his best friend, Ann, died in May of '04 after a bout with bone cancer. Davis, who Steffy remained close with over the years, died last March after a long battle with cancer. That has left Steffy to often ponder his own mortality. His knees are in bad shape and Steffy has trouble walking. But he's still outgoing, engaging and upbeat with anyone he meets. Steffy plans on attending a few more Army spring practices, including Saturday's scrimmage. And, of course, he will be at Michie with his son, Benton, for every home game this fall.

"It's hard to do, but I love going to games," Steffy says. "There's nothing better than to go to West Point, watch the cadets march in, listen to the national anthem and watch an Army football game."

Steffy pauses for a moment. "I hope I can keep going for a while," he adds.


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