Pacino, Polanco andPress Clips: Making Navy Better

Al Pacino provides the key to Navy's 2004 football season, an important season for the simple yet weighty reason that the Midshipmen will be looking to prove against a motivated slate of opponents that 2003's return to glory was no fluke.

In Oliver Stone's reality-TV-flavored football flick, Any Given Sunday, Pacino—playing a coach who pumps up his players in the locker room before the make-or-break playoff game—gives a Rockne-esque soliloquy about "that one extra inch," and how football games are won "inch by inch." Pacino's character is captured by the idea of the tiniest bit of real estate having the greatest amount to do with winning.

Maybe he watched Navy football last year… at least on the few occasions when the Middies actually failed to win.

What was the Notre Dame loss—yet another excruciating setback to the Irish—if not a testament to the inability of the defensive front to gain that one extra inch?

What was the key play of the 2003 Houston Bowl—a goal-line play gone horribly wrong on the part of a normally brilliant Navy offense—if not a reflection of the Middies' inability to gain one extra inch of leverage, be it from Craig Candeto or the offensive front?

In most games, Navy was able to out-guess, outflank and outmaneuver opponents with its devastating option attack, racking up big numbers in eight victories. But in the few losses suffered by the Midshipmen in 2003, the extra inch—the inch Paul Johnson's boys didn't get—proved costly.

Therefore, if Navy wants to sustain the excellence of 2003 and carry it into this season, getting extra inches—and putting forth the all-out effort needed to accomplish as much, especially against revved-up opponents who will be aching to knock the Middies off their perch—will be priority number one. Al Pacino's words will matter to Navy this season.

After Pacino, the next key is a man named Polanco—Aaron Polanco. After waiting in the wings for a couple years behind the sensational Candeto, Polanco—who did see action in the agonizing 30-23 loss to Notre Dame (every Navy loss to Notre Dame seems agonizing, doesn't it?) in 2002, among other games—will get his shot to run the option attack on a regular basis. Having at least some reps under his belt from past years will put Polanco in good position to pick up where Candeto left off, at least in terms of managing the option and carrying out the fakes, ballhandling maneuvers, and other football fundamentals that are part of the option's misdirection-based sleight-of-hand elements. Just being able to manage the option attack will be a significant enough task (and achievement, if pulled off) for Polanco. However, if he can make the occasional downfield pass against defenses who stuff the tackle box looking for the run, Polanco could even eclipse Candeto and lead Navy to even greater heights in '04.

After Pacino's words and Polanco's challenge in running the option while making the big vertical pass play on occasion, the third major key for Navy's 2004 campaign is focus. Indeed, the ability to withstand ambushes and establish mental toughness will be of central importance against teams who will put more of a bullseye on the Middies compared to a year ago, when the program was still viewed as a weak sister in the world of college football.

Last year's classic case of the dreaded "letdown disease" for Navy came against Delaware, when the sailors read a lot of press clippings that noted how, if the Middies could just beat Notre Dame two weeks later, they'd go 10-2. Well, the boys from Annapolis proceeded to pull a porker at home against the Blue Hens, a championship football team, all right… from Division I-AA, that is. Getting caught up in the frenzy of what was then a 5-2 season derailed Navy's momentum, and quite indeed prevented the Midshipmen from attaining that 10-2 season. Focusing on each game, each play—the hardest thing in the world for late-teen/early-twentysomething men to do—will, cliché as it sounds, be of prime importance for Navy football in this important season.

If the boys in Annapolis want to avoid the F-word—not failure, but fluke—Navy will need to heed Al Pacino's words, follow Aaron Polanco's lead, and focus with redoubled commitment… all in the attempt to gain the extra inch, and stay ahead of the curve in the college football world.


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