With Notre Dame, Navy doesn't exactly look for revenge: just getting one lousy win is always the goal against the Irish. So the fact that the Midshipmen lost yet again to the Irish this year should not render Navy impotent in revenge games.
Delaware, on the other hand? Now that's a revenge game.
Followers of Annapolis Football know the drill: the 2003 edition of the Johnson Boys were full of themselves after a dominating win against Rice that fueled talk of a 10-win season in Annapolis. But as soon as the team got a whiff of the press clippings... or the campus buzz... or whatever made them evidently giddy, they became ripe for an ambush from the Blue Hens, a Division I-AA powerhouse. After the 21-17 loss to Delaware, the Midshipmen promptly circled this past Saturday's game on the calendar. Thirty-four points and 346 rushing yards later, it's clear that Navy fed off the revenge factor.
This news has to positively delight Paul Johnson to no end. Usually, teams learn only when they lose, and especially in agonizing fashion. It's a natural and normal part of the progression of young athletes to grow after an agonizing setback. But in the case of the Naval Academy's romp over Delaware on Saturday, the learning experience came in the form of a quality performance. Playing so well in a revenge game has a great chance to further motivate Johnson's team for the rest of the season, because it showed that when Navy plays with a chip on its shoulder, it can manhandle opponents. After a season of just barely scraping by--a competitive virtue, but also a sign of incompleteness as a team--Navy decided to put a team away before the end of the third quarter. The emotion that came from a thirst for revenge is the very entity that made the difference for the Midshipmen.
Now, with just a few more regular season games in sight, Navy can use its emotion--and, just as importantly, the very knowledge that it can use emotion in a powerful way--to tackle Tulane, and then Rutgers.
And while Tulane has to get 100 percent of the team's focus, let's just quickly mention that Rutgers, Navy's opponent on Nov. 20, is--yup, you guessed it--a revenge game.
But that's all you'll hear about Rutgers for now. Saturday, Navy plays its final road game of 2004 against a Tulane team that scored three points in its last game against Houston, and 59 in the game before against UAB. With a manifestly inconsistent but potentially potent adversary lining up against them, the Midshipmen now have a simple formula for victory: flex the muscles early and bring the emotional heat. If Navy can get a quick early lead, the Green Wave are more likely than not to mentally crack and cede the battle to the Johnson Boys. Playing with an extra dimension of intensity is the very X-factor that will enable Navy to win in the Louisiana Superdome... and throughout the rest of the season, for that matter.
Emotion often gets in the way of a team's focus and clouds the minds of 20-year-olds who find it hard to concentrate.
Saturday against Delware, however, the Navy Midshipmen learned that emotion can have a profoundly positive and unifying effect on a football team. If the Johnson Boys continue to channel their emotions and use them to their advantage, Tulane's Green Wave will meet a big, bad Naval tsunami.