A Muted Bowl Celebration

It should be easy for this Navy team to celebrate a bowl bid and a winning season in a year where neither accomplishment was a certainty. For a younger and less proven team that had to follow in the footsteps of Aaron Polanco's ten-win, Emerald Bowl championship club, getting a bowl invite ranks as a significant achievement, and that shouldn't be dismissed, downplayed or forgotten now that Saturday's win over Temple has made it official.

But for all that the Johnson Boys have done in 2005--and they've done much--it has to be disappointing, even a little worrisome, that Navy could be asleep at the wheel for three whole quarters against the single worst team in all of Division I-A college football. For a program that wants to stay at a higher level, falling victim to notable mental or emotional lapses--whether it's because of reading press clippings, getting overconfident, rolling the helmets onto the field, or simply approaching one game with less enthusiasm than another--just can't happen. There's precedent for this, even in the spectacularly successful Paul Johnson era.

Remember 2003? Navy was on its way to a big year, but then the Midshipmen got ambushed by the Delaware Blue Hens, a great team, but a great team at the Division I-AA level. Navy read press clippings that day, and two years later, it seems as though another bowl-bound Midshipmen team (that ‘03 team did reach the Houston Bowl, one of three possible slots for this ‘05 crew, along with the Liberty in Memphis and the Poinsettia in San Diego) dismissed the level of its competition in a home game.

This was the kind of contest in which no single statistic said anything relevant or revealing about the outcome. It was simply a matter of Navy getting its head on straight. After Paul Johnson was openly embarrassed about the way his team played in the first half, the Midshipmen finally got their act together in the fourth quarter and unsurprisingly opened up a 21-0 can of whoopin' on the winless Owls. Attitude and focus were the first, last and only keys to this Navy win.

So what is the ultimate lesson? It's all about mental toughness--you have to bring it every week, and treat each game the same, as hard as that may be. If a Temple or Kent State is given the same energy as Notre Dame, the Midshipmen might still lose that game against the Fighting Irish, but they'll kick butt and take names in all the other games. Nine or ten wins later, you'll wind up with a very successful season such as the one Navy had last year.

Sure, much will be said about Army in the weeks to come, but no one will doubt that Navy will play with supreme focus against the Black Knights. The point for now has nothing to do with that big game for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy; in fact, the point is precisely that Temple deserved as much mental energy as Army. If this young Navy team is to be much better next season, the Johnson Boys must deliver maximum effort and passion every Saturday. If they don't, what was a fourth-quarter win over Temple this year will become an embarrassing loss next year.

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, and before preparation for Army begins, the Midshipmen need to learn about consistency of focus. You need it every moment on an air craft carrier, and you need it every moment on the football field. Fortunately, the level of opposition was poor enough to allow for Navy to pull through and clinch a satisfying, hard-earned bowl bid. It's a great accomplishment to be going to a bowl for the third straight year, but the moment would have been better had Navy shown more mental toughness in the process of securing that late-December invite to a postseason party.

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