VandyMania Flashback: A naval battle for the ages

Nov. 18, 1967, will forever be remembered by rabid football fans as the day when No. 1 UCLA and Gary Beban played No. 2 USC and O.J. Simpson. But it was also a memorable day for Vanderbilt and Navy fans-- as exciting as the game was in Los Angeles, the tussle in Annapolis, Md. was even better. VandyMania's <B>Howell Peiser</b> takes a look back at a "Naval Battle for the Ages."

Nov. 18, 1967, will forever be remembered by rabid football fans as a day where No. 1 UCLA (8-0-1) with Heisman Trophy candidate Gary Beban played No. 2 USC (8-1) with Heisman Trophy candidate O.J. Simpson. USC won the game, and a national championship, 21-20 on a dramatic long touchdown run by Simpson, but Beban later picked up the coveted award.

Nov. 18, 1967, was also a memorable football day for Vanderbilt fans. The Commodore navy ventured northeast to Maryland to take on the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. As exciting as the game was in Los Angeles, the game in Annapolis was better.

Vandy started out 1967 losing a close game at home to Georgia Tech 17-10, then they beat William & Mary (coached by Lou Holtz) 14-12, and followed that up with an impressive victory over North Carolina 21-7. At 2-1, first-year coach Bill Pace had doubled the victory total of the year before. The 45 points scored were just three less than the total scored in the nine Division I games of 1966.

The Commodores played tough but lost the next five games. Vandy gave Alabama two quick touchdowns to start the game, and then matched the Tide point-for-point in losing 35-21. Next the Commodores headed to Gainesville, and took Florida down to the final horn, losing 27-22. A minor letdown against a weak Tulane team resulted in a 27-14 loss, and Kentucky did nothing but win the game in a 12-7 decision.

At 2-5, the Commodores took on a 4-4 Navy team which had already beaten Penn State, Syracuse and Michigan. The Midshipmen possessed a potent offense and an average defense. Vanderbilt's offense was still trying to find itself, but compared to the previous season, the Commodores were 100 percent better moving the ball.

Navy had slaughtered Vandy at Dudley Field in 1966, so the Commodores were ready to exact revenge over the favored Mids. This game promised to be one that saw the ball fly through the air all day. Navy quarterback John Cartwright was en route to becoming the Academy's all-time leader in total offense, breaking the record of some guy named Roger Staubach. His favorite target, Rob Taylor, ranked in the top five in the nation in receptions and reception yardage.

Coach Bill Pace used two quarterbacks in 1967. Both Roger May and Gary Davis were having their best seasons that year, thanks to the hands of one man. End Bob Goodridge also ranked in the top five in the nation in both receptions and reception yardage. May had been injured and missed the previous two games, but he was back for this one.

Unfortunately, the Commodore defense was severely weakened by injuries and a lack of depth. Top linebacker Chip Healy had already been lost for the season. Coach Pace knew the only way to win was to throw early and often and try to outscore Navy. It almost worked.

Vandy got the ball to start the game, and Gary Davis came out slinging the ball. After a few plays, he dropped back and spotted Goodridge deep down the sideline. The long bomb was on target, and "Goodie" hauled it in with no defender close enough to stop him. Bingo... Vandy led early, 7-0.

Later in the quarter, Cartwright guided Navy on a long scoring drive. The Mids controlled the ball for most of the quarter, and tied the game at 7-7 after 15 minutes.

After a short Vandy drive stalled, Navy once again drove downfield on runs and short passes. The drive went the distance, and Navy led 14-7. That's how the first half ended. The Vandy goal of scoring lots of points wasn't panning out.

In the third quarter, it looked as though Navy might repeat the slaughter of 1966. The Midshipmen had no difficulty churning out four and five-yard runs mixed with short and medium passes. Taylor finally caught a touchdown pass and Navy led, 21-7.

Faced with a do-or-die possession, Vanderbilt's offense came to life. Passing on almost every play, the Commodores moved the ball into enemy territory. On a crucial third-and-long at the Navy 25, receiver Bob Ivey made an acrobatic leaping catch of an off-target toss and with a second-effort crossed the goal for a touchdown. Vandy radio announcer Paul Eells yelled out a loud "Holy Smokes, what a play!" for the listening audience. Vandy went for two and converted to make it 21-15 Navy.

On the next possession, Navy continued to meticulously run the ball for four- and five-yard pops. The depleted Commodore defense was not putting up much resistance. The Midshipmen went all the way again, and this time they went for two successfully. The score was 29-15 as the third quarter came to a close.

When Vandy failed to move the ball on its first possession of the final stanza, it looked like the game was decided. Navy continued pounding the ball up the middle and off tackle, but this time the Mids made a mistake. On one of those runs, the ball popped out and Vandy's one great defender, Pat Toomay, fell on it inside Navy's 30-yard line. Roger May completed a pass, and the Commodore ground game did the rest, with Jim Whiteside doing the honors at the end. A two-point conversion failed, making it 29-21 Navy.

Vandy's defense made its best stand of the game on Navy's next possession. The Navy punter booted a long one, pinning The Commodores deep. Davis returned at quarterback and directed a now confident Vandy offense. The Commodores mixed the pass and run and held onto the ball for almost half the quarter. Davis hit Whiteside with a short pass for the score. The tying two-point conversion attempt failed, so the Commodores trailed 29-27 with less than four minutes to go.

Navy attempted to rush the ball up the middle to run the clock out, but just two plays into its possession, another fumble was recovered by Vanderbilt. With two minutes and change left on the clock, less than 40 yards stood in the way of a Vandy upset. On the first play Roger May dropped back and threw long into the end zone away from the double-teamed Goodridge, who had caught more than a dozen balls already. This time receiver Dave Strong was open for the catch. The two-point conversion succeeded, and Vandy led 35-29 with just over two minutes to go.

The defense needed one more stop for the Commodores to get the victory, but it wasn't to be. Cartwright hit Taylor three times, with the final one coming from about 15 yards out for a score. The clock showed 0:45 to go as Navy lined up for the winning extra point. It missed! And to make things better, Navy was guilty of a personal foul. The score was tied at 35-35, and Vandy would get the ball with enough time to get into field goal range after Navy kicked off from its 25-yard line.

The Commodores completed a pass and advanced the ball near midfield, but that was as far as they could go. The game ended a 35-35 tie.

Vandy passed the ball about 45 times and completed over half for close to 375 yards. They ran the ball for another 100 yards. Navy both ran and passed for about 250 yards. Goodridge ended up with a career day, hauling in 15 passes for 201 yards. It vaulted him to the top of the receiving chart, where he stayed for remainder of the season.

The 1967 Commodores dropped their last two games, 28-7 to a strong Ole Miss team, and 41-14 to No. 2 Tennessee. It was the Commodores' eighth consecutive losing season, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The losing season streak would end in 1968. Top Stories