The annual Army-Navy game is set for this weekend. With the President’s recent announcement of a troop surge in Afghanistan and the ongoing war in Iraq, combined with the fact that a win by Army will make them bowl eligible, the contest is part football game/ part exercise in patriotism.
The situation was similar in 1963, when Roger Staubach and his midshipmen faced off against Army just weeks after the JFK assassination. Boston Herald writer Michael Connelly has written a new book, The President’s Team, about that game, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:
SCP: Obviously, the 1963 Army-Navy game took place at an odd time in our nation’s history. Can you discuss the impact world events had on the game, and the impact the game had on world events?
MC: The 1963 Army-Navy game transcended sports. It was a game that galvanized a country-in-mourning providing both teams and fans the opportunity to temporarily escape the cloud that enveloped the nation. In retrospect probably one of the five most profound sports moments in our countryâ€™s history which I list in no specific order: 1963 Army-Navy / Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling / 1980 USA â€“ USSR hockey / Jesse Owens at 1936 Berlin Olympics / George Bush throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium after 9/11.
It should be noted the game was originally cancelled by the Pentagon and only played at the request of the Presidentâ€™s wife who understood how important the game was not only to the country but to her husband.
SCP: How about the Kennedy clan and their connections to the game?
MC: The Kennedy sons and daughter were true sportsmen (and sportswomen) and passionate sports fans. All four Kennedy sons wore the football uniform of Harvard and treated touch football as if it was a family heirloom. President Kennedy a Navy hero formed an alliance with the midshipmen after Joe Bellino was asked: â€œyou have won the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award and youâ€™re an All American â€“ what more could you ask for?â€ to which he answered, â€œI would like to meet another Boston man who has a good year â€“ President elect Kennedy.â€ Bellino was invited to the Georgetown home of the president-elect and the bond was formed. President Kennedy attended the 1961 and 1962 Army Navy game as Commander-in-Chief where he cheered wildly for the winning Navy teams.
SCP: Senator Ted Kennedy wrote the foreward for this book. What did that mean to you, as an author and as a Massachusetts native?
MC: To have Senator Kennedyâ€™s first person account grace The Presidentâ€™s Team is a connection to the great family that I will always treasure. It was in this account that he spoke eloquently of the importance of sports and the Army-Navy game for their family and his brother Jack. It is in the foreword that he shares his fond memories of those days of touch football at the compound in Hyannis and value that sports played for the family as they refined their competitive skills which they would carry over to the political arena.
SCP: Roger Staubach won the Heisman for Navy, took five years off to serve his country, then began a Hall of Fame career in Dallas. Would that be possible today? Has anything even close to similar happened since?
MC: The very question speaks to the greatness of Roger Staubach. A timeless football hero that would be an All Pro in any decade playing the game withÂ grace while willing himself and team into the end zone and onto victory. From his days at Annapolis to his days in Dallas to his days as a successful businessman, he epitomized the will to excel in all aspects of life which encapsulated the 1963 Navy Football team.
SCP: What led you to write this book now?
MCP: Ten years ago I interviewed Roger Staubach and he shared the story of running onto the field in Philadelphia, just days after their friend the President had been killed, and being overwhelming by a wave of emotion that he would never feel again â€“ not even in the many Super Bowls he competed in. That story always stayed with me and I shared it with my publisher in follow up to a book that we partnered on in 2007 â€“ Rebound: Basketball, Busing and Larry Bird.
SCP: The Army-Navy game doesn’t seem to have the same cachet it once did? When did that happen and why?
MC: On November 22nd, 1963 the world changed forever. The promise of the new frontier was replaced by the cloud of the unknown. Vietnam war, racial unrest and the failure of the government to navigate the country through the maze caused radical change which included the service academies. Many athletes concerned of the danger of post-graduate service time if they enrolled in a service academy shifted their focus to other schools beginning a declining trend in the sports. In recent years Navy football has regained some prominence but never again the magic of 1963.