Saturday’s game was a good one for Navy, and was a decisive win. But not all Army-Navy games have been so one-sided.
It was 1989, and Navy had lost to Army the previous three years. Seniors were in jeopardy of playing their entire college football careers without ever beating the Cadets. The series was tied: 41 victories for Army, 41 for Navy.
Army was favored and had a 14-9 lead at the half. By the end of the third quarter, the score was 17-16, Army.
During the fourth quarter, both teams battled, but neither team could score. As time winded down, Navy struggled into Army territory, and Navy coach Elliot Uzelac turned to his field goal kicker, a guy named Frank Schenk.
I remember the moment. My own legs felt numb as I watched this young man enter the field with a hundred years of history on his shoulders – imagine how HE felt, knowing that the eyes of millions of fans were on him, and only him. How could anyone want to be a kicker? For that matter, how could anyone whose name sounds like shank want to be a kicker?
But there he was, and with 15 seconds left, Frank Schenk split the uprights with a near-perfect 32 yard field goal to win it.
I got to know Frank a few years later. He was a fine officer – decisive, approachable, confident. He never mentioned the game, or the kick. He could have waltzed through life never having to buy a beer if he wanted to. But that wasn’t Frank’s way. In his mind, the team won. Navy won. He was just part of it.
A few years later, in 1993, another young Navy kicker named Ryan Bucchianeri missed a winning field goal attempt against Army. Asked if the snap was bad, or the hold was bad, Bucchianeri refused to deflect the blame and simply said, “It doesn’t matter. I missed the kick, sir.” (New York Times)
Kickers. I guess in the end it’s all about taking responsibility. When everything is on the line, the true leaders are the ones who want the ball. And regardless of the outcome, those who step up and shoulder the burden are the ones who can never lose.