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December 12, 2013

Stichweh delivers to Army a message half-century later





Old Army quarterbacks never die. They just think of how they can help beat Navy.

Rollie Stichweh is an old Army quarterback from a half-century ago, and to borrow from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, his thoughts on how to beat Navy never die or fade away.

His 1963 Army team came up short against Navy and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach when both were juniors. But Army and Stichweh gained redemption in 1964. Stichweh tried to share that message with Army' 2013 team that suffered a bitter 17-13 loss to Navy in 2012 when a game-winning touchdown drive ended with a fumble at the Navy 14-yard line in the final seconds.

The Vietnam veteran returned to West Point last month along with Jack Ford, executive producer of the CBS Sports documentary, "Marching on: 1963 Army-Navy Remembered." They presented a special showing to 1,000 Cadets, including Army's 2013 football team. The documentary's focus explained how the iconic American college football event helped a grieving nation begin to the healing process from President John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas.

Delivering The Message Today

"The big message of the documentary was the game helped the nation move on," Stichweh said. "But the message I also shared with the current Army team is we had a chance to beat an outstanding Navy team in 1963. We came close, but we came up short. It was very disappointing.

"The issue is, how do you respond to adversity? Do you slink off into the night with you tail between your legs? Or do you suck it up and bounce back and win. The 64 game was a big deal for us. I'm very proud of our team that we sucked it up and came back and to beat Roger head-to-head in the rematch. We're hoping the current team can draw some inspiration from that."

After the screening, Ford and Stichweh discussed the documentary. Stichweh explained the traditional festivities played out in a somber mood, but the kickoff re-ignited the human spirit of competition for the players and the crowd of 102,000 at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium.

Navy entered the 1963 game an 11.5-point favorite. The Midshipmen were ranked No. 2 with an 8-1 record and 10 first-place votes. Texas was unbeaten with 34 first-place votes. Army wasn't bad either, ranking among "others" in the poll with a 7-2 record.

The 1963 Midshipmen had captured the nation's attention behind the play of Staubach, who emerged as a starter midway through his sophomore 1962 season. President Kennedy had attended the 1962 game and was scheduled to return in 1963 following his ill-fated trip to Dallas. The World War II Navy officer was a Staubach fan.

Staubach, a College Football and Pro Football Hall of Famer with two Super Bowl rings, says in the documentary that he was never more nervous before a game than Army-Navy in 1962. Stichweh remembers standing on the sidelines with his teammates at the 1962 game and watching as the Army and Navy team captains participated in the coin flip with President Kennedy at midfield.

"It was very special to see him at the game, absolutely," Stichweh said. "We knew privately his inclination was for the Navy side of the house. But that was OK. JFK was a combat decorated Navy man."

As is with tradition for the president at the Army-Navy Game, Kennedy watched the first half from the Army side and then paraded at halftime between a tunnel at midfield of Cadets and Midshipmen to watch the second half on the Navy side.

Stichweh would have had his meeting with Kennedy at the 1963 game's coin toss as a team captain. The silver dollar that Kennedy would have flipped in 1963 will be used in the 2013 game.

In those days, which pre-dated the NFL's superior popularity to the college game and the advent of the Super Bowl, the Army-Navy Game essentially capped the college football season.

Bowl games were considered a reward and weren't part of the national title equation. The final polls were voted upon after the regular season before the bowl games were played. It wasn't until the late 1960s that first the Associated Press writers poll and then the United Press International coaches poll (now USA Today) waited until after bowl games to declare the national champion with a final poll.

For all those reasons the 1963 game had the nation's attention. The 1963 game also is known as the first time instant replay was used on a live broadcast. The CBS announcers cautioned fans after the replay of a Stichweh touchdown that he hadn't suddenly scored again; CBS was using some new technology to replay it.

Navy was leading by two scores when Army mounted a fourth-quarter comeback that included a touchdown Stichweh scored to trim the deficit to 21-15. Then Stichweh recovered an onside kick and Army mounted another drive, but this one ended as time expired with Stichweh unsuccessfully trying to snap the ball over the crowd noise at the Navy 2-yard line.

Army lived with that crushing loss for a year until pulling off an 11-8 upset victory in 1964 over Navy and Staubach at the same Philadelphia edifice that had been renamed JFK Stadium.

Stichweh's message on screening night at West Point wasn't lost on Army's 2013 players.

"To us, we want 1964 to be this year," said Thomas Holloway, an Army senior roverback and team captain. "That was our reaction. We can say we got really close to finishing last year's game in our favor -- just as the film projected the 1963 game. But the fact of the matter is the past is the past. Army didn't win that game. We have to learn from our mistakes. Army did that in 1964. We want to do that this year."

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