Naval Academy athletic great Dick Duden dies at age 88
April 2, 2013
Henry Richard "Dick" Duden Jr. was one of the finest athletes in Naval Academy history, a three-sport standout who earned nine varsity letters. Duden returned to his alma mater and became a successful coach, compiling a stellar 95-23-2 record in 16 seasons overseeing the freshman football team.
You would never have known it by talking to Duden, who was always reluctant to discuss his athletic accomplishments. Ask Duden about starring for the Navy football team from 1943-45 and he would quickly divert the topic to former teammates he claimed were much better.
"That was classic dad. He was an extremely modest man," H. Richard Duden III said of his namesake. "Whenever I asked him about his favorite memories, he would talk about the camaraderie and teamwork and friendships."
When Duden was inducted into the College Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 2001, media from all over the country contacted his former teammate, roommate and classmate Edmond Deramee to obtain background information.
"These sportswriters had already called Dick, but apparently he spent the whole conversation talking about other members of the team," Deramee said. "Dick was just too humble a person to go on and on about his own exploits, which were considerable."
Duden, who died on Easter Sunday at the age of 88, attended the Naval Academy during an era when an expedited wartime curriculum was in place that graduated midshipmen in just three years. He lettered in football, basketball and baseball every year in Annapolis and received the prestigious Naval Academy Athletic Association Sword as the top athlete in the 1946 graduating class.
Football was the primary sport for Duden, who at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds was considered a giant during those days. Teammates nicknamed the powerfully-built offensive end defensive end "the monster" and opponents no doubt felt the same after absorbing one of his vicious blocks or tackles.
"Dick was really a remarkable athlete, very quick and nimble for a man of such great size," said Deramee, who was the starting offensive guard at Navy from 1943-45 and roomed with Duden all three years they were at the academy together. "Dick was also a really smart player. I remember we were playing at Penn and the offense was really struggling. Dick called timeout and designed a few plays for the quarterback that helped us score a couple touchdowns."
That would have been the 1945 season when Navy nipped Pennsylvania 14-7 in front of 73,000 fans at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Duden caught a touchdown pass and set up the game-winning score with another long reception as the Midshipmen mounted a late rally.
Duden played an instrumental role on Navy clubs that compiled a 21-5-1 record from 1943-45, earning first team All-American honors as a junior and senior. He served as captain of the 1945 team that went 7-1-1 with the lone loss coming to Army.
Both the 1944 and 1945 Army-Navy games pitted the top-ranked programs in the country and featured future Hall of Famers on both sides. Glenn Davis and Felix Blanchard, the famous running back tandem dubbed "Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside," led West Point to a three-year record of 27-0-1 that included two national titles. In addition to Duden, Navy featured a future Hall of Famer in halfback Anthony "Skip" Minisi and center Dick Scott along with All-Americans in tackle Don Whitmire, halfback Bobby Jenkins and guard Ben Chase.
Following graduation, Duden served as a surface warfare officer from 1946-49 before being drafted by the New York Giants of the National Football League. He played one season of professional football before being recalled to active duty because of the Korean War and served as a gunnery officer aboard the USS Chickasaw.
Duden returned to Annapolis in 1951 and began a long, successful tenure as head coach of the Navy plebe squad. Freshmen were not eligible in those days so Duden mentored such future All-Americans as Steve Eisenhauer, Ronnie Beagle, Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach. He served as an assistant coach with the varsity program under head coach Eddie Erdelatz from 1954-59, but returned to directing the plebes from 1960 until his retirement in 1973.
"Dick Duden was an outstanding coach, very knowledgeable and a fine teacher. Every man who played for Dick developed immense respect for the man," said Tom Lynch, who would serve as captain of Navy's great 1963 team. "Dick had a way of making freshman football fun. He had a great sense of humor and always knew just what to say in a light-hearted way."
Duden touched every member of the Navy football program during that first year and would serve as a mentor for many for the rest of their college careers. Duden sold insurance for New York Life and almost every Navy football player bought a policy for him upon graduation.
"Dick had an office on Maryland Avenue and you'd walk in there the spring of senior year and he'd say, `Do you want a ten thousand or fifteen thousand dollar policy.' You'd pick one then go to the movies and by the time you got back the paperwork was completed," Lynch said. "Everybody loved the Dude. He was a good solid individual and a great person to be around."
Duden was a founding member of the Touchdown Club of Annapolis and later served as president. He was also active with the Annapolis Rotary Club, serving a term as president and receiving the Paul Harris Award from that organization.
Duden, who was born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania and raised in Englewood, New Jersey, attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. He was a three-sport standout at the prestigious prep school and was inducted into the Andover Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008 along with classmate and friend George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States.
"What set my father apart was his tremendous sense of humor. That is what I'll always remember about him," said Dick Duden III, a District Court of Maryland Judge. "Despite his many accomplishments, dad never took himself too seriously. He was a very funny individual and just had a great attitude and outlook on life."