Dec. 1, 2011
By Bob Socci
Here I sit at the keyboard, two weeks after Navy’s last game at San Jose State and roughly a week before the Midshipmen play their next against Army.
Leaves have been collected from the backyard and stuffed into lawn bags. Rooms have been switched and furniture re-arranged, as my wife and I try to get organized before a chaotic Holiday season and the expected arrival of our second child.
So I must admit, as much as I miss the excitement of a football game day and love my Saturdays in the Navy radio booth, all this idle time of late has led to some semblance of order to life. Temporary as it no doubt is.
Heck, there’s even time today to attack the stacks of bills (yikes!), magazines (no matter that by now their pages are filled with old news) and junk mail (seriously, how can the postal service be in such trouble?) rising on and around my desk since a late-September bye-week.
And yet, because I’m far better at procrastinating than prognosticating (put it this way, there’s a reason I’ve never gambled), I think I’ll hold off on them for now. After all, there’s bound to be a free day or two sometime before the 2012 season opens in Dublin, right?
Besides, I’d much rather use the time to share some items that recently crossed my mind or were written into my notebook.
But like so many other things around here, at least until the last few days, there’s little organization to what I’m about to write; less a stream of consciousness than a handful of random thoughts.
During Paul Johnson’s six-year tenure as Navy’s head coach, the question of whether an option offense could succeed in the NFL arose periodically. As with most topics, Paul didn’t mince words. His answer was a resounding “yes,” presuming the “right personnel” was in place.
“Can you imagine Michael Vick running it?,” Johnson once said of the then Atlanta Falcon during a commercial break in his radio show, scoffing at the conventional thinkers who’ve long considered the option unfit for the pros.
Well, years later, with Johnson now in Atlanta at Georgia Tech, the ex-coach of the Midshipmen certainly looks like he knew what he was talking about. Not that you’d ever expect otherwise, given his option expertise.
While Vick is injured on an underachieving Philadelphia team, the Denver Broncos ride a four-game winning streak on the shoulders of a terrific defense and, yes, an option offense.
As anyone not “too busy keeping up with the Kardashians” (more on that in a moment) knows, the Broncos and, specifically, quarterback Tim Tebow are part of the conversation on every frequency from 24-hour sports-talk radio stations to NPR’s All Things Considered.
Of course, much of the chatter concerns either the magnetism or, to many, the polarization associated with Tebow. But what fascinates me is how the Broncos have gone from 1-4 to 5-1 since bucking NFL stereotypes by doing to pro defenses what the Mids have done in the college ranks since Johnson came to Annapolis in 2002.
True, Denver runs the read-option; more along the lines of what Tebow operated at the University of Florida. Still, basic principles of that offense are the same as Navy’s triple-option.
In 2008 the Miami Dolphins confused opponents by essentially resurrecting the Single Wing with the Wildcat formation. Rival coaches were left to explain how the unfamiliarity of it in the modern NFL was cause for great consternation.
Suddenly, we’re hearing similar things about preparing for the Broncos. Much the same way opposing coaches have spoken about the Midshipmen throughout the last decade.
Speaking of the offense Johnson reinstituted after the one-time Navy offensive coordinator was hired as head coach in ’02, I was in Dallas the night the Mids debuted under his direction with a 38-7 rout of SMU.
Joining me on the radio, just he’d done the previous year at Toledo and would do on a couple of other occasions, was Ron Wolf. A former executive for the Raiders, Buccaneers and Packers, Ron had retired to Annapolis and filled-in as a color commentator on our broadcasts.
Last Sunday -- as noted by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King -- marked the 20th anniversary of his hiring as Green Bay’s general manager. Wolf went on to trade for Brett Favre; hire Mike Holmgren; convince Reggie White to sign as a free agent; and develop a scouting and drafting system that led to two Super Bowl titles, on his watch in 1997 and under protege Ted Thompson last season.
Ron recently made the list of 26 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a “contributor” to the game. In early January the nominees will be pared to the 15 names included on this year’s ballot for enshrinement in Canton.
Though no longer seen driving around Annapolis in his red convertible -- Ron and his wife moved back to Wisconsin -- surely everyone he associated with at the Academy is pulling for him to have a HOF bust next summer.
Wolf is a brilliant evaluator of football talent; shrewd enough to select Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck with fifth- and sixth-round draft picks, respectively. He’s also a historian of the sport and big fan of service academies, in particular.
While in Annapolis, he owned season tickets and regularly borrowed old films of Navy greats from video coordinator John McGuire; always in a genuinely appreciative and unassuming manner.
A no-doubt future Hall of Famer with far-reaching Academy ties, Bill Belichick, said something this week that, I believe, has great relevance to the Army-Navy Game.
The three-time Super Bowl champion head coach of the Patriots and son of the late longtime Navy assistant, Steve Belichick, discussed first-place New England’s upcoming meeting with the winless Indianapolis Colts:
“(Our players) heard me talk about it every week, saying we don’t care about the record, and we don’t,’’ Belichick was quoted in The Boston Globe. “What difference does it make? Look, how somebody played two weeks ago against somebody else, who cares? Us or anybody else. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how we and the Colts perform against each other on Sunday. That’s all that matters. Who cares who won three weeks ago in some other game against some other players? It doesn’t matter.
“We talk about it every . . . It doesn’t matter. There’s 16 games on our schedule, they’re all the same. It’s our team against that team that week and we look at, try to learn about our opponent and scout them and pick up tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses, and all that, but how we match up against that team that day is all that matters.
“The rest of it is just a bunch of garbage. You guys can write about it all you want, it doesn’t matter. I mean, really. The winner of this game will be decided by which team plays better on Sunday, not what happened four weeks ago. It’s like that every week. Every week.’’
So what, you ask, does that have to do with the Mids and Black Knights? Navy has won their last nine encounters, all by margins of 12 points or more. In fact, overall in the Commander-In-Chief’s series, Army has lost 21 of its last 23 games.
Belichick, you and I all know that despite recent history, what matters is how the Mids match up with the Cadets next Saturday. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded; even if by a coach speaking in the context of Patriots-Colts.
Finally, you might have heard halftime commentary by Bob Costas during NBC’s telecast of the Steelers vs. Chiefs last Sunday evening. If not, perhaps you at least heard or read about it (you can check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeHuLE4XM3I&feature=player_embedded).
Costas linked debased popular culture -- opening with a reference to the infatuation many Americans have with the likes of the Kardashians -- to an increasing affront to good taste and true class across the sporting landscape; specifically each week on fields around the NFL.
Maybe you agree with those critics who labeled Costas smug and self-righteous. I -- to the surprise of absolutely nobody who knows me -- think differently. To my ears, Costas’s soliloquy sounded like the best 2 minutes, 20 seconds I’ve heard on network TV in a long, long while.
His words and the video to support them remind me of one of the great rewards in covering the Midshipmen. And give all of us further reason to look forward to what we won’t see when we watch Army-Navy next weekend.