The Army-Navy football games of 1963 and 1964 — featuring Navy’s quarterback Roger Staubach against Army’s relatively unknown counterpart Rollie Stichweh — remain to this day two of the most exciting football games I have ever seen.
Navy won the 1963 game 21-15 and went on to play National Champion Texas in the Cotton Bowl. That simple statement, however, does not begin to do justice to the incredible sense of excitement, hope and — ultimately — frustration with which we cadets watched our underdog team come to the brink of what would have been perhaps the most stunning upset in the long history of what has been called “The Greatest Rivalry in All of Sports” (by Bill Cromartie in his book “Army-Navy Football”).
I was a West Point plebe at the time and this was my first Army-Navy game. The crushing sense of disappointment with which the game ended has stayed with me over the intervening years, ameliorated only somewhat by the following year’s 11-8 win and Army’s overall 2-1-1 record against Navy during my cadet years.
Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated wrote an excellent story about the game, which I cut out and have saved. It describes in excruciating detail how close Army came to winning the 1963 game and why the loss was all the more frustrating for its anti-climatic conclusion. The Jenkins article is reproduced in a Power Point presentation linked here:
Note that the crucial onsides kick recovery at Navy’s 49 yard line with 6:13 to play was made by none other than Rollie Stichweh!
There was no way the 1964 rematch between Staubach and Stichweh — both first classmen (seniors) at the time — could match the drama of the 1963 game, but it was almost equally as exciting and infinitely more satisfying for Army fans, as Army broke Navy’s five game series winning streak.
Neither team had a winning record in 1964 (Army entered the game 3-6 and Navy 3-5-1), but Navy was a slight favorite to win their sixth in a row. Nevertheless, the game was tied 8-8 at halftime and with just 9:33 to play in the game, my classmate Barry Nickerson kicked a field goal to put Army up 11-8. Incredibly, this was Army’s first field goal against Navy in 33 years.
Army’s defense then took over and with Navy at the Army 27 late in the game, sacked Staubach twice for big losses and on a 4th and 36 forced an incomplete pass to preserve the win.
My Army-Navy game experience as a cadet was rounded out by a sister-kissing 7-7 tie in 1965 and a solid 20-7 win in 1966 (giving Army a sterling 8-2 record for the season).
Ironically, I was commissioned an ensign in the Navy upon graduation and have not seen an Army-Navy game in person since. I remain a college football fan, primarly focused (through #1 son’s affiliation with the team and local proximity) on the University of California’s Golden Bears. Nevertheless, my memories of the 1963 & 1964 Army-Navy games in particular remain indelibly impressed and will never be forgotten.