Feb. 28, 2013
by Ray Floriani
NEW YORK CITY - New York's prestigious Union League Club was the site. Late January had many in a Super Bowl frame of mind. The event, on a Tuesday evening, was a Meet the Coaches Night. The well attended and received program, organized and run by John L. Buckheit Esq. gives Army faithful and followers an opportunity to meet all coaches from the US Military Academy.
"Usually these type of events you get a chance to meet the football or basketball coaches speak," Mickey Wender, the head swimming coach said. "It's rare and kind of exciting to have the swim coach discuss the program."
Buckheit is an `84 graduate of the academy and as devout a follower you will find. For all things academic and athletic at USMA. Naturally football and basketball coaches are welcome on this night but schedules are usually prohibitive. Still, it is a special night for coaches in rifle, track, tennis and swimming to name a few, to have an opportunity to discuss their programs.
Among those in attendance, naturally were Boo Corrigan the Director of Athletics. Joe Sottolano, the baseball coach, announced the renewal of the exhibition game with the New York Yankees. The game will be played on March 30th at West Point. Interestingly, just prior to a four game series against Navy.
Wrestling mentor Joe Heskett invited those interested t better view his program, especially "with our unique training methods."
Troy Engle is the head of the entire men's and women's track and cross country program at the academy. Engle lauded his "outstanding assistant coaches", to allow the programs to run smoothly and successfully.
The head of strength training and conditioning, Scott Swanson was on hand. "The athletes know me as Satan," he joked. In seriousness he invited interested parties to visit and work out for a day. "We have an open gym," he added.
The format of the evening allowed guests to stroll around and speak with the coaches on a more informal basis. Each coach was called up to speak on their program and that part of the evening was without a glitch. Short and sweet.
Beside the coaches were honored guests as Pete Dawkins, a former Heisman Trophy winner and current Hall of Famer. Another member, and recent entrant into the hall, was also in attendance. Rollie Stichweh was inducted the past September.
Speaking with Stichweh was indeed special on a personal note. Growing up in Northern New Jersey, Stichweh was my favorite college quarterback during my grade school days. Evidently, Darrell Royal had similar admiration calling him the `best back in the country' during his days at West Point.
On an objective note, found Stichweh to be cordial, interesting and a dynamic personality. What you would expect from an individual who has excelled on the football and battlefields. Still, someone to admire and not just due to those accomplishments.
"We are rivals for 60 minutes but in the end we are all on the same team"
The quote came from a Navy student prior to the 2010 Army-Navy game. Its significance continued to stay with yours truly during any reference to the storied rivalry.
Stitchweh, as we spoke, frequently alluded to the Army-Navy rivaly. Bitter and intense on the field but a case of healthy respect off of it. In football, a 60 minute scenario of all out intensity.
Stichweh talked of his Army days. The postponement of the Army-Navy game at Philadelphia in 1963 due to the assignation of President John F. Kennedy. "There was talk of cancelling the game," he recalled. "The Kennedy family was adamant it should go on because the president was such a devoted football fan." The game did go off on December 7th with Navy holding on for a victory. "One of the amazing things about that game," Stichweh noted, "was the cancellation called for over 100,000 fans to change plans and be relocated."
A year later, Stichweh's senior campaign Army defeated Navy 11-8 to snap a five game losing streak against the Midshipmen. Stichweh made the final tackle but still reserves praise for his teammates.
"Our line did a great job up front of pressuring Roger (Staubach)," Stichweh recalled. "Roger kind of threw a soft flare pass due to that pressure. That gave me the time to get in and make the tackle."
Back then the platoon system of college football was just emerging. There were still `two way' players, going on both offense and defense and Stichweh, at quarterback and defensive back was one of about five two way players that season at West Point.
During his Army days, the Cadets ran a lot of shot gun offense. The head coach was Paul Dietzel, always an innovator. "Today they call it a spread or `run and shoot," Stichweh said. "Back then we lined up in that shotgun formation and did a lot of things they do today."
At his hall of fame induction, Dietzel at age 88 and in a wheelchair still made the trip to West Point for the special ceremony.
Staubach, the competitor from Navy, during those days also made the trip to the Hudson Valley. As Stichweh tells it, "Roger had a company golf outing in Chicago. He flew in for the hall of fame ceremony and had his wife fly up from Dallas." The two, rivals on the 100 years `battlefield' have been close friends for years.
Staubach went on to star in the NFL. Stichweh was drafted by the New York Giants of the NFL and Oakland Raiders of the AFL. After his tours of duty he decided he could not do justice trying to make it in pro ball and the playing days were ended.
Today, the admiration for the rivalry and pride is evident as the days he ran out on the field at Miche Stadium. Stichweh speaks in sincere tone of sympathizing with Army's Trent Steelman who went without a win over Navy during his recently completed career. "He (Steelman) got so close," Stichweh said. "You really have to feel for a great kid like that."
The night was for the coaches. Rollie Stichweh spoke about football as the point of reference in his experience. His personality, charm and outstanding insight however , did remind us how truly special all the athletic programs are at West Point. And the universal values each one successfully teaches.