Friendships Wrapped in the Army-Navy Rivalry

Rollie Stichweh

Rollie Stichweh

Sept. 27, 2012

By George Vecsey, New York Times

Roger Staubach and Rollie Stichweh switched uniforms before going to the mess hall at West Point in 1964.

Even now, their reputations secure as perhaps the greatest matched pair of quarterback rivals in the history of the Army-Navy game, they half fear there could be demerits, push-ups or lonely marches if photos ever surfaced of their breaking the rules.

Staubach and Ed Orr, a mainstay on two Navy teams, will pay Stichweh the high respect of visiting the United States Military Academy at West Point on Friday, when Stichweh is inducted into the Army Sports Hall of Fame.

How close are the three? Stichweh and Staubach hoisted swords at Orr's wedding. For the record, they wore their proper uniforms that day. Last year Stichweh watched the Army-Navy game with them in the box of another good friend, Rear Admiral Thomas Lynch, the former superintendent of Annapolis, who was trying to get a piece of Stichweh during the frantic final seconds of the 1963 game.

They go back a long way. Stichweh and Orr, who is better known as Skip, played against each other in a Little League championship game on Long Island. Later, Orr played at Chaminade High and Stichweh at Mineola High, and as freshmen and junior varsity quarterbacks they clumped across the street to scrimmage.

Orr still thought of himself as a quarterback as a plebe at Annapolis, at least until a teammate pointed out a kid from Cincinnati named Staubach. Very soon, Orr became a wide receiver and defensive back.

Stichweh, a good student and three-sport star, was recruited to play tailback in Princeton's single wing but chose West Point. However, during his plebe season, he began telling his parents, Charles and Eleanor, that he was having serious misgivings.

One day, his coach at Mineola, a blunt crew-cut World War II vet named Bruce Gehrke, who had played for Columbia and the Giants, showed up at West Point, which rarely permits visitors for plebes. In a drive around the academy grounds, Gehrke brusquely challenged Stichweh to finish the plebe year, just to prove he could. Then he could quit. Which, of course, Stichweh never did. Stichweh spent much of his first Army-Navy game in 1962 on defense, chasing Staubach in a 34-14 loss. Orr sat in the stands, waiting his turn for Navy.

They all had marvelous junior seasons in 1963, with Staubach winning the Heisman Trophy, often throwing to Orr, and helping to make Navy the No. 2 team in the nation. There was also that season within the season, the game against Army. The game was postponed a week because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who had discreetly rooted for Navy, although protocol dictated he switch sides at halftime.

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