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TGS INDIES RETROSPECTIVE...EARLY TGS DAYS, WHEN FOOTBALL WAS FUN AT NAVY!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


It was a different era in college football when TGS began to publish in 1957. No kidding! Although a quick look at the final rankings that season would be reminiscent of polls in later decades (national champ Auburn, Ohio State, and Michigan State finished 1-2-3 in the final AP poll, with Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Notre Dame also in the top ten), the major bowl lineup that year would also feature the likes of Duke (Orange), Rice (Cotton), and Navy (Cotton). Indeed, the faceoff between the Owls and Middies would be the only matchup of top ten teams in that postseason.

To further confirm it was a different era, all we have to do is scroll down the final AP ratings, and note that none other than VMI, champion of the Southern Conference, finished in the 20th spot. Meanwhile, the old Pacific Coast Conference was so scandal-ridden that four of its entries (USC, UCLA, Cal, and Washington) were all on probation, presaging the breakup of the longtime league, which would resurface as the AAWU (Athletic Association of Western Universities) two years later.

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In the East, although the aforementioned Southern Conference would extend into the mid-Atlantic region, where the likes of VMI, West Virginia, William & Mary, Richmond, George Washington, and Washington & Lee competed in those days, the only alignment was in the Ivy League. There was still a robust collection of Eastern independents, of which Army and Navy were among the featured members.

Mention of the Cadets (Black Knights) and Midshipmen really does take us back to our roots at TGS, when West Point and Annapolis were still major players on the gridiron. Both would routinely appear in the top ten during that era, and each would accomplish the same during our inaugural 1957 publishing season. In fact, if there is one college football snapshot from our earliest days of publishing, it would be of Army and Navy still ranking among the nation’s powerhouses

And West Point and Annapolis are indeed proper markers for that era of college football. The late 1950s were still within a time frame when the annual Army-Navy game would be one of the highlight games, if not the highlight game, of the entire college football season. This would be especially true in the 40s, when national championships were often at stake in the traditional year-end grudge match, which would be contested on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. After World War II, the game would annually take place in Philadelphia at the cavernous Municipal (and later John F. Kennedy) Stadium, a relic from the 1920s but whose location roughly equidistant between West Point and Annapolis, plus its102,000-seat capacity, made it a perfect neutral venue for the annual showdown.

The 1940s would be an Army decade, when West Point would win three consecutive national titles (1944-46), post undefeated marks in five of six seasons between 1944-49, and feature a pair of Heisman Trophy winners in Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. The tide in the rivalry, however, would swing to the Midshipmen in the next decade.

In those days, the entire nation would often come to a standstill when the Cadets and Midshipmen, America’s best and brightest, would duel on the gridiron. Almost every major newspaper in the country would send its best sports writers to cover the game, with a like number of photographers. The outcome was almost always the lead story in every sports section, if not the front page, the next day. The last vestiges of those glory days would extend into the early 1960s, and an epic battle in 1963.

For a while, it looked like service academy football might be on the wane after World War II, but rules changes in the early ‘50s helped return West Point and Annapolis to national prominence. Specifically, it was the the reintroduction of single-platoon football in 1953 that proved a boon to the service academies. Eliminating the use of separate offensive and defensive units meant players had to condition themselves for long, unrelieved spells both offensively and defensively, which better suited the military school recruits. And the academies were still able to attract their share of top-shelf athletes in those days, aided by a more-lenient set of rules for gridiron warriors regarding future service commitments.

Army and Navy had important fans, too. The Cadets had no greater or illustrious supporter than President Dwight Eisenhower, a West Point grad and ultimate battlefield general. Although, in Ike’s case, he might have loved Army football a bit too much for his own good. After his 1955 heart attack, suffered in Colorado, his physician had temporarily barred him from watching or listening to his beloved Army football games during his recovery, as Eisenhower’s inevitable agitation at the proceedings were deemed bad for his damaged heart. Subsequently, President Kennedy (shown left at the 1962 Army-Navy game), though not an Annapolis grad, was most definitely a Navy man, and an unabashed supporter of the Midshipmen.

In retrospect, many college football aficionados believe that the 1957 edition of the Mids might have been the best in Annapolis history. Which will surprise many casual and non-casual college football enthusiasts who can be excused for believing that Navy had one bright shining moment when Roger Staubach (right) won the Heisman Trophy in 1963 and took that Mids edition all of the way to a showdown for the national title at the Cotton Bowl, where Texas eventually prevailed. But there was a lot of quality football played by Navy prior to Staubach's arrival, even though gridiron history, as written by the ESPN generation, hardly recognizes some of the powerhouse Midshipmen teams that preceded "Roger the Dodger" in Annapolis.

Navy would certainly take advantage under colorful coach Eddie Erdelatz, who in his playing days was a product of Slip Madigan's memorable Saint Mary's (California) squads of the early 1930s, and had worked with the San Francisco 49ers in their pre-NFL days of the All-American Football Conference, before taking the Annapolis job. Erdelatz's first two Midshipmen sides had losing records but indicated that better things were to come when punishing an unbeaten Army, 14-2, in the 1950 renewal of the annual grudge match. Soon Navy began to win consistently, and by 1954 the Mids (famously tagged "The Team Named Desire") were good enough to earn a bowl invitation for the first time in 31 years, throttling a powerful Johnny Vaught-coached Ole Miss side, 21-0, in the Sugar. At QB for Navy that day in New Orleans was future head coach George Welsh, as the Mids physically manhandled the Rebs, outgaining them 450-121 in total yardage. A junior end, Ron Beagle, was named the winner of that year's Maxwell Trophy.

Erdelatz had hoped his 1955 side, led by returnees Welsh & Beagle, could get invited to the Cotton Bowl, but after spending much of the season ranked in the top ten, Navy lost the Army grudge match and received no bowl invitation. The following year in 1956, Erdelatz fielded another powerhouse side, but again Army proved tricky, battling to a season-ending 7-7 stalemate and prompting Annapolis Rear Admiral and Superintendent William R. Smedberg to actually turn down a coveted Cotton Bowl bid despite the Mids' sparking 6-1-2 record.

Erdelatz never forgot the Rear Admiral's bowl snub and reportedly decided then and there that his days of working in the Annapolis environment would probably be coming to an end in the near future. Dealing with the unique job pressure, a rough schedule, and a Superintendent prone to rejecting bowl bids was hardly conducive to a coach's good health. Eventually, Erdelatz settled on the fledgling American Football League, where he was named the first head coach in the history of the Oakland Raiders, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Though not mentioned in modern discussions about college football coaching giants, we consider Erdelatz to be among the most colorful and innovative mentors in our TGS publishing history. Not many storied coaches were as devoted to the element of surprise as was Erdelatz, whose laid-back demeanor belied a wildly-inventive side. Throughout the ‘50s, Erdelatz had also proven more than a match for legendary Army HC, Colonel Earl “Red” Blaik, who found it awkward to counter the battery of fancy gimmicks employed by the Erdelatz Navy teams. In 1957, that would include the Mids' "jitterbugging” defense, which was notorious for lining up in one set, say a 4-4, and then jumping to another, perhaps a 6-2, or Gap-8, with defenders positioned in the spaces between opposing offensive linemen.

From 1950-57 vs. West Point, the Erdelatz Navy teams would win five of the meetings and lose only twice, with the 1956 game ending in that aforementioned 7-7 deadlock. Blaik would write off Army’s losses in 1951 & ‘52 to the effects the “cribbing scandal” at West Point, but the press of the era would make sure to point out the offensive wizardry of Erdelatz (who was always partial to the spread formations used by the pros) and his record of success against Army, which had lost just once to Navy in the seven years preceding the Erdelatz hire.

Blaik would also privately lament some of the numerical differences between the two institutions; in the late ‘50s, the Army athletic department had only 25 to 30 appointments a year available for football players while Navy often had three tnmes as many. That had something to do with the fact that the corps strength at West Point was around 2,500, at Annapolis nearly 4000. In 1958, for example, Navy had 73 football appointees, Army only 27. With such numbers, Erdelatz was always a proponent of platooning his men, and would give his second unit significant field time throughout the season.

And Erdelatz, the orphaned son of a San Francisco saloonkeeper, was almost every way the inverse of his buttoned-up rival Blake. With his bulky frame, ruddy complexion, and habitually cheerful expression, Erdelatz looked more suited to tend to a bar of his own, and he broke the coaching mold with a relaxed and easygoing approach to running the Midshipmen. Erdelatz, who was only 37 when he took the Navy job in 1950, quickly established himself as a players’ coach. Erdelatz would convey his approach in a 1954 interview with Sports Illustrated. “I told the guys when I came here,” said Erdelatz, “that I was gonna coach the way I wanted to be coached when I was playing.

Erdelatz would shake the football establishment with his claims that, after all, football was just a game and should be enjoyed as such. "We'll have a ball--we always do," Erdelatz once said. "I don't believe in all that high pressure stuff. I have the simplicity system. It's a few plays and few defenses. It has worked out all right."

Although the press of the day often wondered if Erdelatz would speak at times with his tongue in his cheek. "I tell my players there's no pressure on them to play, and if they can't have some fun to turn in their suits,” said Erdelatz. “No scholarship is at stake. The coaches also have fun. We have no 6 AM. staff meetings, and there's plenty of time for golf in the afternoon two or three times a week. And no night sessions.” The rumors of the day were that the Mids were so happy playing football that they literally dance while scrimmaging. And, of course, it was noted that the men of Annapolis created quite a stir when they first used their so-called “jitterbug” defense.

"We don't anchor our men in concrete," Erdelatz would explain when discussing this defensive tactic. "They are moving around like jitterbugs before the ball is snapped. So far, nobody has found the solution to this defense.”

The Midshipmen players loved him.. Practices, held on a field called “The Flats” adjacent the Severn River, were as high-spirited as they were upbeat. Erdelatz was a trend-setter in another way, and set a football fashion template for eras still decades into the future, as he routinely broke out new uniforms in an effort to inspire his players. That was another m.o. of Erdelatz that would endear him to his sailors, who would be inspired by every new uniform combination that Erdelatz would use. For the Army game in 1957, Erdelatz outfitted Navy in powder blue unis with light gold numerals, to be worn again in the Cotton Bowl vs. Rice. “He had a way of surprising us,” said QB Joe Tranchini. “Nobody ever knew. You’d just walk into the locker room on game day and find a new jersey hanging in your locker.”

And here Notre Dame fans have long believed that Dan Devine was the originator of the special-jersey trick when the Fighting Irish charged out of the tunnel in their special green unis for the 1977 game vs. USC!

Erdelatz took being a players’ coach to heart. On many Sunday trips back to Annapolis following road, games, Erdelatz often stopped in Baltimore to take the Mids to a Colts game, after which he would order the team bus to stop at a roadside market where he could buy beer for his boys to drink on the way home. “The guys loved him,” Tranchini would later say. “I never played for a better coach.”

It was on The Flats, on the banks of the Severn, that Erdelatz would conduct spring practice in 1957 and begin to mold another powerhouse team for the fall. The Erdelatz touch could even be felt in March, as unlike at many football factories of the day, the Mids played hard because they thought the game was fun and the atmosphere enjoyable (which, for most, was a welcome departure from the normal grind of Annapolis and the difficult existence in the brigade). On The Flats, a small sailboat would occasionally come close by the breakwater, and the players would pause and gaze critically at her trim because, after all, they were sailors. Even the skipper--Rear Admiral William Smedberg, superintendent of the academy--would often show up in a football parka and do a little friendly kibitzing.

But there was no traditional college football pressure, as the Mids would live for the exultation of having made a good, clean, hard tackle; for the thrill of breaking away for a long run or for the satisfaction of throwing a critical block. They were not on The Flats because they were told to be there, but because they wanted to play football. It was the Erdelatz way.

Looking at them, Erdelatz said: “No one is denied the right to play football here. Why deny a football player the fun of the game? I don't have one boy on my squad who is told he has to come out. They come out because they love the game and want to play it in spring as well as fall.” Erdelatz was so pleased with what he saw in the spring that he decided to lop off the last three days of spring football, so sharp had been his team in drills. “We have accomplished our mission,” said the coach, satisfied with 17 days of work instead of the allotted 20. The payoff would come in the fall.

The Mids were expected to be good in 1957, with most preseason rankings and publications putting them just outside of the top ten. And after the crackling spring workouts, enthusiasm was high. Erdelatz had a veteran team that returned seven regulars (remember, this was in the one-platoon era, and seven was not an inconsequential number of returning starters) and nine other lettermen among 24 returnees. There was balance and depth in the lineup, as well as the biggest line in Navy history (averaging 213 pounds, a significant marker for the day).

Erdelatz was promising some new wrinkles for his Split T offense that would be directed by QB Tom Forrestal (left), a Cleveland product who would emerge as one of the nation’s best on-field pilots that fall, and not afraid to put the ball in the air. His favorite target would be 5'11 end Pete Jokanovich, a Los Angeles product and precise route-runner. Complementing Forrestal would be halfbacks Ned Oldham, another Cleveland-area native (Cuyahoga Falls) and the team’s ace runner for the previous two years, and Al Swanson, a 1956 sub who would be the only newcomer in the starting backfield, or Harry Hurst, the fastest man in the backfield, along with rugged Dick Dagampat, a small but tough-running fullback. Speed and experience were the prime assets, able to break loose on any play--either around the ends on quick pitchouts or on passes, rather than relying on sheer power for smashes into the line.

There was also great excitement in Annapolis over 235-lb. lineman Bob Reifsnyder (right), a giant by Navy standards who would be switched to center, taking the place of the decorated Wilson Whitmire, after starring at a tackle spot as a soph. Even with the hulking Reifsnyder, the Navy line was considered one of the quickest and smartest in football, thus making up for what it lacked in size. It moved well laterally and was hard to trap. Aside from Reifsnyder, however, there were concerns if it was big and strong enough, but Erdelatz also had depth and the reserves platoon was well above average, and the fresh troops were expected to help wear down foes. Veterans would be manning most of the other spots alongside Reifsnyder on the line.

The Mids sent 33 members of the Brigade of Midshipmen from Annapolis to Chestnut Hill. MA to help Boston College dedicate its new stadium in the opener. All 33 put on football uniforms, and before the day was out each had a part in piling up a 46-6 score that left the Eagles wondering whether they invited the right guests to the christening.

It was a warning shot for the remainder of the Annapolis opponents in an awesome display of naval power. Although Erdelatz used his reserves generously once the result began to become apparent, Tom Forrestal served notice that he was ready to lead the Mids’ Split-T offense with impressive poise, judgment and finesse.

Any number of pigskin observers had picked this present Navy team as potentially the finest of Erdelatz's eight-year regime at the academy, and what happened at Chestnut Hill before 28,000 local partisans (and visiting ex-King Leopold of Belgium) went a long way toward confirming these predictions. Forrestal would complete 141 yards worth of passes while the Mid infantry piled up 212 yards on the ground, with Oldham scoring twice. All that prevented BC the humiliation of a 46-0 shutout defeat was a breathtaking 94-yard TD pass from QB Don Allard, who hurled the ball from his end zone more than 60 yards in the air, to HB Tom Sullivan.

There was increasing talk (none of which Erdelatz wanted to hear) of an unbeaten season after a subsequent 33-6 thumping of William & Mary before Navy found a banana peel at Chapel Hill against an aroused North Carolina squad. Forrestal picked this game to have his worst day of the season, tossing five picks, including one returned 32 yards for a TD by lumbering Tar Heel DT Leo Russavagge to score what would be the deciding points of the afternoon. A fumbled punt by Navy’s Ned Oldham in the 1st Q was recovered by UNC at the Mid 23 had earlier set up the first Tar Heel touchdown. Forrestal would lead a tedious 19-play, 73-yard drive that would cut the deficit to 13-7 early in the 4th Q when Hurst scored on a 2-yard scoring sweep, but another late pick thrown by Forrestal, this one snared by Carolina DE Buddy Payne, locked up a 13-7 upset for Big Jim Tatum’s Tar Heels and would temporarily knock Navy from its number six ranking to out of the polls the following week.

That slip at Chapel Hill, however, would be the only loss the Mids would endure as they would climb their way back into the rankings and the top ten. Moreover, no team would score in double digits against Navy after the flukish North Carolina result save Georgia, which was nonetheless pasted 27-14 in the Oyster Bowl at Norfolk in mid-October. The rock-ribbed Mid defense, with Reifsnyder the ultimate blockade in the line, would also contribute a TD against the Bulldogs when LB Ray Wellborn, who doubled as a FB when on offense, picked off a Charley Britt pass and raced 31 yards for a score. Prior to the win over Georgia, the Mids had traveled West to Erdelatz’ native Bay Area for a game at Berkeley vs. Cal, where the Golden Bears proved no match in a 21-6 Mids win. By this time, HB-DB Ned Oldham had developed into a big-play threat, with his 53-yard scamper setting up Forrestal’s short 3-yard TD run, plus an interception and 19-yard return to the Cal one preceding his own one-yard TD run. For good measure, Oldham was also the placekicker and added all three extra points.

By early November, the Mids were back in the top ten, thanks to a dominant 20-6 win at South Bend over a fifth-ranked Notre Dame side that two weeks later would end top-ranked Oklahoma’s record 47-game win streak. The airtight Mid defense, led by block-of-granite Reifsnyder, would not allow any points, although the Irish would score on future NY Giants all-pro DB Dick Lynch’s 46-yard return of a Ray Wellborn fumble. Wellborn, in the lineup in place of the injured Dick Dagampat, would make amends, however, scoring twice on runs en route to 112 yards rushing and also hauling in a 32-yard TD pass from QB Forrestal. Wellborn had gained 44 yards on an earlier screen pass from Forrestal, when the massive Reifsnyder would clear the way with a vicious block. The Reidsnyder-led “D” would allow the Irish only four yards of total offense, as the Domer attack spent much of the afternoon in reverse. Navy would move up to 7th in the polls the following week.

In the Erdelatz style, the Navy team had remained loose and free-spirited. Even in the presence of Captain Slade Cutter, who was an authentic hero in the athletic and combat history of the Naval Academy who kicked the winning field goal in the 1934 victory over Army, and as a submarine commander during World War II who was awarded four Navy Crosses, the most ever held by one man. Since August of ‘57, he had been the AD at Annapolis, and, like most old salts, he ran a taut ship. He was close with athletic funds, saving toward a new stadium that would be completed in 1959, and he was not sympathetic to the Jerry Lewis-like acts that Erdelatz and his team liked to employ. The new AD cut out such tomfoolery as letting the players wear cowboy hats when they played on the west coast at California. But he was all-business about the Mids’ biggest rival, having said that all Navy games except the one with Army were scrimmages.

The Erdelatz Navy team, on the other hand, continued its light-hearted theme, even with the stern new AD. After believing they played too tightly in their loss to North Carolina, the Midshipmen dreamed up a girl friend to inspire them against Cal. She was a young lady named Rosy Rogoni, and all week before the game the Navy team kidded about winning the big one for Rosy. Bob Reifsnyder (right), Navy's star tackle, explained it thusly: "We were sort of spoofin' Notre Dame. They're always winning for somebody, but son-of-a-gun if it didn't work for us. So we decided to dedicate the rest of the games this year to somebody."

Still a bit miffed at the hats-off rule in California and the remark about scrimmages, the Mids dedicated the Notre Dame game to none other Captain Slade Cutter, their new athletic director. They did it in the same facetious way they dedicated the Cal game to Rosy, and it worked just as well. It came as a surprise to Captain Cutter to hear about it after the game, but he took it like the good sailor he was. "I think it's just wonderful the spirit those kids had," he said. "They sure went out to win." And Navy had become a taut and a happy ship.

The schedule, however, was providing the Mids little relief. The next week after Notre Dame, they would make the short trip to Baltimore to host a ranked Duke side that would eventually play Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. After throwing a TD pass in the first quarter, Forrestal could not get the Mids back on the scoreboard despite five more excursions, all to eventually end empty-handed, inside of the Blue Devil 20-yard line. In the end, it would be a dissatisfying 6-6 tie, the third straight stalemate between Navy and Duke.

The Mids, however, would remain in the top ten, and after blasting George Washington by a 52-0 count would prepare for the annual grudge match vs. you-know-who. Red Blaik’s Army team would enter Philadelphia as the nation’s tenth-ranked team, having only lost a 2-point decision vs. Notre Dame and mostly stomping the rest of the opposition. Blaik’s high-powered offense, featuring HBs Pete Dawkins (who would win the Heisman Trophy the following year) and Bob Anderson, had scored at least 20 points in every game.

There was nationwide concern, however, in the week leading up to Army-Navy, as President Eisenhower was victimized by a stroke. The grave concern the nation felt on learning of Ike’s third serious illness in office was lifted quickly by a succession of incidents--all initiated by the President himself. He got out of bed, he did some work, he went smiling to church on Thanksgiving Day, and at the end of the week he was at his Gettysburg farm in front of a TV set--like millions of other Americans who would glow to the spectacle of the senior military academies locked in sporting struggle.

The President bowed to duty by sending a warm "personal best wishes" telegram to the Navy. Then, grinning, he tipped Army in another wire of what he had told Navy, adding, "The requirements of neutrality are thus scrupulously observed. But over a span of almost half a century, on the day of The Game I have only one thought and only one song: 'On, Brave Old Army Team' " --an encouragement that was no less candid for being, as it turned out, ineffective in the slosh of Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium.

These events were signals that President Ike, thrice felled, was getting up off the canvas again. As a New York Times editorial put it: “Evidently he has had one medicine at his command that no doctor could order from the nearest drugstore. He has taken and prospered by the medicine of courage.” Others opined that the upcoming Army-Navy showdown might have had something to do with Ike making a quick recovery so he could enjoy the action.

It was a cold and rainy day in Philadelphia, and while the fans who packed Municipal Stadium could make out (with some difficulty) the gold numerals on Navy’s special power-blue unis, viewers watching on their black-and-white TV sets at home must have wondered what happened to the numbers on the Mid uniforms, which looked invisible. Unfortunately for Army, it saw those Midshipmen numbers up close...far too close.

The Navy defensive line, led by the rugged Reifsnyder, G Tony Stremic, and E Pete Jokanovich (a quick reactor on defense as well as a sure-handed receiving target on offense for Forrestal), put the clamps on West Point’s nation’s best rushing offense that had been gaining 323 ypg. The jitterbugging Mid “D” and its 8-man fronts distracted the Cadet blocking schemes and allowed Army only 55 yards of total offense in the 2nd half, and a mere 88 yards rushing the entire afternoon, even though Reifsnyder was tossed from the game for fighting in the second half. Meanwhile, HB Ned Oldham took care of the offensive needs, scoring all of Navy’s points on a 6-yard run in the 1st Q and a 44-yard punt return in the 4th, plus adding both conversion kicks. The soggy conditions did not bode well for the passing games of either side, especially Army, whose 60-minute QB Dave Bourland would throw for a mere 44 yards and suffer three picks, one of those by his opposite number Tom Forrestal, whose end zone interception repelled the most serious Cadet drive.

In the end, Navy’s 14-0 win was satisfying and well-deserved. Forrestal, like the rest of the players in the dressing room, was finding it hard to contain his jubilation at beating Army 14-0. An invitation to the Cotton Bowl added to the Navy delirium.

"Did you ever see a line like that?" Forrestal bubbled. "Eighty-eight yards. Army, the best ground offense in the nation, and all they can get from us is 88 yards. Now you know why we call our line the Grocery Seven. They bring home the bacon."

He posed for a picture with Ned Oldham, the halfback who scored all of Navy's points, and Forrestal could not stop the chatter.

"Oldham was great today. He wasn't running with his legs. He was running with his heart. That first touchdown...six guys must have nailed him and still he goes over.

"You know what helped us win today? Those blue jerseys (the light blue shade was a first in the history of Navy football). We were supposed to wear white, but we've been having bad luck in white. We lost the North Carolina game in white and tied Duke. So we asked Eddie (Erdelatz) if we could have another color for the Army game. He had them made about a week ago. Superstitions are silly I guess, but even if they are, these blue jerseys really helped."


When superintendent Rear Admiral Smedberg announced that he would permit the team to play Rice in the Cotton Bowl, FB Ray Wellborn fell into a trance.

"This is something I've been dreaming about since I was 8 years old," said Wellborn. "I'm from Houston, see. I used to play for Rice before I came to the Academy. Doak Walker was my idol when I was a kid. I used to paint his number 37 on my chest with Merthiolate so my mother couldn't make me take it off when I went to bed. I used to dream of playing in the Cotton Bowl just like Doak Walker. Now it's happened and I almost can't believe it. Man, this is the happiest day of my life!"

One of the Navy trainers shouted over the locker room din: "Hasn't anybody got anything to drink but milk? How can I celebrate with nothing stronger than grade A?"

Reifsnyder, Navy's battling All-America tackle who got tossed out of the game for fighting, shouted back. "You think you got troubles?,” said the big lineman. “ How can I smile for the photographers with this tooth that's coming out?" After that, there wasn't much left to do except pose for the photographers, grinning, of course.

The Mids, now ranked fifth in the country, approached the Cotton Bowl assignment with their customary zeal, buoyed by the fact that one of their own, the bruising lineman Reifsnyder, had won the Maxwell Award and was an All-American choice at tackle. Forrestal would finish fifth in the Heisman voting and earn All-American honors as a back. Navy also entered the Cotton Bowl as the winner of the prestigious Lambert Trophy, awarded annually to the East’s best team.

Rice, however, would present a challenge in Dallas. Jess Neely’s Owls roared down the stretch and used a stunning 7-6 upset over Bear Bryant’s top-ranked Texas A&M and Heisman winner John David Crow in mid-November to earn the Cotton bid that would go to the winner of the Southwest Conference. Rice would be led by QB King Hill, who would be the first pick (Chicago Cardinals) in that year’s NFL Draft. The Owls had a pretty good backup QB, too...Frank Ryan, who would eventually take snaps for the Rams and helped lead the Cleveland Browns to the 1964 NFL title. The top receiver was Buddy Dial, who would also go on to a decorated NFL career.

In its preview for the Cotton Bowl, Sports Illustrated had the following breakdown. “The (Navy) line is smart and deep, superb in ranging loose to keep a play turned inside. It also is not easily trapped. Its general quickness and predilection to stunt shifting may be geared in the Cotton Bowl to shoot the gaps and threaten Rice's passing offense, but in doing so it could suffer on screen and draw plays. The backfield, with Ned Oldham the healthiest he has been all season, makes up one of the most diverse attacks in the nation. It admittedly is small, but with Oldham and Harry Hurst swinging wide for pitchouts and Forrestal's really top-notch passing, it can blow open a game in a second.”

Rice-Navy would be the only bowl featuring a pair of top ten teams, and though the matchup would intrigue greatly in the run-up to New Year’s Day, especially the potential aerial duel between King Hill and Forrestal, it was not a compelling game, so complete was the domination of the Midshipmen. The “jitterbug” defense unnerved Hill so much that he didn’t complete a pass until the final play of the first half, and even then, Buddy Dial would fumble after the completion. Hill, who had been pulled in the 2nd Q before making a brief return, would give way in the second half to Ryan, who was able to complete some passes but was doing much of his damage after the Mids had moved easily to a 20-0 lead early in the third quarter.

When the game was in the balance, however, the dominant unit on the field, as it had been for most of the season, was the Navy defense, which would confuse the Owls and force five fumbles on the afternoon. Rice would also record only one first down in the entire first half. Those takeaways would result in short fields for two Navy TD drives, requiring only 33 yards in the 1st Q when sub QB Joe Tranchini would score, and 20 yards in the 3rd Q when Ned Oldham would score almost immediately thereafter on a 19-yard run. In between, Forrestal had led a neat 66-yard, nine-play march in the 2nd Q, completing 45 yards worth of passes and ending the march with a pitchout to Harry Hurst, who scored from the 13, putting Navy up 13-0 at the break.

After Oldham’s TD four minutes into the 3rd Q, with the score 20-0, the outcome was effectively decided, though Ryan did give Rice faint hope late in the 3rd Q when completing four straight passes after an interception by HB-DB Bob Williams. Another Williams, Ken, caught the TD pass from 8 yards to make the score 20-7, but Rice did not threaten again until the final secinds, when Ryan moved the Owls all of the way to the Navy 1 against the Mid reserves. Forrestal would be an easy choice for game MVP after completing a Cotton Bowl-record 13 passes (matched by the belated stats of Ryan, whose completions mostly came after the outcome was decided).

In the end, the 20-7 scoreline seemed about right, with Navy having accumulated 375 yards despite taking its foot off of the pedal in the second half, and the Midshipmen would finish 9-1-1. Erdelatz would proclaim it his best Navy team, and few could argue. The Annapolis bunch would only allow two teams to score double digits that 1957 season in a defensive display that was almost commonplace for the Erdelatz Mids, who had also allowed foes to reach double-digit scoring in just two games per season in each of the preceding four years.

Still, Erdelatz chafed before the subsequent ‘58 campaign. Even if the Middies enjoyed another good year (they lost only two games in the previous two seasons), a second straight bowl trip was not in the cards. Athletic Director Slade Cutter says Navy "definitely will not accept any postseason bowl games because the boys lost too much study time last year practicing for the Rice game." Erdelatz already had a lot of rebuilding to do after graduation had hit the Mids hard, and star lineman Reifsnyder would be lost during the season as part of an injury epidemic, but Navy would still enter the Army game with a 6-2 record. West Point, however, would get its revenge in a 22-6 win, completing the last unbeaten season (8-0-1) in Army annals, with the aforementioned Pete Dawkins winning the Heisman Trophy in what would be Red Blaik’s last game as coach.

It would be Erdelatz’s last game at Navy, too. Still stung by the academy bowl rejection in 1956, and subsequent “no bowl” edict after the Cotton Bowl win, Erdelatz had shown interest in the Texas A&M post that Bear Bryant had abandoned for Alabama, and when word leaked, the Naval Academy had 70 applicants for his job, including, according to academy spokesmen, "30 applicants from major colleges.“ Erdelatz stayed through 1958 but obviously had some other things on his mind. Although Erdelatz refused to give any specific reason for his sudden resignation after 1959 spring practice, it probably had more to do with a new, tougher Annapolis policy on athletics as much as any prior bowl snubs by administrators. The entire Naval Academy, under a new Superintendent, Rear Admiral Charles Melson, and with the approval of Athletic Director Captain Slade Cutter, had undergone a tightening of regulations, and the old free-handed distribution of excess appointments for athletics was likely to suffer.

"I have absolutely no criticism of the academy," Erdelatz said. "I stayed here nine years, longer than any other coach, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity the academy offered me." Erdeltaz would leave Annapolis with a 50-26-8 mark.

Partly because of the timing of his resignation, after spring practice, Erdelatz did not find the high-profile openings he was expecting in 1959, and in 1960 he decided to cast his lot with the new AFL and the Oakland Raiders, who would play their first season in Erdelatz’ native San Francisco, at Kezar Stadium. But Erdelatz was fired after losing his first two games of the following 1961 season by 55-0 (vs. Houston) and 44-0 (vs. San Diego) scorelines. Even a couple of years before Al Davis would arrive, the Raiders could not stand such results. Erdelatz applied for openings at Army and with the NFL St. Louis Cardinals for the 1962 season but came up empty on both and would leave football entirely, working for a financial services company before his untimely passing in 1966 at the age of 53.

What we like to remember about the colorful Erdelatz, however, is probably summed up by his one-of-a-kind reaction immediately after he resigned from the Navy job. As usual, during that 1959 spring practice he had installed a couple of new ideas, and even a day after having resigned, he still couldn't conceal his enthusiasm.

"Here's what I did," Eddie said, brightening. "We had a lot of kids who played for one reason or other last year, and when we checked their performance we found they were about equal. So we're going with two platoons which will play both offense and defense and create competition during the week to see which will start."

Erdelatz had seemingly forgotten that he wouldn't be at Annapolis any longer. After having so much fun for nine seasons, it was hard to turn off that spigot.


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