My grandmother died a couple weeks ago. She was one of my best friends; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as generous and loving as she, and I don’t think I ever will. In going through some of her papers, I found an old recipe that called for, among other things, a not-insignificant measure of MSG. The siblings and I had a laugh; how times have changed!
Something else has harkened back to bygone times in the past couple weeks: Army’s use of the wishbone formation.
Army has used the wishbone extensively in its first two games. I have great respect for West Point, the Army football program and the new athletic director.
But the wishbone is a mistake. There’s a reason it hasn’t been used since the late-1980s.
A division I football coach once said there is a problem with the wishbone. “There’s one-too-many people in the backfield,” he said.
The formation calls for a left halfback, right halfback and fullback. The problem is whichever halfback isn’t involved as an option to receive a pitch is pretty much useless. He’s too far from the line of scrimmage to be an effective blocker or pass receiver, so said the coach.
The wishbone worked well when defenses were using the 5-2, as they were in the 1970s and early 1980s. Then Miami began to recruit speed and moved everyone up one level — safeties to outside linebacker, etc — to get speed on the field. Watch the Orange Bowls between Miami and Oklahoma from 1987 and 1988. The Sooners barely laid a glove on the Hurricanes; one of the games, Oklahoma lost 20-14 and needed a fumblerooski trick play for one of the touchdowns.
Navy’s formation is great because the left halfback and right halfback, in wishbone terminology, are closer to the line of scrimmage; they are threats as blockers or receivers.
Again, I like Army, and wish its football team well 51 weeks of the year. But if the offseason were spent installing an outdated formation, then its coaches have gone down more than a step in my estimation of them.
Army has played okay its first two games on offense, though several of the big plays against San Diego State came when the wishbone formation was not used.
And Army fans will note that its game against San Diego State last week — a 23-20 loss — was much closer than Navy’s game against the same opponent last December.
But the wishbone can be an equalizer if it’s unexpected. Don’t forget Navy used the wishbone to remain tied with Notre Dame into the third quarter of their 1990 meeting at the Meadowlands. ND, ranked in the top 5 at the time as I recall, pulled away for a 52-31 win. Though Navy had played well with the wishbone, and clearly caught ND off-guard; the game was tied at 10-10 at the half.
Now, film has circulated of Army’s formation. I am afraid if they stick with the wishbone they are in for a very long season.
The era of Chet Gladchuk as Navy athletic director has had some historic moments. Great hires like Paul Johnson, Cindy Timchal, Ed DeChellis and Stefanie Pemper; keeping Ken Niumatalolo, Ivin Jasper and Buddy Green in the fold; the upgrades to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium; and the TV deal with CBS College Sports has been amazing, one of the more underrated moves of his career.
So I hope this comes across as the minor rebuke for which it is meant: I was unhappy that, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Navy football team was almost invisible, playing a road game on an internet-only feed.
Army and Air Force both had televised home games that included some pretty moving moments. Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani attended the San Diego State-Army game and was interviewed on TV. Versus network caught Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun shaking hands with many of the cadet wing an hour or so before his team’s game against 25th-ranked Texas Christian. (Dozens of the cadet wing are politely asked to attend each Air Force home game.)
I was at the first Navy game — a home game — after the 9/11 attacks, against Boston College. That game was nearly invisible too; one major newspaper even had a picture of the Brigade in formation and called it ‘the Corps of Midshipmen’ on A1 above-the-fold. It wasn’t televised, even though Navy played pretty well and hung tight with BC before losing, 38-21.
Thanks in so small part to the Navy athletic department’s leadership, Navy football today is not recognizable from that era.
But it would have been nice to be able to come together and honor those who have fallen from the terrorist attacks and the amazing young men and women at Navy who are volunteering to keep all of us safe in the future.