The greatest Army vs. Navy game was special on the field, but it meant even more because of what was happening off of it.
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Greatest Army – Navy Game
Navy 21, Army 15. December 7, 1963
The Army-Navy rivalry has contributed several historic moments, and plenty of big games that stopped the world cold, but there was one that meant more than all the rest.
Navy was on a roll with a five-game winning streak after a stunning loss early on against a mediocre SMU. At 8-1, the Midshipmen were heavily-favored and expected to roll at will on Army for a fifth straight time.
Army was okay, but it suffered a loss early on to a bad Minnesota team and was coming off a 28-0 blowout at Pitt. Even so, at 7-2 this was a decent enough squad to provide a bit of a fight, even if it was overmatched.
The game was scheduled for November 30th in Philadelphia as the end of Army’s season and with Navy still going off to the Cotton Bowl, but everything changed the week before.
On Friday, November 22nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed.
The game was going to be cancelled so soon after the tragedy, but Jackie Kennedy asked that the game go on – it would’ve been what the President had wanted. So after being postponed a week, it was played on December 7th, with the historic date adding even more to the backdrop.
The two teams more than lived up to the moment.
With the score tied at seven, Navy’s Pat Donnelly ripped off a 20-yard touchdown run for the lead, and seemed to put it away with his third touchdown of the day and a dominating 21-7 lead.
Army’s offense had struggled for weeks, scoring just 22 points in its previous three games, but all of a sudden, it came to life at just the right time.
Quarterback Rollie Stichweh led the way to a long scoring drive along with a two-point conversion to pull within six with just over six minutes to play. Knowing the Navy offense was strong enough to run out the clock, Army went for the onside kick, recovered it, and the suddenly-hot attack came back onto to the field.
Stichweh got Army within scoring range with time winding down, but he needed to hit a fourth down pass with just 90 seconds left to get down to the Navy seven. Going conservative, Army got the ball down to the two as the clock was ticking, and then things got crazy.
The crowd was screaming the entire drive, and with 20 seconds left and Army needing to get a play off, Stichweh turned to the official and asked for him to motion to quiet everyone down.
It didn’t really work.
Army’s offense came to the line, but claiming he couldn’t hear, Stichweh once again turned to the official, who motioned for the crowd to be quiet. The Army offense went back into a huddle, but Stichweh missed that the clock had started up again. Trying to hurry things up, he asked once again to stop the clock because of the noise.
He got the break and the official once again signaled for the time, but once the clock restarted it ran out on Stichweh before he could get the play off.
Navy would finish the season ranked second in both polls, but this was back before the rankings were done after the bowl games. Played in Dallas – obviously where President Kennedy was assassinated – Navy was crushed 28-6 by Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
As it turned out, this would be the last truly important Army-Navy game football-wise. Each program had some success after, but there was never another game of this magnitude.