Pitt vs. Navy matchup played 50 years ago was one for the history books
Two unranked teams sitting on the edge of respectability will meet Saturday in Annapolis, Md.
The game between Pitt and Navy is one of many scheduled for a typically busy college football Saturday. When a winner is declared at the end of the day, almost no one other than players, coaches and fans will pay close attention.
Unless, of course, they have experienced the pageantry of service academy football. Unless they have watched the midshipmen in their spotless, neatly tailored suits march in lock-step to seats they never use inside Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
Roger Staubach and Ernie Borghetti, who lined up against each other 50 years ago for the most memorable of the 38 Pitt vs. Navy games, will tell you it's unlike any other staged across the country.
“There is still something special about watching service academy football games,” said Staubach, a college and pro hall of famer who won the Heisman Trophy after leading Navy to a 24-12 victory against Pitt in 1963. “With all the craziness going on in the world, people really relate (to the military).
“The good news is the American people are really helping and supporting veterans today. They didn't do a lot of that after Vietnam.”
Borghetti, an All-American two-way lineman for Pitt who chased Staubach up and down the field that day, said the atmosphere is “overwhelming.”
“(The midshipmen) would stand during the whole game and cheer,” he said.
In 1963, Pitt and Navy were two of the top teams in the country. Navy (9-2) went on to play Texas for the national championship in the Cotton Bowl, losing 28-6. Pitt had one of its best teams and finished 9-1 and ranked fifth, but the Panthers did not receive a bowl invitation after the last game of the season, against Penn State, was postponed two weeks because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“We had more notoriety from (being uninvited) than we would have had if we won the national championship,” said quarterback Fred Mazurek, who missed most of the Navy game with a broken toe suffered the week before at West Virginia.
The game was such a big event that 3,000 people watched it on closed-circuit television inside Fitzgerald Field House, with Pitt sports publicity director Beano Cook calling the play-by-play. Cook angered many Pitt fans when, during the telecast, he declared Staubach “probably the greatest quarterback of all time,” according to a story in the Pitt News.
Staubach, who won the Heisman despite throwing only seven touchdown passes that season, said his team had an edge through a detailed scouting report written by linebackers coach Steve Belichick, father of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Navy intercepted four passes that day.
For Staubach and his teammates — seven of whom became admirals in the Navy, while a few others died in Vietnam — the Pitt game was part of a season of intense emotions. It ended, hauntingly, with the loss at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the same city where Kennedy died only 40 days earlier.
The Army-Navy game that season was postponed and almost canceled. It finally was played at the request of first lady Jackie Kennedy.
“We still talk about that game and what it meant to the country,” Staubach said.
President Kennedy's death hit the Navy team hard, Staubach said, because he had met them and shook every players' hand when they conducted summer camp near Hyannis Port, Mass. After the 1962 Army-Navy game, Kennedy visited the Midshipmen in their jublilant locker room.
“As the commander in chief, he sat on both sides,” Staubach said, “but according to urban legend, he said, ‘I would stay with Navy.' He was a PT-109 guy.
“He was there in '61, and he was there in '62. And he would have been there in '63.”