This article was originally published on December 5, 2004.
Navy fullback Kyle Eckel spoke about what a great honor it was to have the President of the United States - "a very important man, to say the least" - address his team yesterday just before it faced Army. The President talked about the importance of what they were doing.
Later, after Navy had dominated the Cadets, 42-13, at Lincoln Financial Field and Eckel had been named most valuable player in the Army-Navy game for the second straight year, the fullback told the truth.
"You try to drown that out," he said of the Commander-in-Chief's visit. "It's extracurricular stuff. A lot of us were like 'C'mon, c'mon.' It's a great honor, but everybody is focusing at that moment to get out there."
"I think he told us to go out and bust their heads," said safety Josh Smith, the Midshipmen's defensive captain. "He probably told them the same thing."
The Midshipmen followed orders. They scored four second-quarter touchdowns to take all the drama out of the game.
Eckel, perhaps Navy's best professional prospect in a decade, spent much of his youth living a few blocks from the site of the Linc, where he ran 26 times for a career-high 179 yards yesterday.
Eckel actually lost yardage on a play late in the second quarter when Navy ran him out wide. But by the third quarter, he was over 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season.
The Midshipmen, who are 9-2 heading into their Emerald Bowl date with New Mexico, had last won as many as nine games in a regular season in 1963. Their latest victory over Army tied the all-time series between the teams at 49-49-7.
Navy has outscored Army by 134-31 in the last three meetings, all easy victories, and has won five of the last six times the teams have played.
The Cadets, under new coach Bobby Ross, had believed they were ready for this one, even though they had entered the game with a 2-8 record. They were convinced that their changing defensive fronts could keep Navy off-kilter and that they could move the ball on the ground.
In the first half, Army's defense spent most of the time on the field. Army tailback Carlton Jones ran effectively, finishing with 98 yards on 21 carries, but when the Cadets tried to mix it up, they floundered. At one point, three straight passes by quarterback Zac Dahman were touched first by Navy defenders.
And that was before the play of the game, one on which Smith engulfed a pass by Dahman and returned it 67 yards for Navy's third touchdown, which came with just over six minutes left before halftime.
Smith later talked about how he had looked up at the Jumbotron screen in the end zone as he was running.
"I saw No. 30," Smith said, referring to Jones, who had chased him. "I knew he was fast."
If Eckel hadn't been the MVP, it almost certainly would have been Smith, who made 12 tackles, two for losses, including a 12-yard sack of Dahman when the Cadets were driving.
Smith repeatedly faked a safety blitz in the first half, then began doing more than just faking it after halftime.
"There were three or four times that we ran it that they weren't prepared for it," he said. "We knew if we could get one-on-one with their backs, they weren't their best blockers."
Smith, Navy's leading tackler for the third straight season, was the feel-good story of the day. He'd had to watch last year's game from the Wyndham Philadelphia at Franklin Plaza hotel in Center City after undergoing an appendectomy three days before the game. Doubled over in pain earlier, he had tried to convince Navy's coaches and doctors that the surgery could be delayed so that he could play. The worst part, he said, was watching his teammates celebrate the victory without him.
After watching another Navy celebration, offensive tackle Joel Glover, an Army team captain, was visibly emotional almost an hour after the game.
"We anticipated doing so much better than we did," he said. "We didn't deliver. It should have been a lot closer."
"We don't ever want to get behind," Ross said. "We're a team that has to stay fairly even. The game just got away from us. We'd line up and play well for three plays, and then there would be a big play that would bust loose for them."
Asked about the Midshipmen having won handily again, Eckel said the word handily didn't apply to Army-Navy.
"I got a shot in the ribs," Eckel said. "I'm still hurting."