Game 039:at Holy Cross 79, Navy 56 Friday, January 21, 2005 Hart Center - Worcester, MA
Just a little over 98 years ago, Navy basketball was born. After a well-attended intramural scrimmage at the U.S. Naval Academy, played a mere decade and a half after the peach-basket birth of the sport, the local Annapolis newspaper trumpeted that "there is no question that the game made itself popular in one bound and will become one of the regular sports at the institution."
And it has. The Navy Midshipmen have reached the NCAA Tournament eleven times, including a dream season in 1985-86 when they went 30-5 and struck deeply into the Big Bracket. Navy's third-ever Elite Eight run was keyed by a man who arrived at the Academy a 6'9" weakling and left a 7'1" dominator who'd go on to a NBA career that will land him in the Hall Of Fame. You might have heard of him: David Robinson.
"It's sensational what Navy's done," said Mike Krzyzewski at the time, his Duke Blue Devils having ended the Mids' season in the 1986 East Regionals. "Having coached at Army, I can say that... sensational."
As mentioned previously, Coach K was the last sideline-pacer to have any success at that other Academy. That was back when a Navy man, Jimmy Carter, sat in the Oval Office. While Army and Navy have a great gridiron rivalry going, it's difficult to get too excited about the generally one-sided hoop tradition. Navy has dominated the 100-game series by a nearly 2-to-1 count (game 101 is Sunday afternoon at Army's Christl Arena), has won 26 of the last 29 meetings, and save for three years they've made the Alumni Trophy a permanent installation in Annapolis. Fitting, too - the two silver plates bearing each Academy's logo was the gift of a Navy alum, Captain Victor Delano, back in 1984.
Both squads have stuggled of late, and the Academies currently prop up the other six Patriot League teams in the standings. But while Army has gone through a carousel of helmsmen, Navy actually fired a coach last year who had a winning record in his 12 years. Don Devoe had compiled a 184-161 mark with two straight PL championships in the late Nineties, but three consecutive 20-loss seasons were too much to bear. Navy has a tradition to uphold.
Watching Navy play, it's difficult to imagine why they'd be an abysmal 3-14 at this point. They have a full complement of different-sized bodies, they run the floor spirited and strong. As of this writing, they've scored a respectable 67 points per game. (It's their defense that needs fine-tuning - they've given up a PL-worst 77.) But the most impressive thing about the Midshipmen is that they play as hard 30 points down as they do when they're close.
So what's Navy's secret? Why are they able to hang in with superior teams, while their country-defending colleagues at Army play out their basketball existences in a slump-shouldered funk?
While heading out the doors of the Hart Center on Friday night, I spotted a strange container in amongst a pile of spent Powerade cups: an odd-looking beige-colored institutional product box with a screw-on top. Upon its front was a royal blue sticker with the USNA logo which read, "United States Naval Academy Midshipmen's Wardroom: Punch Sport Drink."
It's not a shatterproof theory by any means, or even a viable one, but perhaps there's something in Navy's special sports beverage that helps them maintain their pride and pluck during yet another rebuilding year. There, in that mixture of high fructose corn syrup, sodium citrate and potassium chloride must be a mystery agent that only Midshipmen are privy to. "The juice" definitely doesn't contain anything on the illicit level of "the clear" or "the cream," otherwise they'd be all up in Bucknell's grill at the top of the conference. But maybe, at the very least, it helps the players put up with all those "ship," "boat" and "duty" metaphors that journalists use when writing about Navy games.
There are six servings in that 46-oz. vessel, so it takes exactly two boxes to get the whole team Punched up. Each serving contains only 60 calories, so it doesn't weigh the Mids' bodies down with excess glop as they run the floor. There are 15 grams of net carbs, so Atkins dieters need not apply. But it's got to be better than over-the-counter sports drinks like Gatorade, because it's 100% government-approved and has the great taste of fruit punch.
Driving back from Worcester, I found myself craving a single sip of that mysterious concoction, that Punch Sports Drink. Could it give me the killer jump shot that's always eluded me? Could I finally make a Boston Marathon qualifying time if I had some of that magical stuff? And would it improve my blogging?
In this game, Holy Cross was bigger, stronger and worked harder, and peeled off blistering 19-0 and 7-0 runs in the first half. The Midshipmen never said die - with a balanced team effort, Navy cut the lead to nine in the early stages of the second. But the Crusaders slammed on the gas down the stretch, and used their superior speed and agility to build a lead that reached 27 points. Navy was broken on the scoreboard, but not in spirit - they kept their heads high, and didn't stop running plays or looking alive. Maybe Navy's juice had some effect after all, it seemed to maintain their fighting spirits.
But if we've learned anything from Space Jam, it's that there's no such thing as a "special juice" that can help you beat the Monstars. Like that unmarked beverage that the Toon Squad gulped down before games, the primary ingredient of Navy's special punch is plain old water. The Midshipmen may not be as hapless as the Nerdlucks up in West Point, but they're still a few Bugs Bunnies away from returning to Patriot League contention.