December 11, 2010

Anderson looked to inspire on the field & in the locker room

On a first and goal at the 3 yard line, Army was about to go in for another touchdown and go off at the half trailing Navy by the score of 17-14.

"The Fumble"

But suddenly the ball popped out of the arms of Army quarterback Trent Steelman and into the arms of Navy safety Wyatt Middleton. He then took off the other way for 98 yards to stun the sellout crowd of more than 69,000 at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday afternoon.

The Black Knights, who hadn't beaten Navy in eight years, were suddenly down 24-7, and one minute later jogged off the field to regroup at the half.

Or at least try to.

Inspiring the Team

That's when senior captain Stephen Anderson stepped up. That's when the leader at the very front of this team did what Cadets are taught to do at West Point.

He acted in a moment of opportunity, in a moment of adversity, instinctively.

Last week Army veteran Buddy Bucha spoke with the team, encouraging and inspiring them coming into the 111th Army-Navy game. A Medal of Honor recipient, Bucha took the team by surprise when he tossed the medal toward them.

"He threw it right to me, I caught it,'' Anderson was saying about half an hour after the game, standing in the bowels of the stadium with his No. 50 jersey still on. "It was something I didn't know how to react to. It was an amazing experience.

"This guy just gave me the Medal of Honor,'' he said, clearly still amazed. "He told me to use it, that it's ours for the bowl game.''

And the Navy game.

In the locker room, Anderson reached into his cubicle and grabbed the medal. He moved his thumb around its imprints. And an imprint moved him.

"You can't leave anything out there,'' he said. "That's what (Bucha) did, he left nothing out there. He even said there was more he could have done after winning the Medal of Honor.

"That's something in here,'' he said, putting his fist against his chest. "That's something in a human being, that you say, "Enough's enough. Not on my watch.'

"I took the medal, I let the team touch it up. I was just trying to do my best to influence our guys and get them excited to play the second half. As well as (Navy) did in 30 minutes,'' he told his teammates, "we can do that much better in 30 minutes.''

What Navy did was totally dominate Army in those first 30 minutes: 163 yards passing to Army's 5; just six feet short of out-gaining the Black Knights by 100 yards.

And the 24-7 lead.

Army didn't win Saturday's game, which ended 31-17.

But even in the final five minutes, when Army scored on a long pass to close it to 31-17, you could see the hope. You could see, right there on the sidelines, they thought they could still find a way.

"There's not a point where we thought we were going to be out of the game,'' Anderson said. "We know four minutes is plenty of time, our offense was getting it going. Yeah, there was some letdown on the sidelines, definitely felt that. That's what we needed, a little spark. If we could have gotten the ball back a little quicker for our offense it could have been a little different.''

Still, the Corps in the gray winter coats continued their enthusiasm. As the late TD was scored, 17 of them quick-stepped down the concrete steps and ran out by the cheerleaders to drop for 17 pushups.

Up in the stands, hundreds of the Corps turned to look up to the second level where five bare-chested young men led a chant with the Cadets while twirling their shirts in the air.

And of course there was soon-to-be-retire Col. Dan Ragsdale, who, with his black No. 12 shirt on, led the Corps to spirited levels of enthusiasm.

But in the end, there was Anderson, pacing the sidelines, a dirt-stained white towel limp on his left hip, No. 50 stenciled at its bottom. He would walk 10 yards that way and 10 yards this way, stopping only to look up at the jumbo screen where his team was trying to make the score 31-17 in the final minutes.

But he did have a look of a guy waiting to punch someone in the face.

"I never wanted a game more than this one,'' he would say. "Our team prepared like hell. We did as much as we could to make sure we were ready for this game. It's kind of been the way our season went. "The ball didn't bounce our way - again.

The Brotherhood: Friend & Foe

"I didn't beat Air Force, I didn't be Navy my entire career here, and that's something…I'll never get over it. I consider myself a competitor, as a team we consider ourselves that we can win any game we go into.

"These guys again, are why I play the game; I'll never forget playing next to my brothers today.''

And playing against some of his future brothers, even though they made him bleed, literally and figuratively.

Saturday's game was decided on big plays, with Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs throwing touchdown passes for 77 and 32 yards. And the 98-yard return of the fumble.

"It's again, Air Force game, two big passes (53 and 63 yards in a 42-22 loss), Navy game, two big passes. You figure an option team, there's a difference between running the ball and passing the ball. I don't even know how many yards they had rushing (139), but I know it wasn't a lot, and I know they felt us coming, and, they knew they were going to get hit by several Black Knights.

"Ricky (Dobbs), (RB Alexander) Teich, those guys did a great job grounding, pounding and Ricky made some great throws. Nothing but respect for those guys, they're going to be my future brothers in arms, so, as much as it hurts to say it, I love those guys.''

The feeling was mutual, as the senior from Maryland exchanged hand shakes and hugs with several players in the different colored uniforms.

"A lot of those Navy guys said they were watching me for four years, they just told me I'm a hell of an athlete, great football player, great instinctive player. I just hope the legacy I leave behind is something along those lines.''

Hopefully it will be a legacy the likes of the 1995 team, as seniors that year passed the torch to a 1996 team that would go 10-2 and go to Army's last bowl until this year.

"That's exactly what I'm going to attack coming up,'' Anderson offered. "There's going to be an underclassman who takes control of this team for our bowl game. And the guys will respect that. It's something like our handing off period. It's our seniors (on the) way out and the underclassmen's way in, and everyone has to understand that the way we finish the season is the way they're going to start next season. No questions asked. That's just the way it's gonna be.''

That's the way it's always been at West Point. Every year there's new leaders. Sometimes it's Thee leader.

And yet for as well as he played this year, especially coming off a knee injury that had him miss the last three games of last season, Anderson's standards left him wondering if he really could have done more.

Even though he led the team in tackles with 12, even though he forced one fumble and recovered another.

"Leadership-wise,'' he would say, "I think I could have had my guys more prepared. But, I don't have any regrets. I left everything I had out on that field.''

Just like a guy on a different kind of field might do, a West Point grad who would go on to receive the Medal of Honor.

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