December 27, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Here’s what I’ve learned the past few days while Pitt prepared to meet Navy on Monday in the Military Bowl.
— Navy players aren’t especially happy about having to play a bowl game on their home field — Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. — while their American Athletic Conference brethren went to places such Miami Beach, Fla., Boca Raton, Fla., and Hawaii.
— I now can spell Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo’s name without looking it up.
— The Pitt’s coach’s name is actually pronounced Nar-Dut-Chee (at least, among his Italian relatives and friends).
Other than that, I haven’t learned enough to back off my original prediction that Pitt can beat the No. 21 Midshipmen. I believe Tyler Boyd — participating in an unofficial NFL audition — will have a big game against Navy’s secondary that allowed Army’s Edgar Allan Poe (yes, that’s his name) five receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Pitt 24, Navy 21 (the opposite of Navy’s victory against the Panthers in 2013).
Pitt will display a big, blue Conner Strong banner outside the stadium Monday and is inviting people to sign it in support of running back James Conner, who is battling Hodgkins lymphoma. The banner will be next to Gate 6 (550 Taylor Avenue) of the parking lot on the Gold side of the field from 9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
The banner also will be held up as Pitt runs onto the field before the game, and officials are asking people to chant “Conner Strong.”
No matter who gets the permanent job as Pitt’s offensive coordinator, the interim guy says he’ll be back next season. “Unless my wife has me moving somewhere else,” Tim Salem said.
The Military Bowl also is an audition for Salem, the former tight ends coach who is a candidate for the permanent job when Narduzzi starts his search in earnest next month.
Asked if he plans any changes for the game, Salem said, “Bring your seat belt.”
“You get bored and stale from playing a football season,” he said, “but you give (the players) something new.”
Within reason, of course. “We’re not idiots that we can go out and run the Wishbone and match Navy,” he said.
The idea is to win, whether that involves “razzle-dazzle plays … or 10 quarterback sneaks in a row,” he said.
Narduzzi said he will keep a closer eye on the offense “just because it’s new. Be a little more focused on the game clock. The game’s too critical.”
Pitt and Navy have met 39 times, with the Panthers holding a 22-14-3 edge. The teams met in all but three seasons from 1961-1989, perhaps none more memorable than Oct. 26, 1963.
Navy won, 24-12, behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach . Pitt was led by two-way All-America lineman Ernie Borghetti, whose son E.J. is now the school’s executive associate athletic director/media relations and one of the most loyal Pitt men you’ll ever meet.
Pitt finished 9-1 that season, but it was not invited to a bowl because the Orange Bowl was fearful the Panthers would lose to Penn State two weeks later. Pitt/PSU was postponed by the JFK assassination.
Pitt won, 22-21, but it was too late. Navy (9-2) went on to play for the national championship in the Cotton Bowl, but lost to Texas, 28-6.
One more note from 1963 that may be interesting only to me: CBS introduced instant replay to the nation in the Army-Navy game Dec. 7, a contest Kennedy, a Navy man, was scheduled to attend.
When Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh scored on a 1-yard plunge late in the game, CBS replayed it and viewers were confused. They ended up flooding the CBS switchboard, thinking they had seen Army score twice, according to Michael Connelly’s book “The President’s Team: The 1963 Army-Navy Game and the Assassination of JFK.”
Legendary play-by-play man Lindsey Nelson assured everyone it was only a replay, and an invention we cannot live without today was born.
A couple of quick notes: Pitt wide receiver Zach Challingsworth, who had become a receiving alternative to Boyd late in the season, hurt his shoulder against Miami last month and won’t play against Navy. Challingsworth, a sophomore from South Fayette, had recent surgery. … Pitt hasn’t defeated a ranked opponent since knocking off No. 24/25 Notre Dame in 2013.