By Greg Connors
The 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is being commemorated by media outlets throughout the world. Many football fans know that the NFL went ahead with its games two days after the president’s death, while the AFL postponed that weekend’s games, partly at the urging of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson.
There was another football game that year that was postponed by a week, one that commanded more national attention than any professional game played that year. That was the 1963 Army-Navy game, the story of which is told in a CBS Sports Network documentary, “Marching On: 1963 Army-Navy Game Remembered,” which debuts tonight at 8 on the cable network.
If the radio commentator Paul Harvey were still alive, he would be the perfect narrator for “Marching On.” As Harvey might say, “You know what the news was in November 1963. Now you’ll know the rest of the story.”
College football was more popular than the pro game in 1963, the documentary points out, and there was no bigger game than Army versus Navy. The game regularly drew more than 100,000 spectators in those days. They were attracted not only by the tradition of these amateur warriors – and future military leaders – vying for bragging rights, but the game also represented football at its highest level that year.
Navy was led by Roger Staubach, who became Navy’s second Heisman Trophy winner in four years (halfback Joe Bellino won it in 1960). The Midshipmen were the No. 2 ranked team in the country.
Staubach became a Pro Football Hall of Famer with the Dallas Cowboys, but Army also had a pretty spectacular quarterback of its own in Rollie Stichweh.
Navy was a solid favorite when the teams met in Philadelphia, but Stichweh and the Cadets gave them all they could handle. Spoiler alert: Navy won the game when Stichweh, who had the Cadets at Navy’s 2-yard-line with the clock running out, appealed to the officials to let him call timeout because of the tremendous crowd noise in the stadium. No timeout was granted and the clock expired, sealing Navy’s 21-15 victory.
The drama of that day, with all of the raw emotions felt by many in the wake of the president’s death, is vividly brought to life in “Marching On.” Among those interviewed are Staubach, Stichweh, former Navy coach Wayne Hardin, former Army coach Paul Dietzel, and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick (pictured), whose father, Steve Belichick, was a Navy assistant.
After tonight’s premiere, CBS Sports Network will re-air “Marching On” at 3 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday.