JFK Assassination and the 1963 Army/Navy Game

November 14, 2013 | Marty Mossa

I love writing these blogs. It’s a hobby of mine to write about one of the things I enjoy most and that is about the world of sports. Another passion of mine is US history. What I enjoy most however is linking the world of sports to US history.

The most intriguing event to me is the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy 35th President of the United States. Most passionate historians wish they had a time machine to take them back. There are the Civil War buffs that reenact the Battle of Gettysburg, the Patapsco Neck Historical Society who reenact the Battle of North Point and the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812. But if there was one event I wish I could go back to it would be the day the US changed for good. I wish I could go back to Dealey Plaza in Downtown Dallas, Texas on Friday, November 22, 1963.

Although I was only three years old when JFK was killed and I don’t remember that day; I’ve read countless books and magazines and watched a lifetime of movies, documentaries and TV shows on the JFK killing. I even met the photograph expert who testified at the House Select Committee Hearings in 1977 & 1978. I also met the granddaughter of Abraham Zapruder who shot the world’s most famous home movie.

I’m an avid NFL and NHL fan. I don’t really follow college football very closely. In 1968 I took a tour of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and became intrigued. I watched my 1st Army/Navy game in November of 1968. I’ve watched just about everyone ever since. I love the Army/Navy game.

When the CBS Sports Network aired a show on Thursday called Marching On: The 1963 Army/Navy Game; well they had a captive audience.

The Army/Navy game was one of the biggest annual sporting events of its time in the 1950’s & early 60’s. There was neither a Super Bowl nor National Title Game. Navy was a collegiate powerhouse in the early sixties. The Midshipmen produced Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino in 1962, and Roger Stabauch in 1963. Bellino was invited to the White House to meet JFK.

President John F. Kennedy was a Navy veteran. He is best known as the young officer who saved his crew in the South Pacific during World War II when a Japanese destroyer sliced through his PT boat cutting it in half.

Kennedy loved the Army/Navy game. In the early sixties the game was played the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Kennedy attended the 64th meeting in 1961 game. Both academies were honored to have him do the coin toss before the game. Over 100,000 jammed Philadelphia Stadium in Philadelphia, PA to watch the game. (Later to be called JFK Stadium after his death).

During the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis; it was understood that if needed, the Middies and Cadets of Army would graduate their seniors early and send them to war. Juniors would become seniors and graduate in June of 1963.

After Kennedy stared down the Russians and caused the Soviet Premier Khrushchev to blink, he became a hero to the Midshipmen and Cadets.

After future NFL Hall of Famer and two time Super Bowl Champion Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy, Time Magazine contacted Naval Academy Information Director (1962-1973) Budd Thaiman and told him Roger would be on the cover of the November 25th edition of Time Magazine. Thaiman asked “what would it take to keep him off the cover?.” The Time Mag editor responded by saying “only a national tragedy,”

That tragedy of course was the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Time had to scrap the cover and scramble to piece together a JFK memorial edition.

The 1963 Army/Navy Game was scheduled to play on Saturday, November 30, 1963. But seven days prior to this scheduled game JFK came home to the White House in a flag draped casket and the game’s status was undetermined.

The Kennedy family realized the importance of playing the Army/Navy game. After all “it was President Kennedy’s game.” (John Feinstein) By request of Jackie Kennedy, the game was to be played. The game was moved to Saturday, December 7th 1963 (Pearl Harbor Day & 15 days after that fateful day in Dallas). I also want to note that a day earlier; Jackie Kennedy and her children Caroline and JFK Jr. moved out of the White House for good.

The pregame ceremony was very solemn. There was no joy in the stands. The nation was still in deep mourning. 102,000 people filled Philadelphia Stadium on that day. Army was 11 ½ point underdogs. Navy halfback Pat Donnelly dominated the game with three touchdowns. Navy took a 21-7 lead through the last 11 minutes of the game. Army rallied and cut it to 21-15 with seven minutes left and recovered the onside kick. The Cadets got the ball down to the Navy two yard line but time ran out before they could snap the ball and Navy won the game.

As time ran down 102,000 people went wild and screamed, it was if the dark cloud of the recent events were lifting. Although many credit the arrival of the Beatles to US soil in February, 1964 as the end of America’s grief; many people believe that America’s coming out party began on December 7, 1963 in Philadelphia, PA.

Just a side note: The US Naval Academy Football team played the University of Texas in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1964. The Navy players were only 41 days removed from the JFK assassination. They would play in a stadium only a few miles from Dealey Plaza. The Navy players visited the Texas School Book Depository and took a moment of silence in Kennedy’s honor.

Navy went on to lose to Texas 28-6.

For those of you out there that have never watched the Army/Navy Football Game, I highly recommend it. The 114th meeting of Westpoint and Annapolis will be on Saturday, December 14, 2013. Believe me when I tell you that you’ll be hooked.

(All the information gathered in this blog were from notes taken during the show Marching On: The 1963 Army/Navy Game, aired November 14, 2013, CBSSN).

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