Monthly Archives: July 2011

Navy Captains Look to Seize The Day

Alexander Teich and Jabaree Tuani lead the Midshipmen into the 2011 season.

By Bob Socci

Originally posted on http://www.navysports.com on July 29, 2011.

If your summertime reading includes college football annuals, you’re likely sensing a return to what Navy fans knew as the norm for most of the last eight years.

Virtually all of those seasons, amounting to a modern-day renaissance for the Midshipmen, began with relatively little national fanfare. Expectations rose only gradually, as Navy kept extending its ongoing streak of winning records and bowl games.

Generally, even the most optimistic projections only went so far. Written outlooks typically read like weather forecasts calling for partly sunny skies: Winning the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy is a definite possibility. There’s a good chance of returning to the postseason. If things break right, this just might be an eight-win team.

Fullback Alexander Teich rushed for 210 yards last year vs. Notre Dame (Nick Laham/Getty Images).

That seemed the consensus every August. Invariably, by late October, the Mids would turn up on the radar, on their way to at least eight wins. Seven Decembers in a row, they were crowned CIC champions. Perennially, people eventually noticed: The Little Team That Could had done it again.

All that changed last summer.

So-called insiders outside of Annapolis looked at Navy differently. Ten victories in 2009, following a narrow loss at Ohio State and capped by a Texas Bowl rout of Missouri, convinced some prognosticators to foresee the potential for an unbeaten finish to 2010. Those same pundits hailed quarterback Ricky Dobbs as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

They weren’t the only ones entertaining visions of Navy grandeur.

“We want to have a perfect season,” Dobbs admitted to Steward Mandel of SI.com.

“Top 25, undefeated, BCS bowl game — that’s all that is left. That’s what the next level is,” said fellow co-captain Wyatt Middleton in an Associated Press story.

Such talk about and, frankly, from Midshipmen was unfamiliar. As we soon learned, it was also unrealistic. And unfair. Unable to meet such outsized expectations, Navy still managed nine wins and reached another bowl. Imperfect as it was, that’s still a damn good year.

Turning the pages of periodicals to see what’s written in 2011, there’s concern on paper about significant roster turnover and what figures to be a very strenuous schedule. The Mids are ranked as high as the mid-50s (Lindy’s and Athlon) and as low as the mid-80s (Phil Steele’s).

To senior fullback Alexander Teich, they’re right where they want to be. For now.

“At times last year, we’d get caught up in what was going to happen down the road,” Teich said earlier in the offseason. “We got a little too full of ourselves early on. That’s not the Navy way. If we get attention, we’ll take it. But we’re not going to go out and seek it.”

As Dobbs’s successor in the role of offensive captain, Teich is focused on the finer details. And concentrating only on the immediate future.

“Win the game every day,” he says of this year’s overriding objective. “In the weight room, win the day. In practice, have a better day than the previous day.”

Throughout their eight-year run from 2003-10 — resulting in a 70-33 (.680) record — the Mids were at their best when carrying a chip on their shoulder pads. The playing field was their proving ground.

They must see it the same way in 2011. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo puts it this way: “We can’t forget who we are.”

It’s his constant reminder that although Navy’s program is populated by “tough, smart kids,” as Niumatalolo says, they “have to play harder than everyone else.” Or else.

No doubt, he’ll be repeating that point from Wednesday’s practice — the first of the preseason — right up to the afternoon of the Sept. 3 opener vs. Delaware. So will Teich and fellow co-captain Jabaree Tuani.

Perhaps, one more emotionally than the other.

“I wear my emotions on my sleeve,” admits Teich, who doesn’t plan to temper them as elected leader of the Mids’ offense. “I’ve been the same person all along. I’m still full of energy and a vocal person. I think people feed off that energy. People react that way, when I’m more fired up on the sideline.”

Whereas Teich’s unit is experienced, Tuani’s is exactly the opposite.

The offense returns eight starters and features a well-established heir apparent to Dobbs in senior Kriss Proctor. The defense lost eight starters and welcomes back only two of its top six tacklers from 2010.

Jabaree Tuani (98) started 35 of the last 36 games (Hunter Martin/Getty Images).

“I’m definitely trying to be more of a vocal leader,” says Tuani, a starter in 35 of the last 36 games. “I’m trying to help people mature. We need guys to come out of their shell and reach their potential.”

And how.

There’s a month to resolve considerable personnel issues, particularly on the back end. Absent from the secondary are safety Middleton and cornerback Kevin Edwards, who graduated with a combined 80 starts. No longer at linebacker are Tyler Simmons, Aaron McCauley and Jerry Hauburger; three of last year’s top four in tackles.

What’s more, the first test for their successors is against a Delaware team coming off an appearance in the FCS Championship game. Featuring All-America running back Andrew Pierce, the Blue Hens seek their third win in Annapolis since 2003.

Two weeks later, the degree of difficulty increases exponentially at South Carolina, a favorite in the SEC East. Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks only happen to have, arguably, the nation’s premier running back (Marcus Lattimore) and wide receiver (Alshon Jeffrey).

With no margin for error, there’s little time to grow up.

“We really need (everyone) to focus, and be on their keys,” Tuani says, echoing Teich’s call for an everyday sense of urgency. “Take our (offseason) `Fourth Quarter’ (conditioning) drills. Nobody really wants to be out there. But come game time, like Coach says, `You play like you practice.’

“I always try to think about this: everybody should (think) like a senior, because a senior always remembers his last game. You don’t want to let anyone down who came before you.”

Of course, if teammates can play remotely as well as their senior co-captains, it won’t be long before Navy gets noticed again.

Both are healthy, after battling injuries much of last season, and enter their final campaign considered among the best at their respective positions. Teich was `watch-listed’ for the Doak Walker Award; Tuani for the Rotary Lombardi Award.

A year ago, Teich rushed 147 times for 863 yards and five touchdowns. His signature performance and play helped the Mids beat Notre Dame, 35-17. Twenty-six carries against the Fighting Irish consumed 210 yards; a record for Navy fullbacks and most by a Mid in the 84-game series.

On Navy’s third play, Teich blasted through the middle for 54 yards. On its sixth, he wandered into the left flat, reached back with his right hand for a lob from Dobbs, batted the ball to himself and took off running. Thirty-one yards past the line of scrimmage, he launched himself — head over heels — into the end zone.

Similarly, Tuani showed near reckless regard for his already-banged-up body in the singular moment that sums up his first three seasons. Fighting off a block behind the play, late in a tight encounter with SMU, he lost his helmet. Unrelenting, he still tracked down the ballcarrier to make a crucial stop in a seven-point win.

Niumatalolo was so inspired on the spot, watching Tuani’s helmet-less tackle, he introduced a new team honor. He called it the `Warrior Award.’ Naturally, Tuani was its inaugural recipient.

“Luckily, the tackle wasn’t head on head,” Tuani joked, before reflecting. “I hope it showed that I would put anything on the line to help the team. There was no way I was going to pull up. It shows the devotion I have for the team.”

Should the 2011 Mids devote themselves to winning the day, from today thru December, they can prove once again, with Navy, what you see isn’t what you get.

“We’re not the biggest. We’re not the strongest,” says a representative Tuani, who defies the usual parameters of Division I, as a 6-foot-1, 265-pound lineman. “But playing us is going to be 60 minutes of hell.”

Bob has enjoyed a 15-year association with the Naval Academy. In addition to his current role as radio voice of Navy football, he calls Norfolk Tides baseball and is a freelance television broadcaster. To view and listen to samples of his work, please visit www.bobsocci.com.

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The Difference Between Fashion and Style

In a team sport that showcases individual expression, it’s style born of substance that truly endures.

By Bob Socci

If these are truly my son’s formative years, there are a few things I hope he’s erased from memory. Starting with the second time he ever ventured near a ball field.

I only excused the first because I’m quite confident that he never bothered to take note of that experience. It occurred around the end of his ninth month, when Dad decided to steer his stroller toward the diamond of a nearby prep school.

Teething at the time, the “G-Man” was less enamored with the game unfolding before us than with the idea of sinking his gums into a fence post. We lasted a half inning of mostly swings and misses, thankfully saving his synapses from being overloaded by pings of aluminum.

About a month later on another guys’ day out, we were at a neighborhood park, where my youngster was happily swinging away on the playground. Soon enough, sounds from an adjacent field caught our attention.

Regrettably, like many contemporaries, Pablo Sandoval's sunglasses rest atop his visor, upside down.

Pop. Pop. Pop. It was the unmistakable drumbeat of balls meeting gloves. Kids were playing catch. A game was about to get underway.

“G” and I headed in that direction; I pushing his stroller uphill toward the outfield fence. We would have made it for the first pitch, but we couldn’t beat nap time. So, parked in some shade beyond the right-field corner, the “Little Man” got some shuteye.

I can only hope that what he saw upon awakening that day struck him as a bad dream, to be erased from memory as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t so much the sight of the Dodgers playing eight-on-nine against the Phillies that sounded an alarm. Shorthanded for whatever reason, they still managed to cover the outfield with just two players — one positioned in left-center and the other in right-center.

If fact, I tried to use it as a teaching moment. I explained how my childhood friends and I used to solve similar dilemmas in pick-up games. We simply closed off right or left field, depending on the batter. Any opposite-field hit was an automatic out. And if we were short of infielders, pitcher’s mound was designated “as good as first base” on force plays.

Other than rain, I said to my son, we never had a reason not to play ball. If there were three of us, we played “hot box” or, as some prefer to call it, “pickle.” If there were two, we had a catch. And if it was me alone, I played “wall ball.” Uninspired, he just munched away on a Baby Mum-Mum rice cake.

I also laughed over the irony of the Dodgers of all teams playing a man down, considering the state of their major-league namesakes. Obviously, I joked, they couldn’t afford to pay a third outfielder. Unimpressed, my boy held out his hand, hoping for another Mum-Mum to chew on.

That’s about when, suddenly, I had to grind my own teeth; taken aback by the appearance of one of the Phillies. Resting atop the bill of his red cap and shading the white “P” on this beautifully sunny late afternoon was a pair of wrap-around sunglasses.

Ex-infielder Tito Fuentes was one of his era's most flamboyant showboats.

Right here, right now, one of my all-time biggest pet peeves from pro ball was infiltrating the youth level. And threatening to corrupt my first born’s idea of how the game should be played.

Still fearing the implications, weeks later I was tempted to wake him late on a Sunday night, when I heard commentator Bobby Valentine calling out the otherwise lovable Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants. Sunglasses resting on his visor? Upside down, no less? What purpose can they possibly serve?

My point, exactly! And one I’ve repeatedly stressed; often after watching a fielder struggle to see a pop-up with his naked eyes because his tinted lenses were instead shielding the club logo.

It strikes me solely as a fashion statement — and a silly one at that. Far more practical and, I believe, infinitely cooler looking on a fielder are old-fashioned flip-downs.

Seriously, think about it as you picture a runner on third with less than two outs. A ball is lifted to the outfield, medium-deep. The outfielder instinctively flicks at his lenses. Eyes now shaded, he lines up behind the ball, so that momentum is moving forward when he makes the catch and unleashes his throw.

It’s that immediate reaction, the actual flipping down, that says — no, shouts! – “I got it!” all the way. So substantive, yet so stylish.

Performance, not panache, made Rickey Henderson a Hall of Famer.

Now, before going any further, in fairness to the junior Phillie, I must confess to indiscretions of my own youth. I was a kid who devoted hours trying to imitate ex-Giant and Padre Tito Fuentes, who had this remarkable knack of bouncing the handle of his bat off home plate and catching it as the bat recoiled toward his body.

Of similar effect in later years, I took my base on balls a la Lee Mazzilli, then a matinee idol with the Mets. Starting up the first-base line, just like Maz, I would toss the bat aside with one hand while chopping down on it with the other hand. Doing so sent the bat spiraling into foul territory, spinning like the tail rotor of a helicopter.

Occasionally, I was smart enough to emulate someone who simply cut the mustard. For my debut in organized ball as an 8-year old, mine was a mirror-image stance of future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan; my right elbow flapping like a chicken wing, as I waited on the pitch.

But unfortunately, I mostly patterned myself after hot dogs — usually, to the point of a fashion faux-pas. At age 11, I demanded that Mom stitch elastic to my stirrups so that I could stretch them from shoe tops to knee caps. By my teens, I was wearing the same Saranac triangle on my batting gloves and wristbands as the major leaguers I saw every night on TV.

I once even excused myself from English class when a sporting goods rep visited our high school: I just had to — had to — have cleats that matched our uniforms. Much to my present-day chagrin, I skipped a discussion on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town that afternoon for a pair of ill-fitting, maroon Mizunos. They were, after all, just like the ones worn by Pete Rose.

Before refining my tastes, I wanted to wear colorful Mizuno spikes just like Pete Rose.

Every kid is impressionable; no one more than I was.

Eventually, I hung up those spikes — which, as it turns out, weren’t exactly the same as Rose’s hitting shoes — and found “work” in the game I was no longer good enough to play. With time, I developed a different understanding of what really makes a ballplayer look good.

It is, in essence, that difference between individual fashion and style. One is fleeting; the other enduring.

Take the act of — and reaction to — hitting a home run. Today you’ll find hitters who find it fashionable to flip their bats and/or Cadillac around the bases. You won’t find many, particularly opposing pitchers, who consider such antics tactful, much less artful.

Back in the eighties, Jeffrey Leonard was known as The Hackman and known for his self-described “one flap down.” After going deep, he slowly made his way on the bases, hanging one arm motionless at his side.

His contemporary Mel Hall had his own distinctive way of celebrating the long ball and insulting the opposition. He did it by stuffing his back pockets with extra batting gloves, so that their dangling fingers waved “bye-bye” on his home run trots.

Leonard and Hall totaled 27 seasons in the majors. Yet, by making such crass actions trademarks of their time, they made themselves laughable figures for years to come.

In sharp contrast, though his legacy needed no enriching, an all-time great like Mickey Mantle is celebrated for the way he humbly ambled on the base paths after all 536 of his lifetime homers. In eulogizing The Mick, broadcaster Bob Costas described how he and others of his generation imitated their boyhood baseball hero.

They ran like Mantle, Costas remarked with reverence, “head down, elbows up.” Mantle’s bat meeting ball was resounding enough. There was no need for a fashion statement.

"Head down, elbows up," Mickey Mantle humbly ambled around the bases after his 536 homers.

Oh sure, there are plenty in baseball history who packaged performance with panache. No one did it quite like Rickey Henderson. But for all his swagger, Henderson was unique because he could practically guarantee the opposition a 1-0 deficit from the jump. As the all-time leader in steals and runs scored, he also holds the record for most home runs to lead off a game.

True, Henderson set trends, like with the way he chose to snatch fly balls rather than catch them. Yet, what makes him incomparable still is how he routinely turned walks into triples or punished opponents like no other for those first-inning, get-me-over fastballs.

We shouldn’t confuse Henderson’s on-field fashion with his style of play. One occasionally led to a flub; the other got him to the Hall of Fame.

What Henderson exemplified individually, the team he grew up watching in Oakland, the Swingin’ A’s of the early seventies, did collectively. Owner Charlie Finley wanted his cast of renegades to re-define baseball fashion. And they made quite an impression with their white spikes, bright yellow uniforms and long hair and mustaches.

But they achieved lasting greatness by winning three straight World Series. The A’s were most memorable because of Catfish Hunter starting and Rollie Fingers closing; Joe Rudi climbing the wall and Reggie Jackson clearing the wall; Bert Campaneris on the run and Gene Tenace in the clutch; and Sal Bando captaining them all.

While they looked a certain part, what truly made them stand apart, is that for three seasons in a row, they played the part of the game’s very best.

By all appearances, baseball allows for individuality more than any other team sport. Nonetheless, I’ve covered some organizations who limit expression in the minors by legislating uniformity. Until this year, for instance, the Baltimore Orioles mandated that all minor leaguers blouse their pants just above the calves.

For the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, in addition to fully exposing their black stockings, the policy added intrigue whenever a teammate was promoted to Baltimore: Would he keep his cuffs knee high? Or exercise his big-league right to let his pants go low?

In 1996, when I was calling games for Class A Delmarva, the parent Montreal Expos banned Shorebirds players from wearing those aforementioned sunglasses. Coincidence or not, that club was loaded with future major leaguers, including two of the team’s catchers (Michael Barrett and Brian Schneider) and its fourth outfielder (Jose Macias).

How they played, not how they looked, made the Swingin' A's of the seventies a dynasty.

Who really knows if there was any positive effect on Montreal’s player-development cause? Perhaps, absent those sporty wrap-arounds, the Shorebirds kept fundamentals foremost in their sights. One thing’s for sure, there was never temptation to store their shades on the bills of their ball caps.

Ultimately, it’s hard to persuade a talented pro, let alone a teenage kid, that something like wearing sunglasses anywhere other than the bridge of his nose might be more a hindrance than help.

Someday, should my own son choose to play baseball, I might have to try to convince him of the same. Hopefully, he’ll be receptive. From what I hear, parents and their kids don’t always see eye to eye.

If he chooses to play something like the trumpet instead, my analogies might be different but my point will be consistent. However flashy your outfit is, it’s how well you hit your notes that defines how good you sound. True style, on the ball field or anywhere else, is born of substance.

That’s why I sure hope he was paying attention more recently, when we returned to that neighborhood park for a dip in the pool.

We cooled off on a hot afternoon and headed for the car. I was holding my now 1-year old in my arms, when I heard what sounded like a ball shooting off a bat. I turned in that direction, off in the distance to my left.

Two kids were in the middle of the diamond, accompanied only by bucket of baseballs. One was pitching batting practice to the other.

Best I could tell from afar, neither was sporting shades.

Bob has called Norfolk Tides games since 2006, in addition to his roles as the radio voice of Navy football and a freelance television broadcaster. To view and listen to samples of his work, please visit http://www.bobsocci.com.

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Lasting Achievement, History Worth Celebrating

Former Navy All-American Chet Moeller is formally enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame

By Bob Socci

Originally posted on http://www.navysports.com on July 19, 2011.

Two weeks after Yogi Berra appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, yet another college football team added a twist to the baseball legend’s most famous line.

It ain’t over til’ its over? Well, even then, it may not be over.

Last Thursday, summer vacating continued when Georgia Tech became the latest to lose what it presumably had won. The Yellow Jackets forfeited their 2009 ACC Championship, after being sentenced to four years of probation by the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

A unanimous All-American in 1975, former Navy safety Chet Moeller was formally enshrined Saturday into the College Football Hall of Fame.


Already in early June, USC was stripped of its 2004 B.C.S. title in the fallout from rules infractions centering around ex-Trojan star Reggie Bush. And earlier this month, Ohio State preemptively vacated all 12 victories from last season, surrendering its Big Ten crown in hopes of softening any future sanctions.

Meanwhile, both Auburn and Oregon, who met in last January’s B.C.S. finale in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, enter the upcoming autumn under thick clouds of suspicion.

The Tigers reportedly remain under NCAA investigation for their recruitment of Cam Newton, who conceivably could someday join Bush as, truly, former Heisman Trophy winners. As for the Ducks, they’re entangled in scandal as well, resulting from reports of payments to recruiting services.

Considering the ever-altering state of the sport, it wouldn’t be shocking if someday Auburn’s triumph over Oregon is stricken from the record; exactly as similar achievements were symbolically erased for Tech, SC and OSU.

At any rate, the uncertainty to much of college football’s recent history borders on absurdity. It’s enough to leave one searching for some permanence to the game’s past; hoping to celebrate that which can’t be corrupted or compromised.

This past weekend, it could be found in South Bend, Ind., where the newest members were enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Among them is Sam “Bam” Cunningham.

Of the 341 times he rushed the football as a USC fullback, none were more important than the first dozen carries of Cunningham’s varsity career. They led to more than 130 yards and two touchdowns and helped the 6-foot-3 sophomore cast a shadow across the next four decades.

Cunningham is African-American. And when he and his Trojan teammates arrived at Legion Field in Birmingham on Sept. 12, 1970, they were the first fully-integrated opponent to visit Alabama. They left only after rolling over the lilly-white Crimson Tide, 42-21.

Contrary to some exaggerated accounts, the events of that evening didn’t convert ‘Bama’s legendary head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant from segregationist to integrationist. He was a realist.

Bryant understood that the Tide couldn’t regain national glory until ending discrimination against black players. In fact, he had already recruited African-American Wilbur Jackson, a receiver on Alabama’s freshman team.

But it’s widely believed that Bryant scheduled USC to stir the sea change that could turn the Tide. As soon as ‘Bama fans opened their eyes to the talent of the diverse Trojans, he correctly surmised, they just might open their minds too.

One look at Cunningham was all the convincing they’d need.

Cunningham helped spur irreversible social change; Hall of Fame classmate Pat Tillman served to inspire with an irrepressible spirit.

As an Arizona State senior, he was Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Sun Bowl MVP and second-team All-America. All of which is secondary to what Tillman did upon graduating.

Every American — if he or she isn’t already — should be made familiar with how Tillman lived and how he died. He was indefatigable as an athlete and uncommonly introspective as an individual, constantly taking inventory of the ideals by which he governed his life.

Tillman graduated Summa Cum Laude in 3 1/2 years, earned an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship and entered the 1998 NFL Draft. Considered an undersized linebacker by pro standards, he remained unwanted until 225 others were chosen.

At last, the Arizona Cardinals, who shared Sun Devil Stadium with ASU, wagered a 7th-and-final-round pick on Tillman, betting that he could adapt to playing safety. By his third season, Tillman hadn’t simply established himself in the Cardinals’ secondary; he’d driven himself to become a bonafide NFL star.

But following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Tillman made still another position switch. Giving up safety, most literally, he decided to forgo the comfort a multimillion-dollar contract can provide for the spartan life of an infantry grunt.

In July 2002, Tillman joined his brother, Kevin, by enlisting in the Army and training to become a Ranger. Less than two years later, on April 22, 2004, he was killed in Afghanistan.

Iconic and heroic, the posthumously-inducted Tillman is the most famous of the 20 Hall of Famers formally enshrined over the weekend. Others renown within their ranks include 1991 Heisman winner Desmond Howard, as well as retired Alabama coach Gene Stallings and his contemporary from Wisconsin Barry Alvarez.

Sharing the stage with them was someone somewhat overshadowed, though no less respected or deserving of induction. As anyone who ever saw him play, either in the moment or decades later on tape, could attest, Chet Moeller belonged in South Bend. Especially this year, with this class.

Bred in Ohio, he eventually adopted Alabama as his home state, settling where Cunningham left such a lasting social impact. And like Tillman, he was a relentless defender and a distinguished scholar who resolved to serve his country.

A self-admitted straight-laced kid from the Dayton area, Moeller was drawn to Annapolis by what he often describes as the “clean” environment of the Naval Academy. But while he avoided hard living, Moeller couldn’t resist hard hitting.

Host Charles Davis credited Moeller with reinventing his position.


From 1973-75, he made 275 tackles, including a school-record 25 for loss as a junior. The following fall, Moeller was voted the East Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year and became just the sixth Midshipman to be unanimously elected All-America. There was even a national-TV appearance with Bob Hope.

He was instrumental in Navy’s 7-6 victory at Penn State in 1974, when the Mids ended the Nittany Lions’ 13-game winning streak, and in a 17-0 triumph at Pittsburgh in ’75, a year before the Panthers were declared national champs.

Moeller was also Academic All-American and, as Battalion Commander, earned the Naval Academy Athletic Association Sword for excellence. He graduated in 1976 and was commissioned as a Marine Corps officer.

Last fall, Moeller was honored in Annapolis, commencing a near year-long celebration that culminated late Saturday when, fittingly, former Naval Academy athletic director Jack Lengyel presided over the H.O.F. ring ceremony.

The evening also featured a question-and-answer session, as Moeller and Hall classmates were briefly interviewed by hosts Charles Davis and Jon Gruden, the ex-NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst.

As means of introducing Moeller, Gruden shared a childhood memory. The son of Notre Dame’s running backs coach at the time, Gruden recalled watching Sunday morning replays of the Fighting Irish with broadcasting legend Lindsey Nelson.

“We move ahead to further action,” Gruden chuckled, mimicking Nelson’s narration of those condensed classics, before segueing into play-by-play from a rebroadcast of Navy-Notre Dame. “Tackle by Moeller…tackle by Moeller…”

Quickly, the audience laughed along with Gruden; clearly getting the picture that, all joking aside, Moeller making a tackle got redundant. Against the Irish, or anyone else.

Davis credited Moeller for reinventing his position and referred to a film produced by former Navy assistant Len Fontes. It demonstrates how a safety should support against the run, and its star is the Midshipman in No. 48.

Thanks to YouTube and Google, Moeller can still be seen closing on ball carriers in all the glory of Fontes’s grainy black-and-white masterpiece.

“I grew up wanting to play college football,” Moeller told the audience. “I was not very big, I wasn’t very tall, I wasn’t very fast. But I believed I could play.”

He also spoke of meeting Academy challenges, beginning with that first early rising at 6 a.m. and the 18-credit course load of his initial college semester.

“It taught me what I could do,” Moeller said. “The Naval Academy instilled that discipline in me and gave me the desire to do my best every time I was on the field or in the classroom.”

Soft-spoken and humble, Moeller chose to discuss the shutout of Pitt in collective terms more than as the individual who had an interception and fumble recovery despite playing with a broken thumb.

“Our defense, we were such a close-knit group,” Moeller explained, crediting Fontes and another assistant, Rick Lantz, for scheming to slow down the Panthers’ Tony Dorsett. “They forced everything outside to me and I was fortunate enough to make those tackles.”

Dorsett mustered only 36 yards through three quarters and, though he finished with 122 yards rushing overall, lost a pair of fumbles. Three weeks later he gained 303 yards and scored three touchdowns vs. Notre Dame.

Before letting Moeller go, Davis left the audience with one more anecdote. He cited the reaction of another former safety Chris Lepore upon learning in 2009 that he was selected for the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium all-time team.

“That means you get to meet Roger Staubach,” Lepore’s wife excitedly said.

“No,” Lepore corrected her, “that means I get to meet Chet Moeller!”

Surely, Lepore had seen that old coach’s film of Moeller who knows how many times; perhaps enough to commit it to memory.

True greatness, even when witnessed through a scratchy lens, can’t be forgotten. It doesn’t get erased. It will never be vacated.

Bob has enjoyed a 15-year association with the Naval Academy. In addition to his current role as radio voice of Navy football, he calls Norfolk Tides baseball and is a freelance television broadcaster. To view and listen to samples of his work, please visit http://www.bobsocci.com.

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Root, Root, Root…For The Home Team

By Bob Socci

During a recent reunion with a lifelong friend, conversation – as it inevitably does whenever we get together – turned to baseball.

Between us, we’ve invested more than 30 years of our professional lives in the game. Mine mostly in broadcasting; his primarily in scouting.

Granted, we occupy different seats in the ballpark and employ our powers of observation for different purposes. One of us notes for the record if a pitcher throws a ball or strike. The other evaluates if that pitcher does it with the stuff of a major leaguer.

Even so, our eyes are fixed on the same spot. And though what we’re looking for may differ, our jobs require the same thing. Essentially, we’re both people watchers.

We’re also storytellers. We better be.

An announcer has to hold a listener’s attention when a game becomes relatively inactive. The scout must stay sane through all those nights on the road chasing prospects and finding mainly suspects.

In Brooklyn, the famous Hilda Chester announced her presence with her ever-present cowbell.


So a broadcaster relays anecdotes and a scout spins yarns. Sit them at the same table and serve each a drink – meaning they’re off-air and off the record – and the stories flow long after the glasses run dry.

In our case, there’s little point to talking baseball if there are no punch lines. Oh sure, we’ll find room for healthy debate and take time to discuss the baseball business. But overall, we’d much rather recount the unforgettable characters of the game that we’ve both come across.

Without exaggeration, there are enough to keep us laughing the rest of our lifetimes. Most are in uniform; many populate the stands. On this particular night, we focused on the latter, recalling some of the most fanatical stadium fixtures we’ve seen and heard in our recent travels.

It must be said, emphatically, that both of us totally appreciate and are indebted to the fans. We’re paid to do what we do because of what they do: from buying tickets to tuning in their team.

Chilly April weeknights, or humid August afternoons, it doesn’t matter. They take their seats, proudly wearing their allegiances on caps, jerseys and jackets. Whatever the outcome, they’re back the next day. They form both the backbone of the game and give it a heart in communities across the country.

They always have.

Baseball fandom has produced some of the most memorable figures in the sport’s history. Nowhere, it seems, were the colorful more bountiful than in Brooklyn, before the Dodgers went West and Ebbets Field crumbled beneath a wrecking ball.

Their beloved ‘Boys of Summer’ featured Pee Wee, Duke and Campy; Jackie, Preacher and Skoonj. They included the likes of Letty Allen, who legendarily never missed a home game for a half century, and Hilda Chester, who devotedly rang her brass cowbell from the bleachers as if signaling a religious rite.

A handful formed the Sym-Phony Band, the famous Ebbets Field troupe. Some, like Henry Fleischman, created a single-handed cacophony. In The Last Good Season, author Michael Shapiro wrote of Fleischman, a father of three:

“He beat a steady tattoo on the drainpipe that blocked his view of home. He used a rolled up newspaper, as was traditional for the people who believed that by beating this drainpipe for the entire game they could summon the spirits who would make the Dodgers win.”

Years later, a long-haired, shaggy-bearded cabdriver was lifting spirits – reportedly the ‘King of Beers’ – and leading cheers in uptown Baltimore. Wearing cut-off jean shorts, a t-shirt and straw cowboy hat, “Wild Bill” Hagy first roared from Section 34 of Memorial Stadium. In time, he was rallying the faithful from atop the home dugout and contorting his body to spell out O-R-I-O-L-E-S.

Today, who-knows-how-many other originals like Hilda and Wild Bill root, root, root for their home team; wherever it happens to play. In my own hometown of Auburn, N.Y., several years ago the local NY-Penn League club, the Doubledays, gave away bobblehead dolls.

Not of a player, but of a fan. The D-Days honored “Dancing Bill” Jayne, a local known for high-stepping routines to songs like Thank God I’m a Country Boy.

Free spirited "Wild Bill" Hagy became a Baltimore legend, roaring from Section 34 of Memorial Stadium.


In fact, it wasn’t too far from Dancing Bill’s stage where my friend and I sat, swapping stories about this fan or the other. He had recently scouted the Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate while covering a series at one of my favorite ballparks, Rochester’s Frontier Field.

It’s where Fred Costello tickles the organ, just as he did at old Silver Stadium as long ago as 1977, yet also where you can buy a cup of Starbucks to go with your crepes. Yes, crepes. And where, as told by my buddy, one voice was heard above all others about four times a game, four or five days in a row.

“Taco…taco…taco!” someone yelled. “TACO…TACO…TACO!!!”

Supposedly, the chant continued, over and over and over again, coinciding each night with every at-bat by a specific player on the visiting team. That batter was designated before the game as the K-Man. If he struck out, then ‘lucky’ fans won tacos from a national chain.

Hearing it told, there was great intensity in the fan’s voice and unwavering concentration on his face. He was totally enraptured with the possibility of one man’s failure filling the cravings of others. Another’s empty plate appearance might put a taco on his plate.

I smiled as the scene in Rochester was being re-created, while thinking of my own experiences overlooking Frontier Field when the introduction of the K-Man elicited similarly passionate pleas. In those moments, defined by tacos and tortillas, The Flower City once again becomes The Flour City.

Similarly in neighboring Syracuse, tacos are in fare play. Meanwhile, for International League foe Toledo, ice cream instead hangs in the balance when the K-Man comes up.

Admittedly, the promotion mostly amuses me. But there’s also a rub. And by that, I don’t mean what seasons the meat. Confessing that I’ve observed this phenomenon only from the visiting booth, and thus might be extra sensitive, I’m bothered by one thing: it entices fans to root against rather than for someone.

So, if I could consult with clubs around the minor-league map, I’d ask: How about turning it around and promoting more positively? Instead of wishing for an opponent to be a goat, why not implore a home teamer to be a hero? As an organized pursuit sold to sponsor, wouldn’t that be a nobler endeavor?

Borrowing from another sport, there are basketball teams who also give tacos away. They do it when the home team scores so many points, usually a hundred. Not when the visitor fails to reach fifty.

That doesn’t, in any as-long-as-it’s-not-obscene way, mean that paying customers aren’t entitled to express disfavor for the opposition. If Philadelphians, for example, feel they know enough to boo J.D. Drew after all these years, power to those people. Or if A-Rod remains persona non grata in Boston, far be it from anyone else to stop the Fenway faithful from telling him like it is.

At Wrigley, it’s perfectly understandable for Cubs fans to return the ball to the playing field after a visitor’s deep fly clears the ivy. And it’s understood that the Phillie Phanatic’s tongue is firmly in his beak when he’s putting the whammy on an opposing pitcher.

All I’m asking for is a small change; switching from the top to the bottom half-inning and officially trying to facilitate the ‘pro’ as opposed to the ‘anti.’ Let’s root, root, root for the home team. If for no other reason, it might create good karma.

I’m quite certain that’s exactly what took place last month in yet another sport.

The Vancouver Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals with the NHL’s best regular-season record and seeking their first-ever title. Leading their quest was a volatile goalie and two sets of twins – one pair known as the Sedins and the other as the Green Men.

In Vancouver, the Green Men taunt a Los Angeles King. Do we really need to see anything like this in other sporting venues?


Henrik and Daniel are generally high-scoring forwards from Sweden. Force and Sully are two Vancouverites concealed inside fully-body, neon-green suits. For much of the year, until the league judged that enough was enough, they were given free reign inside Rogers Arena to taunt opposing players confined in the penalty box.

Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins got to the Finals only after out-grinding and out-gritting Montreal and Tampa Bay in two seven-game series. As one of the NHL’s Original Six, they summoned legends like Rene Rancourt (their 30-year anthem man) and banner-carrying Bobby Orr (enough said) to pump up the TD Garden. Even when the B’s fans gave the Canucks’ a hard time, you could argue they were providing a service; like reminding the troubled netminder of his last name, “Luongo, Luongo!”

In Game 6 the Garden shook from the thunderous spontaneity of 17,565. In Game 7 the Green Men sat inside Rogers, silenced in their spandex. Boston avoided a 40-year championship drought. For Vancouver, it’s now 40 years and counting.

If that’s a stretch, it’s only as far as cotton, not polyester. But if what goes around comes around – whether it’s a taco, an ice cream or a championship trophy – then teams should turn it around.

Become actively pro and they just might uncover the next lovable Wild Bill. Stick with the con and they soon could be opening their gates to hecklers clad in Lycra.

That’s something none of us cares to relive.

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Bob has called Norfolk Tides games since 2006, in addition to his roles as the radio voice of Navy football and a freelance television broadcaster. To view and listen to samples of his work, please visit http://www.bobsocci.com.

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