The Army-Navy game is truly America’s rivalry. Having served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, President John F. Kennedy took great interest in the game, attending in 1961 and ’62. He even founded a new presidential tradition when he performed the pre-game coin-toss. After scheduling his 3rd consecutive appearance at the game, in 1963, JFK looked poised to shatter Truman’s record 4 games-in-attendance if he won reelection in 1964.
Kennedy took particular interest in that 1963 Navy team, guided by Junior quarterback Roger Staubach. He even visited Navy’s pre-season training camp in Rhode Island that year, offering inspirational words to kick-start their season.
And they didn’t disappoint. Staubach won the Heisman Trophy leading his team to an 8-1 record and a number 2 national ranking before the Army match-up. “I hope to be on the winning side when the game ends,” said President Kennedy knowing he would spend the second half on Navy’s side.
Then on November 22, 8 days before the big game, the devastating news came out of Dallas, Texas. The president had been shot and killed riding in his motorcade through the city.
The players were devastated. The game was cancelled.
But while both teams of 18-22-year olds mourned the loss of their commander-in-chief, Jacqueline Kennedy, thinking of Jack’s love of the rivalry, stated publicly that playing the game would be good for the nation and a “fitting tribute” to the fallen president.
The game was rescheduled for December 7, at Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia (renamed John F. Kennedy stadium the following year). Navy came out of the locker room wearing gold jerseys with “Drive for Five” printed on them — having beaten Army four consecutive years. Army came out equally charged-up and emotional. The stage was set for one of the most thrilling football games ever played.
Navy took an early lead and extended it to 21-7 in the third quarter. But with 6 minutes to play in the game, Army scored a touchdown and converted on a two point try, narrowing the Navy lead to 5 points.
Army kicked onsides and recovered the ball. With a minute and a half to play, Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh completed a desperation fourth-down pass to the Navy 7-yard line.
Three plays later he stood behind center on the Navy 1. It was fourth down with seconds remaining. The audience was deafeningly loud as the Army quarterback called his cadence.
There was confusion. Stichweh couldn’t communicate his audible to the team. He stepped back to signal a time-out, but the clock had already run its course. The game was over: the final play never executed. Navy had won 21-15.