The Eagle Has Landed

(AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

When the immortal words, "The Eagle has landed," were first etched into the American consciousness, the year was 1969, and a decidedly improbable occurrence—mankind's journey to the moon—had just taken place. Saturday afternoon in Annapolis, something nearly as incredible transpired at Navy Memorial Stadium, and for a victorious football team, another Eagle was waiting in the wings.

Yes, the EagleBank Bowl is the bird that will greet the Navy Midshipmen on Dec. 20, after Ken Niumatalolo's team—decisively outplayed by Temple on home turf—received a gridiron equivalent of manna from the football gods. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin might not have watched this game, but the words that greeted their seminal achievement became literally true when the Men of Ken punched their ticket to the Washington, D.C. postseason pageant. In prior years, when the Poinsettia Bowl stood to be Navy's bowl game of choice, a fitting headline for this miraculous win would have been "Christmas comes early." This year, however, a more American turn of phrase deserved to define one of the most remarkable wins in Navy's long and colorful football history.

Let's not pretend to think that Navy performed better than Temple. The Owls were in clock-draining mode, up 27-20 in the final minute. Coach Al Golden's team merely had to avoid coughing up the ball in order to deal Navy a shocking setback. After a feel-good ride to a 5-3 record, the Midshipmen stood in real danger of seeing their chances of a winning season go by the boards. With longtime nemesis Notre Dame and a solid Northern Illinois club still lingering on the schedule, a loss to Temple—which seemed all but certain in the dying moments of regulation time—would have forced Navy to pull out at least one above-average win in order to finish better than .500.

Then, in a year of the improbable, the impossible happened.

Today's jawdropping turn of events in Annapolis might have represented a very small-scale form of cosmic payback to the city of Philadelphia, where Temple University is based. Just days after the hometown Phillies—the losingest franchise in Major League Baseball history—took home their second World Series in 125 years, the City of Brotherly Love saw one of its less-touted teams taken down in the cruelest way imaginable.

With just 37 ticks left on the scoreboard, and defeat written on the faces of the brigade, Owl running back Kee-ayre Griffin, intent on gaining yards instead of protecting the pigskin, strained forward instead of getting his knees to the ground. Navy's Russ Pospisil stripped the pill loose, and Clint Sovie performed the scoop-and-score parts of the equation. The 42-yard fumble return tied the tilt and set up overtime, when Temple tight end Steve Maneri dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone on the first possession of the extra stanza, all Navy had to do was avoid stumbling. When Ricky Dobbs—filling in for a re-injured Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada—struck paydirt on Navy's overtime possession, the Eagle that re-entered the picture at the end of regulation officially landed in Navy's lap.

Call it the Midshipmen Miracle.

Call it the "Don't Give Up the Ship Game," a classic example of why it pays to never concede defeat.

Call it The Im-Pospisil Dream or the Sovie Houdini.

Regardless of those nicknames or labels—choose the one you personally like—it is a plain point of fact that, yes, the Eagle has landed.

Navy will play in yet another bowl game, and likely attain another winning season. After so many years of simply being better than their opponents, the Midshipmen—on a night kissed by the fates—received a gift for the hard work that's gotten them to a string of postseason parties.

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