Phil Sheridan: Navy QB Dobbs caps a season worthy of an award

Posted: December 13, 2009

Ricky Dobbs was in Philadelphia yesterday, not Manhattan. He was busy winning a football game, not a statue of a football player. The loss was the Downtown Athletic Club's, not Dobbs'.

Heisman, shmeisman. Dobbs was all smiles after delivering another epic performance in the 110th Army-Navy Game.

It was a game, too, a genuinely competitive contest for the first time in a while. In its first year under head coach Rich Ellerson, Army led, 3-0, at halftime and had a real chance right up until Dobbs dove in for a record-breaking 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

No quarterback in the history of Division I college football has ever run for more touchdowns in a season than Dobbs. His 24th score was all the sweeter because it came in the junior's first start against Army, and it capped a stellar regular season that included wins against Notre Dame, Delaware, and SMU.

Not bad for a kid who chose the Naval Academy over a scholarship to Georgia Tech because it meant obtaining medical and dental benefits for his whole family.

"That's a blessing," Dobbs said of the record. "God put me in a spot, around great guys and an offensive line and wide receivers who block. And also missing two games and having a broken kneecap . . ."

Dobbs missed the Midshipmen's game against Wake Forest (a 13-10 win) and most of their 27-24 loss to Temple. A week after that, cracked kneecap and all, he ran for 102 yards and a touchdown at Notre Dame. That game sounded the first death knell for Irish head coach Charlie Weis, who was fired at the end of the season.

Games like that are not supposed to happen, not the way the sport is nowadays. The era when Army and Navy had great teams is long past. Their annual meeting is now more about the tradition and the rivalry than must-see college football. But this Navy team is different, and Dobbs is the main reason.

Army and Navy both run versions of the triple-option offense. It is a system designed to give teams with less size and speed and strength a chance against football-first universities.

What Dobbs did this year is show what happens when you plug a superbly talented player into that system. Andy Reid's experiments with the Wildcat offense would have benefited greatly from having a player like Dobbs. He runs hard and fast, and he has a good arm, too.

The stat sheet showed Dobbs completed only 3 of 7 passes against Army, but it doesn't show the two perfect deep balls he threw that were caught but called back because of holding penalties.

But the best stuff about Dobbs isn't on the stat sheet at all. He has an outsize personality - he unabashedly says his goals are to be the second African American to accomplish two things: quarterback a team to a Super Bowl title and beelected president - that makes him a natural leader.

Because of those penalties, and because Dobbs threw an interception in his own territory, Army had a 3-0 lead at halftime. That was a story in itself, given Navy's recent domination. This was purely a case of the rivalry coaxing the very best out of Army's defense.

"It was real tough out there," Dobbs said. "That's one of the hardest teams we faced all year. I'm definitely going to be sore tomorrow. We were in a spot where we were desperate. Coming out of halftime, we knew we couldn't stall in that first drive because it would have set the tone for the whole second half. We knew we had 30 minutes left of our lives to put it all on the line."

That first drive lasted 11 plays. Dobbs ran seven times for 23 yards, including a 3-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play. He threw the ball twice: a 15-yard gain to convert a third-and-9 and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Curry - who was ridiculously open because Army's defense was focused on stopping Dobbs.

It is good for everyone - Army, obviously, as well as the rivalry and the fans and, in a roundabout way, even Navy - that the Black Knights were competitive. It is good that this game was about football as well as the traditions and the history.

"Most people understand what this game is about," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. This isn't the biggest rivalry in college football. It's the biggest rivalry in sports."

It is a special rivalry where the football game itself is usually beside the point. That wasn't the case this time. Navy is a legitimate bowl team. Army came to play with a bowl bid on the line.

Mostly, there was Ricky Dobbs, who continued to have the best season of any player in college football, including the five guys invited to Manhattan.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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