Dear Coach Johnson,
College football was just something that was on television every Saturday before I attended the United States Naval Academy. Once I checked into Annapolis for Plebe Summer, I was very quickly instructed to shout “Go Navy” and “Beat Army,” every time I would make a left or right hand turn as I chopped around Bancroft Hall. Shortly after my classmates and I entered the Brigade of Midshipmen, the angst for our sister Service Academy, up on the Hudson River, started to make a little more sense, and it all centered around football.
Game days in Annapolis governed how much of my, very limited, liberty would be spent with you and 4,000 of my closest friends at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Waiting on The Yard for the March-On was initially something I found annoying; I wanted to hang out in Downtown Annapolis instead. Alas formation was calling and the March-On was my appointed place of duty, followed by almost four hours of Triple Option magic. I had very little concept of what the Triple Option was, but watching your team run it close to perfection week-in-and-week-out quickly became a near obsession for me.
As a Plebe I had to make bets with my Firsties, and I was obligated to pick Navy every week; thank God you led your team to 10-2 that season. I got to listen to a lot of music and a had serious amount of carry-on because of that success. Loving my new team was easy to do when they had as much success as they did in 2004.
That season was pretty incredible, with some very memorable games. The victory over Air Force, in a rare Thursday night matchup, that we watched in Alumni Hall, because the game was in Colorado Springs, was the first step in the race for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. A very frigid affair in Philadelphia ensured Navy brought home the CIC for the second year in a row. That season was capped off in one of the most memorable games I have ever been to: the Emerald Bowl against New Mexico. That victory included The Longest Drive in College Football History; a Triple Option thing of beauty that I will never forget witnessing with my own two eyes.
It only got better from there. You accumulated a record of 35-15. My class swept Army and Air Force, and kept the CIC all four years.
The highlight of your time at Navy HAS to be snapping the insane, 43-year losing streak against Notre Dame – IN South Bend! I will always remember Kaipo Noa Kaheaku Enhada casually strutting out of the huddle after a 4th quarter Irish timeout; he literally pumped up the Notre Dame faithful before settling under center. The confidence was incredible. Shortly after Ram Vela made his famous superman tackle.
Who can forget Chris “KP” Kuhar-Pitters scoop and score after a forced fumble? A defensive lineman getting a touchdown is always a crowd pleaser! The incredible matchup was capped off with a thrilling stop on a two-point conversion in triple overtime.
I think the end of that game was the first time I ever saw you get truly excited about a victory!
I missed that game because I wanted to go home to see my mom for her birthday. I love my mother, but passing up on the offer to join the RV road trip that some of my company mates had planned, is one of the biggest regrets of my life. Shout out to 21st Co Dawg Pound!
December 2007 was inevitable, but painful none-the-less. It was only a matter of time before a Power Five team came knocking at your door. You, understandably, made the leap, and moved back down south to take the reigns at Georgia Tech. But the damage was done; I was a die-hard Navy Football fan by then, and I was also proud to take up the banner of the Ramblin’ Wreck.
You recruited some incredible young men who became my roommates and friends. They have grown into outstanding Navy and Marine Corps Officers, community leaders, husbands, and fathers. You are the Father of the Navy Football Renaissance; and left an incredible legacy at the Naval Academy that has carried on for the last decade.
I will always be grateful for the legacy you left behind. Your Navy Football teams are the reason I fell in love with college football, and Saturday’s in the fall are now the most wonderful time of the year! You deserve a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame; and I hope to see you in a booth on Saturday calling games, sooner rather than later. CBS is crazy if they don’t pick you up and send you to Annapolis ASAP!
Thank you, Coach Johnson! Fair Winds and Following Seas!