Rick Bayer will be among the nearly 100,000 fans at Beaver Stadium today when Navy and Penn State meet on the football field for the first time since 1974.
Bayer was a participant in the 1967 game when Navy defeated Penn State 23-22 in the season opener for both teams. The 1964 Huntingdon Area High School graduate was a three-year starter in the defensive backfield for Coach Bill Elias' Midshipmen.
"I am now down-lineman size," he joked.
Hollidaysburg graduate Doug Rhodes (50) plays as a starter for Navy in 1984 at the Army-Navy game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
Bayer said it was a great game.
"They only lost one other game that year, to UCLA, on a blocked punt and went undefeated the next two years. Penn State was just beginning to become a player of note," Bayer said. "We were lucky to stay with them; we were a good team not a great team."
Bayer said he decided to attend the Naval Academy for the challenge and opportunity it presented.
He said it was not always easy.
"We had to do all of the requirements just like everyone else: We had to go to class six days a week and go to chapel every weekend - that was mandatory," Bayer said. "They would tell us it is nice that you play football but that is not our major purpose. We took the lessons from the game. We knew we would all be in life or death situations afterward."
Several other area athletes played for Navy over the years but did not get the chance to play against Penn State.
"In my four years, we played teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Pitt, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Washington - all kinds of big schools - but we never played Penn State," said Jim Scannell, a 1980 graduate of State College Area High School.
Scannell, son of longtime Penn State administrator Robert Scannell, said he enjoyed his experience playing for Navy, where he played on special teams and served as a backup fullback.
"It was great; it was a good four years. I got my token carries. I was like a guard in the backfield. I got the ball now and then and scored a touchdown in the Army-Navy game," Scannell said. "Some of the best people I've known in my life I went to school with. On a football team, you build a tremendous bond. The beauty of the academy is you are building a lifetime bond with a bigger group of people. While it was not always much fun, the experience I was able to get there and in the military are things you can't replicate elsewhere."
Doug Rhodes, a 1981 graduate of Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, started at center and guard for the 1983 and 1984 Navy teams.
"I usually played at 250. I wouldn't fit in right now; there aren't too any 250-pound offensive linemen any more," Rhodes said. "I loved it. I got to play Division I football. We were on TV, and there was a lot of tradition there."
Richard Clouse, a 1981 graduate of Juniata Valley High School, was a teammate of Rhodes and played running back from 1981-84.
Clouse admits Navy wasn't his first choice but enjoyed the football experience.
"I didn't want to be in the military for five years. It
wasn't the best experience for me, but it was still the best thing that ever happened to me. I got a great education and a degree," Clouse said. "It [football] was just a blast. It was unbelievable going to Michigan my freshman year and we also got to play at Notre Dame. Those four years went by so fast."
Brad Stramanak, a 1989 graduate of Westmont-Hilltop High School, was Navy's starting fullback in 1990, 1991 and 1993. He missed the 1992 season with a knee injury.
Stramanak said playing at Navy was different than playing at a lot of the big time college football programs.
"We played Division I opponents like everyone else but at the Naval Academy, it is bigger than football. We are playing not for just ourselves but for groups all over the world who are looking for inspiration," Stramanak said.
Virgil Palumbo, a 1988 graduate of Windber Area High School, played two years of varsity football at the Naval Academy under Coach Elliot Uzelac and two years on "the lightweight team" under Coach George Chaump after he blew out his knee.
"I was a wishbone running back, small and slow," Palumbo said. "It was challenging when you are a scout team running back carrying 30 times a night. Coming from Windber, it was a great experience I will carry to my grave," Palumbo said. "To walk onto the Vet [Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia] and catch punts during the pre-game warmups in front of your friends and family, I wouldn't trade that for all of the beatings I took."
Anthony Piccioni, a 2002 graduate of Bishop Carroll High School, played on special teams and as a backup linebacker under Coach Paul Johnson from 2004-07.
"We always had fun flying around and hitting people. It was an incredible opportunity," Piccioni said. "There was a brotherhood on the football team and the school work is grueling every day. For the guys that experienced that, we were as close as a family could be. We didn't have the top Division I talent. We had to work hard, nothing was ever given to us."
Most of the former Navy players would not offer a prediction on the outcome of today's game.
The Nittany Lions and Midshipman are meeting for the 38th time overall, with Penn State owning an 18-17-2 series advantage.
"Navy always steps up to the challenge and that is what we relish. We don't back away from the fight," Palumbo said.
"Navy has a lot of new guys; they are a young team and that presents a lot of challenges to play in a place like Beaver Stadium. If Navy can get its offense rolling, it will be a game. If Penn State's defense shuts them down, it is all over," Scannell said.
Stramanak said he believes Navy has a chance to win the game.
"If there is any time Navy has a chance, it is this year with the circumstances that have happened. With a lot of their players not sticking with the program, that gives us a chance," said Stramanak, who will attend the game with his family. "They are more athletic than our players as far as size and strength, but the one thing you can't measure is the heart."