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A 'Stitch' in time is the Army's best weapon

After two games West Point's Rollie Stichweh is outshining Roger Staubach and a lot of other quarterbacks. Although used sparingly, his gunshot passes and roll-out runs have been neat and gainful

Until Army Quarterback Rollie Stichweh struck again last week, this time as his team defeated stubborn Boston College by 19 to 13—and this time with, of all things, his passing—it was not important for college football enthusiasts to know that his name is pronounced Stitch-way instead of Stick-wee or Stike-web. Nor was it terribly urgent for anyone to begin pondering whether the West Point first classman might be this season's Roger Staubach since, apparently, Navy's Staubach is not.

Now, however, all matters concerning Stichweh may properly be deemed urgent because he has proved, through two games, to be the fastest-striking player in the U.S. In the 18 precious times he has found himself alone with the football Stichweh has averaged 22.5 yards per carry in seven scrimmage runs; completed seven passes out of eight for 85 yards; returned two punts and one kick-off for 108 more yards. In all, he has advanced the ball 352 yards and accounted for 24 points, running and passing. More important, Stichweh has performed these feats in only 30 minutes—19 of them coming in Army's 34-0 victory over The Citadel and 11 more against BC last Saturday. It is, therefore, not entirely facetious to suggest that Stichweh, at this rate, may become the first All-America who will not play enough to earn a letter.

The Army quarterback would have played more against Boston College had it not been for two things: a very minor bruise on his left ankle that occurred in the second quarter and Coach Paul Dietzel's conservative nature.

"He's as fine an athlete as I've ever coached and that covers a lot of territory," said Dietzel, meaning LSU. "And he's the best athlete I've ever had at quarterback. So—no, I didn't want to risk irritating his foot, not with Texas coming up, if it could be avoided."

It barely was. Stichweh directed a perfect 73-yard drive the first time Army got the ball, running himself for two critical first downs, and hitting four out of four hook passes, the last one going nine yards to End Tom Schwartz for a 6-0 lead. In the drive Stichweh displayed a surprising talent for throwing the drop-back pass. His best play is a sprintout run-pass option when he fakes to the fullback and follows both pulling guards. He is a fast as well as clever runner. But against Boston College, Stichweh took three quick steps wide, then settled into the pocket and spiraled accurately to receivers who had run moderate down-and-in patterns. At this point, it looked as if Army would have a remarkably easy afternoon against a heavier, more experienced team that had shocked Syracuse 21-14 the previous week.

But as it turned out Army needed a good performance from Stichweh's stand-in, Frank Cosentino, and a chilling 94-yard punt return by sophomore Halfback Fred Barofsky to survive a spray of fourth-quarter Boston College passes. In that last quarter Ed Foley, a quarterback who had never lofted a varsity pass, completed 10 of them, sweeping BC to two touchdowns, and he was still connecting at the Army 40 when time caught him. Throughout the barrage the thought in Dietzel's mind, as he paced the Michie Stadium sideline with his clipboard, was that Rollie Stichweh, of course, could have had the game more safely out of reach.

"It's not easy for us to win without Stitch," said Dietzel. "He could play a lot of positions at Army—at wing-back with his speed or tailback with his power, or even end. He has great hands."

Before the last game of 1963, the Navy game, it appeared that Stichweh might be better off in another position. Although he had been recruited as a passer (from Mineola High School on Long Island in a battle involving such outrageously incongruous bidders as Princeton and Iowa), he had never convinced anyone at West Point of his skill. He played defensive halfback as a sophomore, and through most of last season he was regarded as a quarterback who could certainly run but passed only at saber point. Then against Navy he demonstrated something Dietzel termed more important than running or passing: leadership. "The ability to lift and inspire," says the coach. "He was even voted the outstanding platoon leader this summer at camp." On that day in Philadelphia, although Navy staggered through 21-15, Stichweh outdueled Roger Staubach, scoring 14 points and bootlegging Army to the brink of an upset.

"I can pass," says Stichweh, a handsome blond of 6 feet. 190, who speaks eloquently and looks like a movie Cadet in his gray blouse and white ducks. "Nobody believes me, but I'd rather pass than run. It's just that our attack isn't geared that way. In football everything is a matter of confidence. I call a lot of passes, but when I get out there our linemen have cut down so many tacklers the sensible thing to do is follow them. Roger [Staubach] is great because he has confidence."

Stichweh can talk comfortably about Staubach because they now have more things in common than playing quarterback for service academies or German names that are difficult to spell and pronounce. Last winter, when Staubach went to West Point for a long weekend (it is customary for the Cadets and Mid-shipmen to visit each other once a year), he roomed with Rollie. "We played catch in the gym," says Stichweh, "went to a movie, tried on each other's uniforms and he went to classes with me, so I had to get up at 5:30 and go to Mass with him. I offered to get him a date, but he said no. We became good friends. We correspond."

They became such friends, in fact, that when Rollie later visited Annapolis, Navy's Heisman Award winner prevented him from suffering a fate worse than a slight ankle bruise. During a meal in Navy's Bancroft Hall, as Staubach and his Army guest sat together, Stichweh felt a nudge and heard Roger warn him, "Watch out for that plebe walking toward us."

"During those visits," explains Stichweh, "plebes are sometimes ordered to play tricks on the guests. This guy was going to pour a bowl of mashed potatoes on my head but, thanks to Rog, I grabbed him just in time."

Stichweh grabbed the quarterbacking leadership just in time, too. With Staubach off to a slow start—he has completed only eight out of 16 for 69 yards and has lost 14 yards rushing—the service academies seemed fresh out of heroes. Rollie should do very nicely until Roger regains his form.