MISSION FIRST: Going The Distance




Dec. 10, 2013

by Pam Flenke

The 1992 Army-Navy football game ranks among the best in series history. In front of a crowd of over 65,000 at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, Army overcame a 17-point second-half deficit to beat Navy, 25-24. The win began a streak of five straight for the Black Knights, their longest victory string in series history.

What many remember from that game was Patmon Malcolm's 49-yard game-winning field goal with 12 seconds left. But what got Army to within two points, 24-22, with just under 7:30 remaining in the final quarter remains on the record books today.

Brent Musberger was calling the game for ABC Sports: "From their own 31-yard line ... Roper to throw it ... over the middle ... wide open was Gaylord Greene! And Greene takes it for the touchdown! 68 yards! And Gaylord Greene, from Santa Ana, California, has given West Point a fresh life."

Gaylord Greene's 68-yard touchdown catch from Rick Roper goes down as Army's longest pass play ever in an Army-Navy game. The long pass is practically a foreign concept to fans of the service academies, just as much now as it was back then. In 2012, the Black Knights and Midshipmen ranked last and fourth-to-last, respectively, among all 120 Football Bowl Championship Subdivision programs in passing yards per game. In 1992, it wasn't much different. Army ranked third from the bottom.

Now, 20 years later, when asking Greene about the play, he's humbled by it. "I was a blocking receiver, that's why I was so open!" Greene jokes. "The biggest thing I carry with me is that I had the opportunity to do something for my team, to really contribute. It was my last game and as a receiver, it was my only touchdown. I take that with me.

"But right now, it's for my kids. Every now and then they can see it on ESPN Classic, which is awesome for them. I just think of the kids being able to do that and how we're blessed."

It wasn't a straight road that brought Greene to the east coast in the fall of 1988. Growing up in Santa Ana, Greene had no prior military service in his family and his only interaction with the military was with Marines stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton and Tustin Marine Base.

In 1983, Army and Navy played their first and only game west of the Mississippi River, 40 miles north of Santa Ana in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl.

"There were a couple key things that got me to look at the Army. When they played the Army-Navy game at the Rose Bowl, bringing it to the west coast; and my brother attending the (United States Military Academy) Prep School. I was also selected to go to California Boys State my junior year, where there was a West Point recruiter. That was one of my first contacts."

Despite Army football coaches visiting Greene's high school, Orange Lutheran, he wasn't recruited. Greene attended the U.S. Military Academy Prep School like his older brother, but was more interested in track, as West Point's head coach, Ron Bazil, had shown him interest. But after a late growth spurt, Greene gave up on his track career and focused on football.

"I ran at the prep school but gave it up after that. I got too big. I got to the prep school at about six-feet tall, 180 pounds and left six-foot-three and over 200."

Greene went on to play three seasons of football at West Point, capped by that ever-famous play. But like many cadets, his experience wasn't without challenges and difficulties. He credits the relationships he built along the way with getting him through those rough patches.

"From Reception Day, you learn from `reporting to the man in the red sash.' You come to a place you don't know anything about but yet you keep taking it a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month at a time and next thing you know, you've gone through this awesome process. And you can't put it all together because to you, you just went through it a day at a time.

"As a `Plebe,' you're going through it and you can't look around, you're always `eyes forward.' Then you go to practice and just making eye contact with someone can make your day, in the context of West Point. West Point teaches you to be communal and build relationships because that's what you have to do here. You build relationships or you fail. Especially as a football player. They're just another family. It's one of the largest teams on campus and that's how many brothers you have. You take care of each other and assure that everyone is competing towards that ultimate goal of winning."

With the addition of his teammates, coaches and officer representatives, Greene credits Col. Fred Black as one of his main mentors while attending West Point. "He was my mentor since `Day One'. He monitored me, kept me on the right path and knew things I didn't think he knew. Now that I'm back at West Point, I know how he knew!" jokes Greene.

Today, Greene is that all-knowing adviser to countless cadets. He returned to West Point in 2003 with a master's degree in business administration from James Madison University after spending time at Fort Sill, Okla., Fort Lewis, Wash., Copenhagen, and Germany. Upon his return to the banks of the Hudson, Greene served as a minority admissions officer.

"My view of West Point changed when I returned to work with minority admissions," says Greene, who currently holds the rank of lieutenant colonel. "As a mid-grade officer I was put in the middle of the strategic part of West Point. The mission of minority admissions is to ensure our officer corps reflects our military."

Greene has spent time with cadet candidates throughout the United States, Europe, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. "A lot of those kids go on to the prep school, then to West Point, and now I'm at the point where those folks are lieutenants and captains and majors, which makes me feel really old," jokes Greene. "But you can see the development process and it's rewarding beyond measure, to really be where it starts, and admissions is the core of it.

"Sometimes you'll meet folks in eighth grade who say, `Wow, I didn't know this existed and I want it,' and you watch them matriculate. In some cases, kids who would have never had the opportunity if someone hadn't reached out to them, and that's what's awesome about the program."

One of the products of the minority outreach program was former football standout Josh McNary (USMA '11). McNary, who graduated as the Black Knights' all-time sacks leader and was recently signed to a free agent contract by the Indianapolis Colts, wasn't a result of football recruiting, but rather got involved with West Point through attending a minority admissions event before visiting the Academy and then "walking on" to the USMAPS team. Greene playfully calls McNary his recruit.

"We still have a special relationship today; we've maintained that mentorship despite my responsibilities now," says Greene. "And it's not just him or just minority players, it's all players. Working with operations and helping the cadets navigate because I know sometimes the perception is that football players are getting out of stuff, but it's quite the opposite. They're doing a lot more, and you have to help them manage that. That's what we try to do and assure that they are successful."

With his responsibilities now shifted away from minority admissions to operations with the football team, as well as admission matters with the men's and women's basketball, hockey and lacrosse programs, Greene enjoys the constantly changing nature of his job, but remains committed to working with the cadets.

"On a daily basis, my challenges change; it's whatever fire is going to come up. It could be that one of our recruits got injured and now isn't qualified medically -- what do we do? It could be our cadets' six-week grade reports -- making sure they're doing what they need to do. Or getting an athletic intern -- helping them focus and manage where they're going. It changes daily but I enjoy it. It's fun."

And while countless cadets can rely on Greene to be their advisor, the former Army wide receiver says he maintains the same type of relationships with those who have guided him throughout the years.

"As you get older and your scope of influence becomes more diverse, your mentorship and your sounding boards become just as diverse. Part of my job experience, my time at West Point and in the military has really afforded me the ability to have a battery of folks as mentors."

While Greene is no longer making game-changing touchdown catches, he is going the distance with West Point's Corps of Cadets, building relationships to strengthen the Long Gray Line. After all, it was the strength of the relationships he made throughout his time here that got him through and keeps him going today.

"Those relationships made me work harder to make sure I was doing what I needed to do to be here and stay here and perform well here. You remember the games -- the wins, the losses, and you remember the hard work. But I really go back to relationships. You remember the friends you would do anything for. That's what I take most out of my time at West Point."

Tune in tomorrow for KATE, JOHN, RICK AND ANNIE HOUGHTON: The First Family Of Army Tennis.

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