By Beasley Reece
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
As the nation reflects, we will be reminded of the youthful athletic vigor that the Kennedys brought to the White House as big-time sports fans.
Those of us old enough to remember 1963 know exactly where we were when President Kennedy was assassinated. My Dad was in Dallas hoping to see the motorcade pass. I was in elementary school and remember teachers and children crying.
JFK was a hero in the U.S. Navy and a big sports fan, especially football. Two local men remember their time with Navy football and the day the world turned upside down.
President Kennedy was as pumped about an Army-Navy game as an Eagles fan on Dallas day. He attended the game in Philadelphia in 1962. But as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, he had to appear impartial.
But legendary Navy coach Wayne Hardin knew better. He remembers the President’s response when asked if he wanted to meet the Navy team, at an academy training session in Rhode Island.
“Damn right I want to meet them and he turned around to his aide and said, go get Bobby he will want to meet these people,” Wayne Hardin, former Navy head football coach said.
Coach Hardin’s Navy team competed for major bowls and national championships. He told me he doesn’t go three or four days without thinking of his team’s special relationship with the President.
“I hate to put this in the religious point of view but it is almost like meeting God. He was so genuine,” he said.
Like most Americans in the 60s, November 22nd, 1963 was the darkest day of his career.
“I called the team up at practice and told them that he had just got shot and didn’t have anymore information than that. That we called off practice,” he said.
“We all kind of drifted over to the Naval Academy Chapel at the time, we said prayers, and two days after that, the game was canceled, and then two days following that, Jackie said no, the President would have wanted this game to be played,” Rear Adm. Tom Lynch (Ret.) and former Navy football player said.
And what a game it was. Army was driving in for the winning score but Navy held on, for the win.
“I told the team before the game, we want to play a game that is fit for a President and we did,” Hardin said.
Tom Lynch described America as gripped in despair, shock, disbelief, anger and fear. Both, the Hall of Fame coach and the retired Rear Admiral of the Navy struggled to control their emotions 50 years later.