Napoleon McCallum's graduation from the Naval Academy will be an uncharacteristically quiet affair, in contrast to a football career that sprawls across the record books with an extravagance matched only by his name -- double C, double L and one emperor.
On Dec. 17, in a small ceremonial room in Bancroft Hall before a few braided onlookers, McCallum will receive his commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. This occurrence, he says, will be the first "real" thing to happen to him in the last five years, a near half-decade of surreal dramas played out in football stadiums and military formations.
McCallum will leave Navy as the owner of 26 school records and the NCAA's career leader in all-purpose yardage. But he also will leave without the Heisman Trophy, and with two consecutive losing seasons to end his happy-sad career.
Navy (3-7) will try to salvage something from McCallum's fifth year at the Academy with a victory over Army Saturday in the service rivalry classic at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, his final game before he begins his five-year service commitment. Sometime late Saturday night on some street in Philadelphia, the air will be filled with the tossing of several Naval Academy caps in an informal salute. The football team promised McCallum the private hat-tossing ceremony last spring when he decided to return to Navy for his unprecedented fifth year, forgoing graduation -- and the traditional hat toss that day -- with his class.
At that time, Navy was expected to have one of its finest seasons in recent memory and McCallum, returning from a broken leg that caused him to miss almost the entire 1984 season and allowed him another year of eligibility, was thought to be one of the favorites for the Heisman.
Instead, the Midshipmen have lost five games by a profoundly frustrating total of 15 points, and McCallum's 6,896 career all-purpose yards have gone largely unrecognized.
But regrets do not come easily to McCallum, who may be one of the most extraordinary student athletes of his era. To remain eligible, he went to summer school to enable him to take a second degree in physical science to go with the one in applied science he already had earned. For the season, he has 1,110 yards on 246 carries, 11th best in the country, on a team that was outmanned nearly everywhere it went.
"It was fun," he said. "Against all odds, maybe, but it was fun. Getting ready each week, the jitters, and actually playing are all good times. Right until the last second, until we lost, it was always fun. It was the losses themselves that were hard to take."
There will be surprisingly few remnants of McCallum's career other than the numbers in the record book. Although other schools might be tempted to build something in bronze, the Naval Academy is sparing in its recognition and has retired only two jerseys, those of Heisman winners Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino. McCallum's, however, may be another; the Navy Athletic Association is expected to make a recommendation, which then has to be approved by the Academy superintendent, Adm. Charles Larson.
One of the few displays of McCallum's accomplishments hangs on a wall in his family home in Ohio, a large bulletin board with a color photo against a yellow background designed by his father. Blue writing and a small blue football spell out each of his records, which are now too numerous to fit on the board, and in which McCallum takes obvious pleasure. Against Army, he probably will pass another milestone: He needs just 38 yards rushing to become the 22nd back in NCAA history to gain 4,000 yards in a career.
"I guess he's going to have to redo it," McCallum said with a smile. "The all-purpose record means a lot. The most rushing yards for Navy -- that means a lot, too."
Still, there is one undeniable regret: Navy's poor season undoubtedly hurt McCallum's Heisman chances. Auburn's Bo Jackson appears to be a lock, with Iowa's Chuck Long second. McCallum's name was rarely mentioned in the running after midseason, despite the fact that he passed Darrin Nelson's NCAA all-purpose record against South Carolina 2 1-2 weeks ago.
"I don't like to concede defeat, so I don't like to talk about it," he said. "It was important. I tried not to make it so important to me, but it was."
McCallum's lack of recognition in the Heisman voting is perceived as an injustice at Navy, where he has become a tremendously respected, almost revered fixture. He was a squad leader and a model student, and also the team co-captain. At 6 feet 3, he looks the part of the officer and speaks with an articulate ease that makes him seem older than his years.
"If you spend five minutes with him and don't come away liking him, then you don't like anybody in the world," Navy Athletic Director Bo Coppedge said.