Joseph Andre Gattuso, Jr. – Football

There was never a doubt Joe Junior would attend the Naval Academy. As a toddler, he played
catch with the game ball won by his Dad, Joe Gattuso Sr. when Navy beat Stanford 25-0 in
1954, and the gold-painted game ball from the Army-Navy game, also from 1954, when Navy
beat Army, 27-20. The Most Valuable Player trophy from the 1955 Sugar Bowl, won by Joe Sr. in
Tulane by scoring two touchdowns as part of the ‘Team Named Desire’, was on the mantle no
matter where the family was living, as was the little silver Thompson Trophy cup, awarded to
Joe Gattuso Sr. in 1955. When Joe Jr. was five years old, his Dad, an instructor pilot out of
Willow Grove NAS, led a flight of 16 FJ-4 Fury aircraft over the house at 200 feet. Throughout
his life, Joe Senior (son of an Italian immigrant, raised during the Depression), inculcated in Joe
Junior the conviction that the Navy, and the Naval Academy specifically, was both the gate and
the pinnacle of success in life, the source of all things honorable, the place where good men
could become successful, no matter their ethnicity or financial background. All one needed was
toughness and desire. As Joe Junior grew up and matured in his understanding of history and
his appreciation for how important our military was to the defense of our country, he came to
believe that there could be no higher calling in life than that of a naval officer. Annapolis
represented both Valhalla and the playing fields of Eton. Admirals were gods, Captains
archangels, and midshipmen the chosen few.

Joe Junior wasn’t recruited to play football. He played for a very small high school; he was too
small; he was too slow. A number of things worked in his favor, though. His Dad had convinced
him that if you wanted something badly enough and worked hard enough, nothing was out of
reach. He made the freshman team as a plebe, watching his plebe classmates—those bigger,
faster guys recruited from bigger schools—step onto the varsity field. It was motivational fuel;
he burned to get just one chance to play for the varsity. And there was the funny coincidence
that one of his father’s teammates, the quarterback from the “Team Named Desire”, George
Welch, just happened to be USNA’s head coach when Joe Junior showed up.

Whether because running backs were sparse on the ground that year; or because better, faster
athletes decided they preferred civilian life; or just out of a curiosity to see how far the apple
fell from the tree, George Welch gave Gattuso Junior a shot at running the ball during his
sophomore season. He was still too slow and too small, but somehow he racked up the yards,
ran over guys bigger and faster than he was, got a lot of paint on his helmet, and basically kept
his coaches happy enough to keep him in the starting lineup for the next three years.
Joe wasn’t what some might call a ‘cheerleader’. He was reserved, quiet, and tended to steer
post-game questions about his performance to discussions about the linemen who’d knocked
open the holes, or the other guys on the team who’d done well. But his teammates knew he
cared about them, and recognizing an idealist when they saw one (idealists make the best
advocates with referees), they elected him co-captain for his senior year. It was his privilege to
represent them.

At the close of his last season, he gathered the seniors on the team to a meeting. He observed
that, having eaten three meals a day with each other every day for the last three years, and
having shared the ups and downs and pains and joy of playing football together, they might
want to stay in touch as they moved out into their careers and as their lives diverged. Funny
thing, not many thought much of it at the time, but as the years rolled out, as the technology of
the internet and email emerged, as we all looked back to take stock of our lives, an appreciation
for our teammates matured, and USNA’s 1978 football players coalesced again and
reconnected. Something similar emerged many years later among other classes of Navy
ballplayers, known now as the Navy Football Brotherhood.

Joe always felt that football (or any sport) should be an arena in which sportsmanship, courage,
and fortitude were both developed and demonstrated so as to improve the quality of officers
produced by the academies for service to the nation. As such, when he was USNA’s Officer
Representative to the football team in the early 1990’s, LCDR Gattuso made it a point to visit
the opposing team’s locker room before each game and wish their coach and players the best
of luck in the coming contest.

After graduation, Joe earned his wings and flew A-7s and F/A-18s, slugged out late nights at
Monterey and earned a Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering, and then spent his closing
years in the Navy as an Aviation Engineering Duty Officer. After retiring, he worked for a
number of smaller companies, stepped into the newly-emerging world of private security firms,
and then ran his own company, helping young start-up firms as well as established security
companies draft proposals for submission to the government. Another career as a management
systems auditor followed, interspersed with a couple of books published, and then the last
career (one presumes) as a farmer in northern Maine.

He looks back with fondness on his years at Navy, and in the Navy. One of the things about
which he is most proud is that as far as he knows, Joe Senior and Joe Junior are the only father
and son to be awarded the Thompson Trophy at USNA. Mostly, however, he is grateful for his
teammates, “for better or worse”, as the years go by.