ANNAPOLIS, MD.-Cruising in an eight-car motorcade, Sen. John McCain rolled into Annapolis, Md., Saturday for the Navy-Rutgers football game. His Secret Service agents fanned out as the Republican presidential candidate said hello to his old Navy buddies. This visit, however, wasn't scheduled as a campaign stop, officially-he was there to tailgate.
And to join his Naval Academy classmates for their 50th reunion.
"He was a popular guy," said Dwight Hutchinson, a fellow member of the Class of 1958 who was close friends with one of McCain's roommates, former Admiral Charles Larson.
"His dad was an admiral, so everybody knew him," said Dick Sorensen, another Class of '58er.
Some fans at the game weren't so excited about McCain's visit.
"You didn't pay for your tickets, did you?" asked one man, who declined to be identified, as McCain walked by.
Sorensen said as plebes, or first-year midshipmen, they were given $3 a month in spending money.
"[McCain] wasn't as broke as me," he said. "We put a quarter in the slot machine. If we hit it, we went to a movie. If not, we went back to the Naval Academy."
Many of his classmates agreed: McCain knew how to have a good time.
"He had a reputation for being looser than most," said Jim Sheehan. "He'd break the rules, but he'd be honest about it."
Kermit Coyne said he went through flight training with McCain. Coyne flew 110 combat missions in Vietnam, but said he was never shot down like McCain was. In his mind, McCain's military experience gives him an edge over his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Barack Obama.
"Once you experience real war," Coyne said, "it hardens you."
The Class of 1958 get-together reinforced something that the campaign may not want emphasized: McCain is 72. While he looked fitter than a fiddle, many of his classmates hobbled and wore hearing aids. Hutchinson estimated that about 220 of the 900-person class had passed away.
As for the game, McCain and his classmates were not disappointed: Navy defeated Rutgers 23-21 on a late field goal by Matt Harmon.