Army Vs. Navy: Why This College Football Game Is Different
There is something different with this particular college football game. Sure they are not BCS contenders, and never pretend to be. They do not have any big Heisman names, or look to have anyone going high in the NFL draft. They cannot and will not dare to leave early to pursue NFL careers. So why do so many people care about this particular college game? Because this game has a long tradition and a natural rivalry that is arguably the best pure college football you can ask for. I speak of the Army-Navy Game, and today they meet for the 112th time.
The players in this particular game are future officers in our two respective service branches. To truly appreciate college life at West Point Academy or Annapolis Naval Academy (Or Air Force Academy, let’s not forget them), one should tour the campuses. I had the pleasure of touring West Point this summer. The tour guide told story after story about our military legends. One was about George S. Patton, who took an extra year to graduate. Little known fact about General Patton, he was dyslexic, and had trouble with his studies. But when asked why he took five years, Patton, in his brusque manner, would answer “I couldn’t find the library”. When the new West Point Library was built, a statue of General Patton was erected nearby, so he could find it. One cadet had an amazing amount of demerits and discipline issues that cost him many of hours on the parade field doing extra duty. That unlucky cadet was General (and President) Dwight D. Eisenhower. Another anecdote directly related to Army-Navy, as told by a gracious tour guide when we neared the main campus chapel.
Every day at 0800 sharp, an Army cadet would ring the bells of the main cathedral for reveille. Normally, the doors to the cathedral would be unlocked. Of course, like any squared-away cadet, it was proper to be at the cathedral by 0745.
One morning, during Army-Navy week, the cadet on duty showed up at 0745 and found the tower bell door locked. He tried to find someone to unlock the door before 0800. To ring the bells late would cost the cadet demerits or worse. The cadet grew panicked as 0800 approached. At precisely 0800, to the horror of the cadet on duty, the morning bells began to ring, but instead of the usual song, the bells were ringing Row Row Your Boat.
Military Police showed up and arrested a Navy midshipman who snuck into the tower overnight, locked the door and waited for 0800 to pull his Army-Navy hazing prank. That midshipman was none other than Midshipman Ross Perot, who ran as a third party candidate for President in 1992
There are many other stories that make this rivalry a treasure. Before September 11, 2001, it was always a grand challenge for cadets and midshipmen to attempt to kidnap the opponent’s mascot, a mule for Army, and a goat for Navy. Each academy has a mass bonfire and other campus spirit activities for the full week leading up to the American classic.
What makes the Army-Navy clash different from other rivalries in college football? These players are not playing for BCS standings, lucrative NFL contracts or Nike endorsements. Instead, each cadet has pledged eight years of their young lives to become leaders in the Armed Services. They are playing for love of the game and pride in their school. Unlike other big name, and big money, college football rivalries, once the game is over the two academies come together to acknowledge they are truly on the same team, with one love of country and pride of duty.
If Nike truly wants to have their products endorsed by real heroes, they should look no further than Washington DC today at 3 PM.
Notes: I served in the U.S. Army from 1984-1988 including 2 ½ years in (former) West Germany, so I admit to being biased on personal rooting interest.
The game is at 3:00 PM (1500 hours for you military folks) on CBS. Today’s game is at FedEx Field in Landover MD, but traditionally is played in Philadelphia. Every fourth year, the academies rotate to a different neutral site other than Philadelphia.
Navy currently leads the series 52-49. Navy is on a nine game win streak against Army. Army last won in December 2001.
Tradition dictates that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, will sit on the side of each academy for one half. Unconfirmed stories rumored that President Kennedy broke this tradition once and stayed on the Navy side the entire game. If anyone can verify/disclaim this story, please e-mail me with a reliable source. I would love to know the historical truth.
Link to West Point Academy, including tour schedules: http://www.usma.edu/
Link to Annapolis Naval Academy, including tour schedules: http://www.usna.edu/homepage.php