Today is my favorite holiday, Army — Navy game. The day erases decades of age and returns me once again to the excitement of a plebe riding into Philadelphia for America’s game.
It is the excitement of youth. It is the excitement that creates insomnia. It is the excitement that has me typing now. Pure innocent joy that I never want to lose.
What makes the game so special? The game is drilled into you. From R day (the day you first report to West Point) until a cold winter game day, you are surrounded with messages of Beat Navy. It echoes the halls. It is painted on roofs. It is counted down daily as upper class men yell out the question — “how many days until Navy? and plebes (freshmen) respond “sir / ma’am, there are x and abutt days remaining until Army beats the hell out of Navy at Lincoln Financial Stadium in Philadelphia, PA.” It is so drilled into you that I honestly did not understand the phrase “Beat Army” the first time I heard it. No lie. It just seemed like an illogical sentence.
What makes the game special? You always remember the excitement of those trips away from West Point. It is truly your rock bound Highland home. Isolated. Grey. And in December cold. Weekend trips away are rare. They are special. And Army — Navy weekend is a glorious escape with classmates, who are more than friends. They are brothers and sisters.
What makes the game special? Almost all of college sports has been professionalized. Teams are filled with athletes or at best athletes who are forced to scholar. Army — Navy is full of true scholar athletes. The life of a varsity athlete at either academy is quite simply the toughest of roads. Physics, foreign language, legal, chemistry, history, English, swimming / wrestling / boxing, computer science, ethics, and calculus are all required. These are all mandatory classes. Add in military training. Sprinkle in strict rules and regulations. And then add a lights out policy that forces discipline into every hour of the day. But on top of that, they play. They play hard with all their heart week in week out. And then then pour their heart and soul in beating Navy!
What makes this game special? Every single player has taken an oath to defend this great nation and its Constitution. Every single player is willing to give his life for you and me. Every single player is committed to at least 5 years of selfless service after graduation. No more needs to be said here.
What makes the game special? Pageantry and military tradition. The March on. The spirit videos. The flyover. The cannons. The uniforms. Often the President.
What makes this game special? It is a true rivalry. Behind all the bluster, the joy of winning, and gut wrenching pain of losing is a true mutual respect. It is not the respect of lip service that you hear in the Auburn — Alabama or Michigan — Ohio State game. No. Those games are hatred, not rivalry. Army — Navy is all rivalry. Every cadet and midshipmen is equally qualified to have been at either academy. Every cadet and midshipmen is willing to lay down his or her life. Every cadet and midshipmen knows that in a still far too dangerous world that there is a high likelihood they will serve together fighting America’s enemies.
You see that rivalry best after the game. There are hugs, congratulations, and gestures of support. Then, there is the singing of the alma maters. You always want to sing second — the position of the victors. The winner stands with loser as the Navy alma mater song is song (ok, that’s a cheap jab, but even in a serious post at least one Navy joke is required). Then, the script is flipped. The loser stands with the winner as the winner’s alma mater is sung. Special. Unique. True mutual respect.
Well, I have been up for an hour now. I likely will not get back to sleep. I am once again that young plebe ready for his first Army — Navy game. I am the plebe in the photo above (and yes, I did bury the photo towards the end of this post!). I am once again guaranteeing an Army win. I really do think that we will kick the hell of the squids today. I think the score will be 27–7 for Army. The same score as my first Army — Navy game way back in 1986. Damn, I am truly an old grad.
One other prediction — anyone watching the game for the first time today, even on television, will be hooked for life. Going to this game — America’s Game — will become a bucket list item.