Saturday, December 12, 2009

Everybody Wins......Including Us

This afternoon two of this nation's Service Academies shall renew one of college football's greatest rivalries in Philadelphia. According to the official web site of the United States Naval Academy this afternoon represents the 110th edition of the Army-Navy Game. The Midshipmen have been on a bit of a roll lately at the expense of their brothers in arms from West Point. Today they shall shoot for their eighth consecutive win over the Black Knights and during the previous seven they have put a hurting on Army, outscoring them by slightly more than two hundred points.

While there have been years in the history of this series - especially during this era of college football as gargantuan big business - when neither team has been particularly watchable on the field, during this recent spate of Naval dominance that has not been the case for the Midshipmen. Navy has won eight games already this season - including among their conquests their second consecutive win at Notre Dame (a nice bookend to the 2007 win in South Bend that ended the Middies' 40+ game losing streak to the Irish). Over the past decade, Navy has reestablished itself as a solid, respectable and winning college football team.

Army - on the other hand - has struggled. The Black Knights have ended every season since - at least - the 2001-o2 campaign with a losing record. This year however they are 5-6 coming into today's regular season finale. A win today and they become that which every Division I school hopes to become every season: bowl-eligible. With their comrades from Annapolis and from Colorado Springs already bowl-bound, it would be terrific to see the kids from West Point complete the trifecta.

Army-Navy is never just a football game. "Pagaentry" is among the most overused and abused terms in the vernacular of college football as if every marriage between intoxicated co-eds and face paint is somehow magical. However today's event is one for which the use of "pagaentry" is wholly appropriate. Even if you cannot spend the entirety of your Saturday afternoon watching the game, try to catch the "March On" when both Academies' student bodies enter the stadium to take up their respective rooting positions. It is a remarkable sight to see.

And it is remarkable as well to remember that given our current engagements around the world there are a number of the players on each of these teams who are - like countless more of their classmates in the stands - perhaps not more than a couple of months away from spending his Saturday afternoon in a place far more hostile than in the shadow of his own end zone facing a 3rd down and long late in the game. These young men know that football is a game and "combat" (yet another grotesquely overused and abused term in the college football vernacular) is something else altogether. One is for kids and the other - often times with tragic consequences - is most decidedly an adult activity.

For no reason other than I would love to see the Army players get to enjoy a trip to a bowl game this December, I find myself this year unable to assume my Swiss cheese-like position of neutrality. I really am rooting more for what we have not seen much of during Navy's recent era of dominance, which is a close, competitive game.

That is not entirely true. In the past several years, while we have been at war in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the broadcast has contained information about not only what a particular player's area of study is and hoped-for assignment after graduation is but - in the case of a number of the seniors - it has also featured their deployment to either war zone. I look forward to the year in the not-too-distant future where "deployment" is no longer part of the Army-Navy game vernacular.

Pagaentry is a much cooler word to say. Right?


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