Saturday, December 8, 2012

For the Love of the Game

College football's regular season - at least as played at the Division I Level - comes to a close this afternoon.  The Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy and the Cadets of the United States Military Academy shall meet in the annual Army-Navy Game.  It has been a long, long time since either Navy or Army was a "player" in big-time college football. 

For the kids from West Point it likely feels as if it has been almost as long since they were last relevant in this rivalry.  It has been more than a decade since the Cadet Corps has celebrated a win over their arch-rivals from Annapolis.  The Middies carry a ten-game winning streak into this afternoon's 113th meeting.  Last year - for what felt like the first time in a very long time - the Cadets from West Point came close to winning before ending up on the wrong side of a 27-21 decision.   They come to Philadelphia this afternoon completing a twelve-game schedule that has seen them thus far win only two of their first eleven.  They have not won a game in more than a month.  But what a win it was.  Army defeated Air Force at West Point on November's first Saturday 41-21.  If they can manage to spring the upset today and beat Navy, they will win the Commander-In-Chief Trophy for the first time since 1996

For the Midshipmen, putting the lumber to the Black Knights of the Hudson has seemingly become a rite of passage.  Unlike Army, Navy is bowl-bound again this year.  To date, the Middies have tallied a 7-4 mark playing a schedule that has seen them play Penn State in State College and Notre Dame in Dublin.  Their seven wins also include a win over Air Force.  So this afternoon they play not only to try and hang an eleventh straight defeat on the Cadets but also to retain the Commander-In-Chief Trophy.   Navy has won the C-I-C each of the past five years.

Today marks the first time in fact since 2005 that the Army-Navy Game shall also identify the winner of the C-I-C.  And if you think that does not mean pretty much everything to the players, coaches and institutions on either side of the scrimmage line, then you should spend a bit of time acquainting yourself with the history of this game. 

I love this game because it is played by young men who - as a general rule - shall wrap up their competitive football-playing days when their college career ends.  It is played - this year - as it has been for more than a decade by young men who made a commitment to attend one of this nation's Service Academies armed with the knowledge that the debt owed for that education was a commitment to their respective branch of the military of a nation that is at war.  When each of the young men playing at Lincoln Financial Field this afternoon opted to attend their respective academy, each knowingly and willingly accepted the fact that irrespective of how heated and how tense things get out there today, a far more tense and far more dangerous field might be waiting for them on an as yet to be determined Saturday.  Still they signed.  Still they honor their commitment.

It seems to me that today is the best part of being President of the United States (well, except for never having to wait in security lines or at baggage claim when you fly).  Today is the day that the President gets to spend his afternoon watching football - spending one half of the game on the Army side of the field and teh other on the Navy side.  If this particular Saturday is not on the short list for President Obama's "Favorite Saturday of the Year" then color me stunned. 

Even if your schedule does not permit you the opportunity to watch all of the game today, do yourself the great service of catching the end.  At game's end, the teams take turns standing before the student bodies and signing their Academy's alma maters.  

In case you were wondering, winning team sings last.  It has been a hell of a long time since the kids from Army have gotten to hear their counterparts from Navy sing first.  This year perhaps?   We shall see. 

Enjoy the game.  And be grateful for each and every one of them:  the kids on the field and the kids in the stands. 


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