Last weekend I had the great privilege of attending the 116th Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. Philadelphia has hosted 86 of these contests and for good reason. It’s hard to argue that any other city in America has a prouder history. It’s America’s first capital, birthplace of the Constitution, and home of the Liberty Bell. It’s also the halfway point between both academies and a great meeting place for fans. I’ve been to over a hundred college football games but walking through the tailgates pre-game gives you emotions unlike any other sporting event. When talking to family members of these cadets and midshipmen you understand that this game is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The rivalry during the game is intense but the comradery that follows is of greater importance. While the majority of college athletes leave school to embark on any number of professions, the graduates of these academies in many instances leave for boot camp. The importance of what comes next is echoed in a pregame invocation by Army Chaplain Matthew Pawlikowski:
“Ready today to happily visit violence to each other, and, if need be, someday, sometime soon, on the enemies of the world so that our citizens, our allies’ citizens, indeed the sane citizens of all countries, can sleep safe and sound in peace”.
Anyone who’s watched the series since the turn of the century can see that the rivalry’s been very one sided. The Naval Academy has beaten the Black Knights in thirteen straight games. This year, with Army entering the game with a 2-9 record and Navy being nationally ranked, it looked like another blow out was coming. Once the Apache helicopters flew overhead and the teams took the field, it was obvious that neither team would get blown out. When Army took a 17-14 lead at the end of the first half it was awesome seeing the cadets go into complete pandemonium. In the end, Army squandered numerous fourth quarter scoring opportunities and fell to the heavily favored Midshipmen 21-17. The moment that will always live in my mind is after the game when both teams sing each other’s alma mater. The respect both institutions have for each other is unmatched and beautiful to see. Overall it was a humbling experience to watch our most courageous and selfless young men compete against each other on a field of play.