Army-Navy: This uear it’s much more than just a football game

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 4, 2003

Special to the News-Herald

(Editor’s Note: Joe DiRenzo III, whose &uot;Boating Safety’ column is a regular weekly feature in The Suffolk News-Herald on Sundays, is a 1982 graduate of the United States Naval Academy where he lettered in football. At the request of the News-Herald, Joe, who used to host Navy Game Day (the pre-game radio show), has provided a personal reflection on one of college football’s greatest traditions: the Army-Navy game, which will be played tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the Philadelphia’s new Lincoln Financial Field.)

College football is a game built on tradition and rivalry. Regardless of the respective records when two athletic rivals square off against each other the fans are always the winner. Nothing beats a great football rivalry.

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Lately, because of the money and influence involved some college football programs have almost become as big as any of the members of the National Football League. Millions of dollars are at stake, and the toll is taken on graduation rates. In many cases college football has become as big a business as the pros.

Tomorrow however, in Philadelphia, perhaps one of college football’s most publicized rivalries will play for the 104th time. It will be a chance to see college football the way it was meant to be played: purely, simply and for important bragging rights.

Tomorrow Army plays Navy under the backdrop of a nation at war. The game will be shown nationally on CBS-TV and heard nationally on the Westwood One radio network.

What makes this intense rivalry special this year? Three things come immediately to mind: Navy’s season, history and tradition.

Let’s start with the Midshipman’s season which now stands at 7-4. No one predicted a 7-4 season. In addition, regardless of the Army-Navy outcome, the Mids have also accepted an invitation to play in the Houston Bowl on December 30th against a Big 12 opponent. What a change from last year!

History. Regardless of the records a win in this contest makes the season for the victor a lot easier, a loss adds insult to injury. There is even more at stake. Many Division I College Coaches like to use military examples and military strategists comments to fire up their teams. Members of the Army and Navy squads don’t need this, the seniors especially understand that next year, once commissioned they will join the &uot;real&uot; Army or the Fleet, with the world in such a tenuous situation…it must weigh on their thoughts. After this game the seniors will start looking towards their commissioning. For members of the Army class the chance of a posting in Iraq is a possibility.

In years past, five Heisman Trophy winners have played for the schools. For Navy legends like Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino were considered the best in college football. For Army

players including Felix &uot;Doc&uot; Blanchard, Glenn Davis and Pete Dawkins have won college football’s greatest honor.

Tradition. In the past ten years seven of the Army-Navy games have been seesaw battles. In fact, the outcome of each of these contests were not known until the final minutes of each game. Whatever, the records this is one of the most watched games of the year.

So with this backdrop how do this year’s teams match up? To put it bluntly Navy is on fire as indicated by their last game, a 63-34 victory over Central Michigan. Navy racked up 644 yards of total offense, which ranks sixth on the all time list for the Academy. In addition, Navy averaged 10.2 yards per carry during this game.

The Navy team is ranked as one of the top two &uot;turnaround&uot; teams of 2003 and have a legitimate shot at winning the Commander-In-Chief Trophy, which is presented annually to the winner of the football competition between the Division I-A service academies. Air Force leads the overall winners with 16, Army is second with six, while Navy brings up the rear with five. The last Midshipman win was 1981.

The Black Knights, on the other hand, are 0-12 dropping their 14th straight game to Hawaii 59-28. This is the longest streak in the nation. Army has lost 23 of its last 24 games and is having its worst season in its 114-year history.

Army’s last win came on Nov. 16, 2002 against Tulane.

However, Army’s tradition of winning is significant. The Black Knights are in the midst of their 114th season and sixth as members of Conference USA. Army boasts an impressive all-time record of 622-403-51 (.602) and ranked tied for 24th on the nation’s all-time victories list entering the 2003 campaign. The Black Knights ended 108 years of Division I-A independence in 1998 and enter the 2003 season ranked 24th among all Division I-A programs in winning percentage (.607).

Remember the record books go out the window for this game. The intensity to win is felt around the world. This is anyone’s game!

Why watch? Pageantry, tradition such as the Navy and Army &uot;jump teams&uot;, and pure &uot;never give up the ship&uot; college football are four good reasons. Want more reasons? How about watching the &uot;March On&uot; of both the Brigade of Midshipman and the Corps of Cadets, which is one of College footballs inspiring moments or the half-time show which always has excellent patriotic music. In addition, throughout the game, the &uot;Go Navy&uot; and &uot;Go Army&uot; videotapes which are sent in from the two service’s commands throughout the world are also impressive, and sometimes extremely clever.

Army-Navy – take the time tomorrow to watch or listen. It is college football at its purest!