The 118th playing of the Army-Navy game was an instant classic, on and off the field. Played in a snowstorm, one could say that the Army finally found a camouflage uniform that worked the way it was supposed to. And in a year where the Army’s West Point came under a lot of scrutiny for reasons they’d rather not delve into, this was the perfect cure.
The Army held on to win for the second year in a row when Navy’s Bennett Moehring 48-yard field goal attempt veered just left in the driving snow and there was jubilation on the Army sideline. While the devastated Navy sideline saw that their epic comeback missed by just a foot or two.
In a sport that no one wants to come in second place, the goal of the Army-Navy game is to sing second. In their time-honored tradition, the cadets from each academy gather together to hear the song from the school’s alma mater. The losing team sings first and the winners sing second. So this is the one day a year, that the men want to be second. The Army also won the prestigious Commander in Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 1996. It is given to the service academy who wins the triangular series between the Air Force Academy, the US Military Academy, and the Naval Academy.
But perhaps the best moment of the day occurred before the game even began. The National Anthem, a song that has been targeted with such controversy and misunderstanding this year, was sung brilliantly and beautifully by the combine Glee choruses of both the Army and Navy’s service academy.
As the cadets sang the National Anthem with the backdrop of the falling snow, the cameras pulled back and scanned the combined chorus and one could see every type of nationality that makes the melting pot of the US so workable. There were no cadets kneeling or taking a stand for social justice here. The message that the academies were showing the rest of the country is that here, we are all one. Is the military perfect? Of course not and those of us who’ve served will attest to that. But it arguably works better than any segment of our society. It was one of those surreal moments that was perfectly captured and broadcast, that it nearly resembles a propaganda video.
Army coach Jeff Monken who took a football program that was floundering and one that was way behind the service academies of the Air Force and Navy and has made the Black Knights a relevant football program again. Prior to Monken arriving, the Cadets had lost 12 in a row to Navy and most of those were total blowouts. But although Monken and Army lost the first two games against Navy that he coached, both games were much closer and now the Army has won two years in a row. The Black Knights are going to the second bowl game in as many years.
The players on both teams are excellent examples of young men with great leadership on and off the football field. Malcolm Perry, the Navy quarterback, led a tremendous final drive that appeared to be a game-winner for the Midshipmen again. But two penalties set them back and Moehring’s field goal attempt may have snuck thru the uprights otherwise. After the game, the Army players lined up to express admiration for Perry who was in tears. The Army’s quarterback, Ahmad Bradshaw, led an impressive game-winning drive where he led the Cadets on a 65-yard, 11-play drive where they pounded the ball on the ground to get the winning touchdown. These two teams don’t throw the ball, they run it and pound it between the tackles and play tough physical football. Watching them in the snow, it could have easily been a game from the 1940’s when the service academies, especially Army ruled.
One of the most poignant moments was after the game, Perry, in tears after the disappointment of coming up just short, was consoled by Mike Viti, an assistant coach at Army, who played on many of those horrible Cadet teams and knows all about the disappointment.
This game and the Army-Navy rivalry is different from many of the others that you’ll see in college football. Because for the seniors who graduate from each service academy in the spring of 2018, they’ll be then playing for the same team. In no other college rivalry will the players who are such bitter rivals on the field, will be willing to lay down their lives for one another off of it in just a few short months. The United States has been embroiled in a long, drawn-out war for more than 16 years and it shows no signs of stopping. Many of the young men and women who graduate in the spring will be going into harm’s way soon after that. Many will see combat and sadly enough, a few will probably pay the ultimate sacrifice in the not-too-distant future. These people and the game on Saturday are the best recruiting commercial the military could ask for. This is the best example of what college football is all about. Will either of these schools play for a national championship in the not so distant future? That is very doubtful. But they will be playing for much more soon and the nation appreciates that. Mission accomplished…
And. Go Army, Beat Navy!