Army-Navy: Why America's Game Is The Best In Sports
For 364 days out of the year, members of the Army and Navy fight alongside each other, rooting for the other to succeed. After all, the duo has been linked for more than a century in helping ensure the United States of America remains one of the most powerful nations on earth.
However, one day out of the year is different: The day where members of the U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy meet on the gridiron for a year's worth of bragging rights.
Saturday will be the 114th meeting between the two teams with Navy leading the series 57-49-7. Navy is currently on an 11-game winning streak, although the games in the last two years have been close (27-21 in 2011 and 17-13 in 2012).
But this rivalry is about more than wins. It represents everything that makes this country great and gives players (most of whom won't see the field on Sundays) a chance to be in the national spotlight as the only game on TV.
"The Army-Navy game is more than just a football game," said Col. Fredrick Choi, a 1986 graduate of West Point. "It's about all of the Army values we have embraced. The significance of the game transforms at different stages of life. As a new Cadet at West Point, I simply took it as a football game with a long-standing rivalry. But as I matured in the military, it became a tradition to which to rally upon to support the team. This became especially important in the last 10 years when the U.S. was engaged in two different wars."
Said Lt. Col. Mark Houston, West Point class of 1995 and a four-time participant in America's Game: "To me, there is not another game or sport which truly embodies the meaning of what America is all about. Both teams represent not only their schools, they represent service to their country and the hard-earned freedom their forebearers earned."
And the lead-up to the game is as much a part of the story as the game itself.
Beat Army/Beat Navy
From the first day a Midshipman or Cadet gets on campus, "Beat Army" or "Beat Navy" is ingrained into their every-day lives. While they root for the same team most of the year, each side emphasizes this game.
"The first words you learn when you step foot onto the Yard as a Midshipman are 'Beat Army,'" said Donnie Horner, Naval Academy class of 2008 president. "It defines who and what were are. We are rivals at every level: Service, academics, athletics, tradition, you name it. No other school can compare to the Naval Academy except for West Point. Not other student body is as closely related to the Brigade of Midshipmen than West Point's Corps of Cadets. These similarities form the foundation of the rivalry."
Said Houston: "From your very first day as a Cadet, you are ingrained with 'Beat Navy.' It's written everywhere. You greet upperclassmen with it, you chant it through tunnels, you even write it if you can't think of anything else to say during exams. I know the same is true at Annapolis."
The lead-up to the game also is an exciting time, as 1992 Naval Academy graduate Brian Dozier recounted in an article on MyDesert.com:
"The first Army-Navy game was so exciting," he said. "Piling on the bus with all your company mates in your cold weather gear for the couple hour bus ride to Philly, lining up as a company in the old Veteran stadium parking lot, and witnessing the military precision of organizing 4,500 midshipman was so impressive to me."
The Game Itself
For players that have been a part of the game, nothing can adequately describe running out of the tunnel with the Stars and Stripes leading the way.
"As a player, they were the biggest games I had ever been in," said Lt. Col. JR West, West Point class of 1995 and four-time participant in America's Game. "Each year was bigger than the last. The final time you represent Army in football and step off that field, victorious, has no words.
"There's that moment right before kickoff ... everything you have done for the last 365 days in preparation for this moment is about to be realized. The first crack of the pads and the roar of the crowd brings focus to your sole mission: Beat Navy!"
The Alma Maters
Sing last. That's what each team is fighting for in America's Game. That's because both teams pay respect to the other as the bands play the alma maters. The loser goes first with the winner standing at attention in the background to honor their brothers.
Then, the winners get their turn as the other team follows suit. There's never a thought to standing at ease for the other school's alma mater. Doing that would not be in line with the core values each academy teaches.
The game stands as a symbol for this country. In years past, many of the players soon fought side-by-side in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Some paid the ultimate sacrifice.
"I think about what the Army-Navy game stands for (is) purity," Horner said. "We play for pride, to win, for our family, teammates, coaches and fans. We play for those who came before us. We honor our Heisman Trophy winners, our national championship teams and we honor those players who are no longer with us. But in the end, we play for our country."
What Makes It The Best
These players aren't playing for contracts in the NFL. They're playing for the men on their left and right, and in a sense, they're playing for those across the line of scrimmage.
Players from both sides expect nothing but the best from the other. Anything less than full effort doesn't belong in this game. Every player is motivated and expects the same from the opponent.
"Every day of the year we are brothers united against enemies of this great nation," Houston said. "But on this one day, we fight each other for bragging rights that last a lifetime. From kickoff to the last tick of the clock, it's on!"
Lt. Col. Katherine Guttormsen, a 1996 West Point graduate and current special assistant to the Army chief of staff, the game can be summed up in a few short words: "It's a great United States military event where the majority of people participating share a love of country, service and willingness to sacrifice. You won't find a similar event anywhere in the world."
So, as you sit back and watch, take note of the traditions taking place. No other rivalry — not Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama, USC-Notre Dame — is the same. Army-Navy owns the spotlight Saturday for a reason.