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Army-Navy: More Than a Game

Dave Polaski, Townsquare Media

Over the course of four years, football players at the United State Military Academy and United States Naval Academy engage in one of the most intense rivalries in the country. After graduation, they become the ultimate teammates.

Saturday marks the 112th edition of the Army-Navy Game, which takes place this year at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, just a few miles from our nation’s capital. It’s the first time the game has ever been played in the Washington, D.C. area, and a sold-out crowd of over 80,000 is expected. President Barack Obama will even be in attendance.

What makes this game special isn’t the quality of football, or the number of NFL players each program produces. It’s the knowledge that those who are giving their all on the field — as well as those cheering in the stands — will be serving our country and defending our freedom in the years to come.

On December 9th, 1989, I was fortunate enough to attend an Army-Navy Game. It was my first-ever college football game, with my father and I making the early-morning trip from the Jersey Shore to Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands.

As a naive 10-year-old, I initially couldn’t understand why we went so early. The game was at 2:30 pm — but there we were, inside a nearly-empty stadium at 11:30 am.

Suddenly, a wave of West Point cadets — dressed in dark-gray coats and hats – marched onto the field in units, before taking their seats in the stadium’s lower bowl. The cadets from Annapolis followed suit, in their navy-blue peacoats and white hats. It was an amazing spectacle that I’ll never forget.

The action in the stands was almost as entertaining as the game itself. Alternating chants of “Go Army!” and “Go Navy!” echoed throughout Giants Stadium. Whenever one of the teams made a big play, one side of the seating area would erupt in cheers, while the other would silently stand and disgustedly shake their heads.

The rivalry game wouldn’t be decided until the final minute. With Navy trailing 17-16, kicker Frank Schenk booted a 32-yard field goal to give the Midshipmen a 19-17 advantage with 15 seconds left. The score remained that way as time expired.

The Navy supporters reacted like they just won the Super Bowl, even though it was only their 3rd victory of the 1989 season. Army, on the other hand, saw its winning record ruined by a loss to its archrival.

In the years that followed this game, many of those in attendance went to Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to take part in Operation: Desert Storm. The black-and-gold of West Point and navy-and-gold of Annapolis were traded in for red, white and blue — with everyone fighting for the same cause.

This year, the Navy Midshipmen are 4-7, while the Army Black Knights are 3-8. The only things at stake in Saturday’s game are pride and bragging rights — but that’s all one needs to make this game passionate and enjoyable.

Just remember that as you watch, there is more to life than football. A career in the military awaits many of those who graduate from the academies, and this game gives us an opportunity to say “Thank you” in advance.

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