Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Army Navy Part III-The Game

If you haven't read part I or part II, please do so now so you can get the full effect of this wonderful game.  This is the final part in a three part series about my trip to the Army Navy game this past December.  It was awesome enough that I decided to share it with my readers.  After this, we can get back to schematical football and tactics!

The day of the game was unreal.  We awoke to the possibility of snow, and while to many of you this might not be a big deal, or even a hassle, it was something sacred on this Saturday in mid December.  You see, Army and Navy had played each other 113 times leading up to this past season's game. In all that time, not once had they ever had a game in which it snowed.  It was meant to be that such a special trip to me, was to even have a bigger exclamation point than being a record setting day!

Gonna be a cold one!

We ate breakfast at the hotel with several cadet parents.  Once of which we met was the father of young lady who was dating the starting free safety for Army.  Nice guy, and they were really intrigued by our story and our trip, and just our general fanfare.  There were some important cats in the little room where they were having the continental breakfast.  I don't know who they were, but some guys in their dress uniforms were there and needless to say, I felt about four inches tall when they were in the room.

We took the train to the game that day, and it was a very neat spectacle to see the Cadets and Midshipmen in their dress awaiting the train.  They were impecable.  Every fold in their uniform meticulous.  Every button just right, turned the correct way.  I tried my best to thank any of them I came in contact with.  These are truly remarkable people, for they don't question their sacrifice, they simply do their job so that regular folks like myself can go about our daily business without a care in the world.  I think there may be several things wrong in our country right now, but staring into the faces of these young Americans, I knew there's still an awful lot right with this country as well.  I can honestly say, that despite the rough looking train terminal, I've never felt safer while using mass transit.

When we arrived at the stadium we had a bit of a walk but during this walk we got to witness more of the Cadets and Midshipmen.  As they arrived at the stadium they were directed to an assembly area where they were being fed and kept warm.  I watched as some hugged family members necks, or gave the occasional kiss to the girlfriend.  Others simply walked in, no one on the outside to even greet them.  Several times as we stood outside the stadium black SUV's with police and federal escorts passed by.  I'm assuming some high ranking official was in them, but we didn't know who.  We got to see the team buses show up, which sent up cheers for some and boos for others.  The most common phrases of the day "Go Army, beat Navy" or "Go Navy, beat Army".  One thing I noticed was a mutual respect.  I've listened to Verne Lundquist speak of this while watching the game on T.V., but he's right on point.  There was no "nastiness" to the pre-game exchanges between the two parties.  The occasional ribbing, but nothing was ever said off color.  I have to say it was making me wonder, how can this really be one of the greatest rivalries in all of sport if it's not even a bit chippy prior to kickoff.  Oh was I in for a treat!

"Oh boy!"

Now kickoff wasn't until three that afternoon, however march-on was at around noon.  The gates to the stadium opened at 11 that morning.  Guess who was first in line?  You guessed it, the wife and I arrived at 9:30 to enter the stadium.  It was a gray and cold day, with the wind howling out of the northeast.  You could just feel that snow was inevitable.  I have to say, for this southerner, it was pretty raw.  We finally got in, and the first thing we did was purchase two fleece USAA Army Navy blankets and some beanies!  From there we went to get our seats, and let me just say this, they were the best seats I've EVER had at any sporting event.  I was astonished.  I was also very thankful to be there because once inside the stadium it was quite a bit warmer.  After a cup of hot chocolate, and a pretzel I settled in for the march-on.

As march-on was beginning flurries began to start falling.  If you've never witnessed this sight, you are totally missing out.  The pageantry is second-to-none.  The precision at which these young men and women march in, is absolutely fascinating.  I was totally awestruck, as no Midshipmen or Cadet was ever out of place, or missed a step.  The pride you felt being an American watching this sight, knowing that in a short time these young people were going to be putting their LIVES on the line, so that you could sleep better at night, almost got the best of me.  I have to say, there were several times I had to catch myself.  These are some of the greatest people, no, greatest AMERICANS that have ever lived, and they are the reason we are the greatest nation on Earth.  I do have to say, I even liked the little bit of trash talking back and forth between the two sides during march-on as well.

The final leg of the Patriot Games was just before kickoff when the two teams had to face each other for a little bit of football agility.  Four team members had to execute receiving a pass then running through some obstacles across the field, which included weaving through dummies, lateral shuffle and the ladder.  Once on the opposite side of the field, the Cadet or Midshipman had to sprint the football back to the other side so that the process could begin all over again.  Well, Army and Navy were knotted together in a two to two tie to start the games.  Navy got off to a bad start as the first pass thrown was incomplete, which meant the receiver had to go back to the start and do it all over again.  Army was out in front by a commanding lead, but Navy kept inching and fighting its way back until the final leg when Army, who was out in front by half the football field, fumbled the ball away.  Navy made up the ground and then took the lead to win the 2013 Patriot Games!  I was pumped, and they hadn't even kicked the ball off!

After the singing of the National Anthem we got to see the fly over, and man was that impressive.  The Blue Angels flew over, followed by the Army's Apache helicopters.  It was quite a sight.  We got one more fly over from the Blue Angels prior to kickoff and we were set to go!  By this time the snow had begun to fall pretty heavy and was starting to accumulate.  The whole scene was almost surreal.  I could not believe I was actually sitting at Lincoln Financial Field watching the 114th Army Navy game.  Somebody pinch me!

As the game began, one thing I noticed was that it had to be the most physical game I'd ever witnessed.  I've watched my share of college football live and seen some pretty big high school ball and the occasional NFL game.  There were very few that I could recollect that had the physicality that this game had.  Tacklers were punishing ball carriers, and vice versa.  From the get-go, I knew we were going to be in for a treat.  Where we sat was in the section right next to the Cadets, and oh what a rowdy bunch they were!  It was awesome to see them get fired up during the game.  They had a drill sergeant (maybe?) there that was leading them in cheers and getting them fired up.  That was one of the most intense human beings I think I've ever seen.  I could not imagine being a Taliban fighter or Iraqi soldier looking across the battlefield at something like that charging towards me.  It was like a bald, camoflauged version of William Wallace!  Man did he get those Cadets revved up!

One of the neatest sights during the game was the "trash talk" videos each side had created for one another.  Now Army, took the high road and most of their videos were of the same mantra of "Duty, Honor, Country".  Navy went about things a little differently.  They rapped their trash talk, making the videos look more like music videos than pump-up videos.  I think the best one, or at least the crowd's reaction was the best was Army's last one.  Not to go into detail but it involved a young Midshipmen trying to coerce an Army officer into surrendering West Point.  Well it ended with said Army officer kicking the Midshipman into a lake, to which the entire section of Cadets went, well, ape shit over!  They exploded like firecracker on the Fourth of July when the video ended.  Unfortunately the video didn't help their team very much.

Well, the game turned out to be pretty much one-sided.  I hated it for Rich Ellerson too, as it was his final game as the Army head coach.  I liked Ellerson, and I think he did about as good as you can do with what you have at the USMC, but the "higher-ups" thought differently.  There was not much option on this day either with a large does of QB follow, lead option, and zone dive due to the inclement weather.  The snow came down until about the end of halftime at which point things took a nasty turn.  The lovely flakes that had once been now turned into sleet.  This made things absolutely bitter and any footing to be had was quite treacherous.  The game waged on and at the end, I have to say I thought Navy kinda poured gas on the wound with the little trick play Keenan Reynolds, but hey, what goes around comes around.

Once the final horn had sounded, the pageantry did not end there.  The singing of the Alma-maters were next.  I wasn't about to leave, despite the freezing rain and whipping wind, we sat there and witnessed one of the greatest moments in sport.  The Army sang first, as the Midshipmen looked on.  You could see their breath as they sang, and as their fellow Cadets joined them in the stands.  Though not a happy moment, by any means, it was a proud moment.  Despite the loss, the heads were held high, for these players knew that the song, and their purpose was much more than some football game on a cold day in Philadelphia.  After the Cadet's finished it was over to the rowdy Midshipmen for the finale.  Once the song was over with, the teams made their way off the slushy field, and I took one last gaze over the wintry landscape I was about to leave.  I may never make it back, but I can say I've crossed this one item off my bucket list, and for that I am ever so truly thankful.

The trip back to the hotel was quite eventful too as the once freezing rain had turned to pure rain by the end of the game.  This turned all the snow into slush, making walking quite interesting.  The train ride home was pretty uneventful, and to be honest I was so tired, I hardly remembered any of it, other than we missed our stop and had to walk three blocks to get back to our hotel.  Anyhow, upon arrival at the hotel a hot shower was needed to thaw out from the cold.  As I sat there and started out the hotel window looking south down Broad Street I could not believe what I had just witnessed.  Yes, somewhere nestled in all this is a simple football game, but the act itself is so much more than a game.  It is a respectful meeting among two adversaries who really aren't adversaries at all, except one Saturday in the fall.  This game was also the 50th anniversary of the game that was played shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated.  On hand were several of the players that played in that game including Rolly Steichway and Roger Staubach.  That's what the game stood for is EXACTLY what those men played it for over 50 years ago.  It's tradition.  It's a staunch reminder of what is good and what is wholesome about this country.  It's a statement to the rest of the world, that we have the best young folks on the face of this Earth and if you piss them off these are who will be sent to kick your front door in (just ask Saddam Hussein)!  Even as I'm writing this, the honor to just have witnessed the game beams from within.  To be able to say "I saw that", or "I was there", will always be something nobody can take away from me.  What's even better is that 14 years ago, I picked a soul mate that shared my affinity for the love of football, and more importantly the love of America.  So yes, I will say it, GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!