It's Thanksgiving weekend. Which means, of course, that my favorite football game of every season is played this weekend. It's a heated rivalry game.
And it's not the Iron Bowl between my beloved Alabama Crimson & the Auburn Tigers. (Always an awesome game, including yesterday's great comeback win by Auburn). Nor is it the UF-FSU game that will be played today. Nor the OU-OSU game in Stillwater today, nor the OSU-Michigan game. All of these are fun games to watch, but they're not my favorite.
The aforementioned games feature multiple players who will play in the NFL after their college days are done. Which is one reason they're so much fun to watch; Marcel Dareus chasing Cam Newton, for example.
My favorite game is usually played in Philadelphia, and features very few players who will ever see an NFL field as a player. Every August, I get fired up again just thinking about this game on the schedule. An intense environment...alums who circle the date on the calendar...student bodies who as freshmen learn all kinds of historical details about the series...players who will leave it all on the field that day...and--get this--student bodies in which every single student goes to their school on a full scholarship with guaranteed jobs after college and academic environments that are so far beyond those found in the SEC & Big 10 & Big 12 & Pac 10 & the like that it hardly bears comparing.
I'm speaking, of course, of the Army-Navy game. West Point v. the Naval Academy.
(Along w/ players from the Air Force Academy) These are the last true student-athletes playing Division 1 football. Yeah, I know...all of the others games feature a "student athlete of the game" with guys like Greg McElroy of Alabama. Greg made it to the final 12 of Rhodes Scholar candidates, graduated last Spring, and is now in graduate school while playing major college football & starting at QB. Barrett Jones--Bama's starting guard who was out injured yesterday--4.0 gpa in accounting; will graduate a year early from one of the top accounting programs in the country. (And so forth from other schools) But here's the thing: every student @ Army & @ Navy carries an academic workload that would bury the average student at a major football power. And then to add the rigors & demands of D1 football to that boggles the mind.
One former coach at Army said that Army & Navy are the only teams in the country for which the players view football as a break from their daily schedule. Let that sentence sink in. Football practice as a break from the daily schedule...
And that's just one of the reasons this is my favorite game every year.
Intensity & pressure that matches anything Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Florida, Texas, Southern Cal, or any of the others see. Like the big powerhouses, Army & Navy have fired coaches for losing repeatedly to the rivals. The players want this game more than any other. Student body pranks & wildness that are unrivaled. Slobber-knocking hits.
I love the pagentry of the game. Flyovers...the marching into the stadium by both student bodies in full uniform (yeah; let *that* sink in...)...video clips from former players located around the world at various military duty posts. Goosebumps & "allergy attack moments" abound.
One of which occurs at the end of the game. Sure, every game everywhere ends with teams meeting at midfield & shaking hands. That's not what I'm talking about. A number of teams stand in front of their student section while the alma mater is played. That's not what I'm talking about either. After the Army-Navy game ends every year, both teams stand first in front of the losing team's student section for that alma mater; then, both teams walk over & stand in front of the winning team's student section for that alma mater.
Picture with me the following teams standing respectfully for the other team's alma mater: Bama-Auburn...UF-FSU...UM-MSU...OU-OSU...OSU-Michigan...LSU-Arkansas...yeah, I can't imagine it either. Would never happen. And yet it happens every year @ the end of the Army-Navy game.
Seniors winding up their careers at the bigger programs will get jobs playing football in the NFL or will pursue coaching careers or jobs in the workplace. Seniors winding up their careers at Army & Navy will shortly take an oath and will then take up arms & ship out to places like Iraq & Afghanistan & South Korea, putting themselves in harm's way to protect American interests abroad. And they knew this awaited them the moment they arrived on campus the summer before their first semester of college.
I didn't cry yesterday when Auburn completed their comeback over my Crimson Tide. (note: I didn't *like* it of course...*smile*). It is a lock that I will have an allergy again today--as I do every year at this time--before, during, & after today's Army-Navy game. (Of course, I'm the guy who chokes up @ every USM game when the band plays that beautiful & haunting rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the flag is presented.)
I've been to multiple Iron Bowls between Bama & Auburn...Cocktail parties between Florida & Georgia...UF-FSU games...Egg Bowls between Ole Miss & Miss. St....Bowl games...National championship games... Every one of which will fade into a distant 2nd place in terms of favorite games I've ever seen once my dream is fulfilled & I get to attend an Army-Navy game.
Go Army! Go Navy! I can't wait! And, as trivial as it sounds, THANKS!
"I want an officer for a secret & dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player."
Gen. George Marshall shortly after WW2 ended.
p.s. - Want to catch a glimpse of why I love this game? Read >>this<<, by Lt. Alex Moore, who played in the game for Army.