Posted by: Dave | December 14, 2010

A Mule and a Goat and a Field of Friendly Strife


     Long ago there was a game. 

      It was a pure game played by men for nothing more than pride.  A game played by men that had no hopes of being rich and famous because of how well they played it.  But it was a game, nevertheless,  that for the months and weeks leading up to it possessed their every thought and those of their supporters.  For months, every imagination was  focused on the desire to win because losing was unthinkable. And when the game finally arrived it was played to the exhaustion of every fiber of muscle and sinew in those good men’s bodies.   But  at the end of the contest, even though one side lost and the other won, all of the participants and all of the partisans would wish each other well, understanding that there is a tomorrow and that it would be good, even if the unthinkable happened and their team lost.

     That game is still played.

     The annual Army- Navy football tradition brings together two of our most respected national institutions onto a field of friendly strife that is all about pride and bragging rights and little else, except for maybe which academy’s plebes get a liberty pass for the weekend.

     This is what college football was always supposed to be.  

     When you watch an Army-Navy football game, you are observing the grand ideal of the true student athlete. Military academy athletes are superior athletes, but by comparison are generally a few pounds lighter and a half a step slower than most of their major college competitors.  Although most are not major college recruits, they certainly could have played at the college level and in a less restraining environment.  But they chose to endure the rigors of the military academy environment.   Instead of Rush Week, they endure Plebe Summer.  Instead of taking a reduced academic load and the option to graduate in five years, they must graduate in four years, unlike other college athletes.  And the academies don’t offer “Recreation” as a field of study.  So when Army and Navy take the field, the supporters witness true student-athletes, with nothing more than the game on the line.

      The contest begins with the two sides duking it out in the pregame festivities. Because the event is so important to the psyche of each institution, the academies bus in their entire student body, who then parade onto the field to the admiration of relatives and alumni.  The festivities continue with each service’s skydiving team dropping in carrying flags and banners announcing their service’s superiority. Finally, the teams enter the field.  Army is overwatched by AH-64 Apache helicopters, while Navy enters under the protection of  F-18 Hornets.      

       Fans at an Army-Navy game display a reverence for the event and the respective services that is unrivaled at other sporting events. Veterans wear campaign insignia on their hats and jackets. Unit patches are everywhere.  Alumni and spouses display their year of graduation.  Everyone claims an attachment to a service-a reason to be a part of the event.   There is a feeling of warmth and camaraderie garnered from a history of common goals, regardless of which service one belonged to.  During the game, the jumbo tron displays humorous videos of each side digging at each other.  All share in the humor.  It seems that each side is cheering for their team, but not against the other.  

         This year, as it has the previous eight years, Navy won the game.  And once again, as they have for the 110 years the game has been played, both sides faced their student body, and sang each other’s alma mater.  Army departed the field a little quickly, as the losing team normally does, and Navy hung around to enjoy the cheers of their student section. Once again, it was the Navy Plebes who were granted weekend liberty.

      Nine years of losses to the Navy Goat must hang in the throat of the Army Mule like an eternal ration of mildewed hay.   But even the mule will live to see tomorrow, and he can take comfort in the hope that the God of the Pointy Sphere will one day smile upon the Hudson River loyalists and permit them once again to taste sweet victory at the hands of the goat.  

      Like the goat, the players will live to see another day, and for the graduates, it will be a day without football.  But unlike many of their major college contemporaries, football isn’t the end of the line, and what they did on the field will not be their greatest accomplishment.  Both the athletes and the students will go on to weightier endeavors.  Those who opposed each other on the field may one day work together in a common endeavor. Some, like one former Army offensive lineman, may even lose limbs in battle.  Others may die.    

      So with  futures and legacies that are equal parts bright or perilous, it isn’t hard to understand why the players and fans can meet and do battle on the field, and then depart as kinsmen in support of a greater duty.

     Maybe this is why the Army Navy game is indeed a great game, but it is only a game.

      In the beginning, this is what the game was all about.

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Responses

  1. Outstanding, a true example of sportsmanship and camaraderie. May God Bless them and their families as they move through life. It is those young men and women along with many others from different walks of life that make America Great!

  2. great coverage of the game,,and what it is all about,,,the history, the bragging rights, but more importantly, the Pride that they all have for their team and country!
    Go Cocks

  3. Playing a game one day, killing or being killed for the great nation the next. Not all college students can make that claim. Nor would they want to.

    RAS


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