“College Football-A Special Saturday”
College football is oh so special.
The ancient rivalry games, Ohio State-Michigan, USC-UCLA, “The Big Game” Cal-Stanford, the Civil War-Oregon-Oregon State, the Apple Cup with Washington and Washington State. In the Ivy League it’s Harvard-Yale. And even small college football, Lehigh-Lafayette, that goes back 135-years or so.
But it all pales in comparison to tomorrow in Philadelphia, Army-Navy.
It began in 1890 on the banks of the Hudson on a field that was more for rugby than the game we know now. In 1894, they donned helmets for the first time ever, because of the fear that anyone who suffered a head injury on the field, might suffer from instant insanity.
It had a different meaning in the early 1900s, with so many of our men off to the Great War, World War I.
In 1926, it travelled to Chicago, in a game that dedicated itself to those who died in World War 1, in a place then christened Soldier Field.
It played thru the depression, and into the 1940’s, when football’s biggest names were Army, Navy, Notre Dame and NYU, Columbia and Penn.
It’s been played in lots of different places, some at West Point,others at Annapolis, in Yankees Stadium, the Polo Grounds, and then Philadelphia.
The game is so important to so many, the Cadets and the Midshipmen, those who served our country, those retired, and those protecting us abroad today.
The greatest coach of the era in the rivalry was Red Blaik. Greatness is decided by those who seek to beat his record at West Point. Tom Cahill, Jim Young and Homer Smith were all there too. Navy’s legend may well be the one walking the sidelines tomorrow, Ken Niumatalolo, who has taken them to great heights. George Welch did well there, as did Eddie Erdelatz.
The games all have distinction. From the Game of the Century in 1945, when Army was ranked-1, Navy ranked-2. It was at this sight that President William McKinley became the first leader of our country, to attend the rivalry game. John Kennedy was part of the tradition too. And the 1963 game was postponed a week, after the JFK shooting.
There was an 8-turnover game by Army, in which they won. There was 60-yard field goal in a Navy win. There was a (0-0) tie. They’ve played in snow and in mud.
If you close your eyes, you can see the Blue and Gold of Annapolis, and the Black and Gold from the Knights of the Hudson.
You read the names, and the memories come rushing back to you, Roger Staubach, Glen Davis and Doc Blanchard, Pete Dawkins and Joe Bellino, Rollie Stichweh and this weekend’s great quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
There are two things I most remember about this game.
Coach Bobby Ross, who spent 3-years at West Point told me the meaning of this game, as he sat on the porch of the house he lived in on the post, Red Blaik’s house. He told of the many letters he received from former players, now serving, and one he got just a couple of weeks before the first rivalry game Ross would coach, detailing what the tradition of the game meant to those who were commissioned.
Ross got tearful in talking about the letter he would read to his players, the night before the game. The army captain, who wrote the letter in November to the Army coach, was killed in action in Iraq the week the game was to be played. Ross read the letter to his team to show them what the game meant for anyone and everyone, who ever walked on the post.
The other thing you never forget is the pregame and postgame ceremony, where they march on the field with their flags, and into the stands. And then the postgame salute, when players from both sides salute each other and the corps, regardless of who won, who lost.
The game has so much meaning, for these players, these men, will leave Annapolis and West Point and begin a career so very important, serving our country, in so many ways.
For this Saturday, forget the rankings and the playoffs, the Heisman ballot and touchdown passes, and just enjoy the color,pageantry, history of what the series means to our country, and the men who’ve gone to school there.
Army-Navy, very special Saturday.