The Army-Navy game is a college football rivalry that encompasses much more than the latest polls and bowl game predictions. It is affectionately known as “America’s Game” because of the way it touches most American families, even if they have no interest in sports.
As a small boy, I remember this game as only second to the Auburn-Alabama game in our family. My Dad was in the Army during the Korean Conflict. My Mom’s uncle, Gordon, was in the Navy as a submarine commander at Pearl Harbor. To my knowledge, it was the only sporting event that my parents were always rooting for opposing teams.
This past weekend, Mary Lou and I, along with a number of friends with Donalsonville ties, made the trip to Philadelphia to check another item off our bucket list. The hype about the game is not overestimated. The pomp and pageantry will make your heart stir and your eyes water no matter what team you are pulling for.
The Army Corps of Cadets and the Navy Midshipmen began arriving by buses early that morning. They marched into the stadium three hours before the game in a military parade that was a sight to see. There were some 4,000 midshipmen on the field at one time. There were even more when Army’s cadets took their place on the field.
President Trump tossed the coin prior to the game. We happened to watch his motorcade come into the stadium while waiting for the game to begin. Air Force One had flown near the stadium just a few minutes earlier, tipping its right wing in an airborne salute. Just moving a President around from one place to another is a spectacle itself.
The National Anthem was sung by the combined choirs of the Naval Academy and West Point. There are some incredible voices amongst our fighting forces. It sent chills up my spine, which was no mean feat since temperature at kickoff was only 33 degrees.
Parachutists from the Navy Seal Team came into the stadium followed by their counterparts in the Army. That was a show worth the price of admission itself.
They were followed by an incredible flyover by Naval aviators flying four F/A-18C Hornet fighter planes. They were in a diamond formation flying only two to five feet apart.
Not to be outdone, four Army Blackhawk helicopters came over the stadium from behind me. The noise was enough to scare you before you even saw these imposing machines flying in a precision formation.
At some point the game began, with the Army Black Knights heavily favored over the Naval Midshipmen. It turned out to be a much closer game than I anticipated with Army finally winning by a single touchdown. It was their third win in a row.
At halftime, a group of Midshipmen and Cadets formed two lines extending across the field. At that point, the President left Army’s sideline to be greeted at midfield by the Superintendent of the Naval Academy. In one of the many time honored traditions of this game, the Commander in Chief watches the game from each side for one half, in a sign of support for both branches of the military.
The final tradition that left an impression on me was after the game both teams run over to the student section of the losing team where they sign that institution’s Alma Mater. The teams, both winners and losers, go to the winning team’s student section where their Alma Mater is then sung. It was a stunning example of sportsmanship and a clear reminder that they are really one team with one goal.
At the end of the day, it was not the most exciting football game I have ever watched, though it was one of the coldest. However, it was truly full of pageantry and excitement that made you proud to be there just to be a small part of what truly has become America’s Game.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org