This season, the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy goes to the winner of annual Army vs. Navy football game.
The corps comes on to the green at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The brigade follows and fills the area with platoons from goal line to goal line.
From the U.S. Military Academy in West Point come the cadets dressed against the cold in their winter gray woolens — thus the “Long Gray Line.”
From Annapolis come the midshipmen dressed appropriately in their dark navy blue winter coats and white headgear. Many are wearing earmuffs to warm themselves when they move to their seats in the winter shadows.
The Army mules are there, being ridden by sweater-clad cheerleaders. The Navy goats are there, horns covered in yellow and blue paint as they pose for many photos.
“Anchors aweigh my boys” greets the Navy players as they stream onto the field for the opening kickoff.
This will be a year where either team can claim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy because both have beaten the Air Force Academy . . . both are 1-0 in the heated rivalry between the three service academies.
No matter the circumstances or team records, the Army-Navy winner receives the Thompson Cup.
The Midshipmen have taken a firm upper hand in their rivalry with Army. In recent times, Navy has won the past 10 games. In most of those seasons since the ownership of the series with the Black Knights began in 2002, the Midshipmen have also laid claim to the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which once won was openly displayed at Barcroft Hall on campus.
Navy has moved to a 56-49-7 lead in its long series with Army.
But the keen rivalry has never been dulled by what has gone on before. Each team’s record against other opponents may be enough to get it to a winning season and bowl game, but emotions are at their highest when facing each other.
First-year plebes and cadets have greeted upperclassmen with a hand salute and a hardy “Beat Army” or “Beat Navy” since the semester began for them in the summer.
Black building roofs at West Point are painted in white letters that simply state the motto of all Army teams: “Beat Navy”.
Some of America’s best and most creative minds attend the academies. Throughout the whole fall semester, both Army and Navy students try to formulate ways to foil the other academy.
Mascots have been kidnapped in clandestine happenings. They were sequestered in hiding places until returned to their proper handlers on the weekend the two football teams met.
It has been another in a dulling line of losing seasons for the Black Knights of the Hudson. Even the unmatched beauty of Army’s Michie Stadium, the lake in back of the low-slung visitor’s stands, and the magnificent panoramic view of the Hudson River and valley it traverses cannot mask the 2-9 record the Cadets bring to Philadelphia on Saturday.
Stinging losses at home to Stony Brook, Temple, Ball State, and Northern Illinois have been added to road losses to traditional non-powers San Jose State, Wake Forest, and Eastern Michigan. The loss at home to the Kent State Golden Flashes wasn’t much muted by that team’s excellent record.
Army has beaten Boston College (which fired its coach) and Air Force.
The Midshipmen have handled their similar schedule a little better — beating Texas State, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan, VMI, Indiana, East Carolina, and Air Force.
Navy’s four losses were to Notre Dame (in Dublin, Ireland), Penn State, San Jose State, and Troy (Alabama).
The seven wins are generous enough to give Navy a berth in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
Last year, the Army-Navy game was played at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. The Midshipmen hailed a 27-21 win over the Black Knights.
Many football fans in the general public regard this as a game between athletes who love to compete and only want to represent their academy to the best of their ability.
With a four- or five-year post graduation commitment to military service, few players from the schools have been able to play in the NFL. Navy’s Roger Staubach played for Dallas and return specialist Phil McConkey was with the New York Giants. Napoleon McCallum was a running back for Oakland until severely injured.
But the rest of the athletes can become Marine Corps pilots, Navy fliers, Second Lieutenants leading squads of soldiers in Afghanistan, or serve on submarines or aircraft carriers.
When the game is over, both academy’s alma maters are sung. After singing, both teams stand together on the field in front of the respective student sections.
Often, the opposing players will see each other when serving their military assignments. Once the on-field tackling and touchdowns have ceased, the showing of mutual respect and solidarity becomes the watchword.
This Saturday in Philadelphia, the Army-Navy series continues. The game is a sellout. Tickets to see the 2-9 Black Knights go for $600 near the 50-yard line.
You can’t throw out the records.
But you can’t throw out the players’ integrity, resolve, and courage, either.
They will be protecting us as best they can . . . after they have sacked their last quarterback or run their last option play.