(Ok, so some might think the title should be the other way around. To each their own but that’s kind of the point. In my case I rooted for Army until I was 26 and became a Marine and I’ve been a Navy guy ever since)
I realize this is a political blog and this seems off topic but sometimes we do that here. And in a way the storied football rivalry between our two oldest service academies, the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis is a representation of what intense yet friendly rivalry can and should be. Whether sports or in other areas of life including politics. The competition to get into one of the academies (including the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs) has long been fierce. Something to which I can personally attest. I came within a whisker of accepting an appointment myself. That’s a long story I won’t bore you with. But even fifty years ago it was tough to get in and it’s only gotten more so.
It took longer than in should have for minorities to be better represented at the academies, and women too but the classes each year have more and more “looked like America. Take a good, close look at the title picture. One of the many traditions is the greeting at midfield prior to the game between the leadership, the Cadets and Midshipmen and each academy’s “stripers” or top ranking leaders. It’s a black guy shaking hands with a woman. Once upon a time and sadly not all that long ago everyone at that pre-game ceremony would have been white males. But we’ve made progress and it shows both in the top leaders and the respective groups of Cadets and Midshipmen. The players are all men still but I can see the day when a place-kicker for one side or another in a given year will be a woman who excelled at soccer and can drill a field goal from forty yards or more out.
The game itself is what hard-fought athletic competitions should always be. Hard-fought but with respect and sportsmanship. And for anyone who watches reminders from those covering the game that at the end of the year everyone on both sides will be on the same team. Our country’s military team. The Dallas Cowboys began appropriating that title decades ago and other pro sports teams have tried but the players you see in this game, their respective academy’s cheering sections and yes those from the Air Force Academy ARE actually America’s team.
For most of it’s history (which you can read about here) things were incredibly evenly matched in about every statistic you could name. Even after the time when the game had national title implications and each school produced Heisman candidates (and some winners from each) whether it was the number of games each school had won or even the collective points each scored it was a coin flip. Even in years where one team was kicking butt and the other had had a losing season it didn’t matter. Games often were close and no one was surprised when the outcome was decides in the final few minutes or even seconds of a given game.
Things got skewed when Navy went on an incredible fourteen year winning streak but things have gotten back to more or less normal with Army taking three of the last five. As for today? Vegas odds makers shouldn’t bother because we are back to the old days when you can ignore each team’s record and play this season. You might as well flip a coin, just like things used to be. Even if you’re not a fan of sports you owe it to yourself to watch. If not this year, then make it a point to do so in the future. Two teams from old, terrific institutions of higher learning that also provide the backbone of our military’s Officer corps duking it out on the football field. Over and over you see them pouring their hearts and souls into the effort to help their teams win, and doing so with class and old-fashioned sportsmanship. Yes, blowouts sometimes happen but if you want to place a bet then bet on not knowing who will prevail until late in the game. Or even the final play! Over and over it’s been an epic thing to behold.
Triumph and heartbreak for all to see, and one never doubts the players left everything they had to give on the field. Regardless, after the game there’s another important tradition. If you’re not someone who’s followed the Army-Navy game the term “Sing Second” makes you say “what’s that about?” The goal for each team is to sing second as in this: All the players go over to the student section of the losing team and join together in singing that schools “Alma Mater.” Then they go over to the winning school’s student section and sing theirs. Obviously getting to “Sing Second” means your team/school won the game. However, the larger point is that there’s not “trash talking” or other bullsh*t that’s infected not just sports or other things, but not here. Not in this situation.
As I said earlier each side plays its heart out and so often one witnesses a great game and wishes both teams could have won, given how hard and/or well each played. Sports is like that sometimes. So are other forms of competition. Two people competing for the same promotion at work, with each well qualified and respected by each other and their colleagues. There was a time in my life where in politics one side or the other clearly deserved to lose but they fought a good fight and in the end came together.
Just as the players who will fight it out on the football field today will when it’s over congratulate each other and come together because they know ultimately they will be on the same team and the country needs them to get over winning or losing a game (or political fight) and work for a common purpose – the good of this country.
Politicians should take a lesson. Like most used to do.
(FYI. You can watch on CBS at 1500 – that’s three pm for you civilians.)