Barring another round of extreme uniforms or an unusual play, next Saturday’s Army-Navy game will likely go unmentioned here on the Q and in many other outlets. And that’s a shame because, quite frankly, the Army-Navy game is, in its’ truest sense, the college football game of the year. Here’s why:
• It’s the last bastion of the true student athlete in the FBS. No phys ed, theory of coaching, or general studies majors here. These guys are all required to earn a degree in a field of study that not only means something, but requires a helluva lot of study to get as well. That’s after they meet the stringent requirements for admission. And they will graduate. Last year Navy football won the graduation national championship, graduating 94% of their players within five years.
• Most of these guys have no NFL aspirations. The reason most of these guys are playing for an academy is because they’re not an NFLer in training like one would find at Florida, Alabama, or Ohio State. Remember too that military academies require all their students to pass fitness tests all year long and many academy players (especially linemen) have trouble keeping weight on during the season. Consider too that military academies are grooming future members of the military and you’ll likely never see 6’8”, 350 lb lineman playing for an academy team, since their size precludes them from doing certain things (like fit in a cockpit, tank, or submarine). Army, Navy, or Air Force players who do attract the interest of the NFL can be granted a waiver after some full-service time and an additional reserve requirement.
• Active Duty Requirement. The above is important since, after graduation, academy grads become officers in their chosen branch of the military and are obligated to serve five years of active duty, often followed by several more in the reserves. Grads who choose military aviation paths are often required to serve longer.
• Football field today. Battlefield tomorrow. How many other senior football players will play their final college game knowing that this time next year they could be on the ground in Afghanistan or on a battleship in the Persian Gulf?
• Football practice is the easiest part of their day. Between formation, drills, a challenging class load, study halls, and a rigid daily schedule where free time is at a minimum, and football practice can be the easiest part of an academy player’s day.
• The Option. Until former Navy coach Paul Johnson took the system to Georgia Tech, no team ran the triple option offense better than Navy. It's a bit of an anachronism and thus so rare that teams have trouble preparing for it. However, executed properly, it's a thing of beauty (especially if you're a football wonk)!
• The pre-game march. Name any other game where almost all the students from both competing schools march in formation on the field and into their seats before the game. In full dress uniform…
• Tradition. These teams first met in 1890.
• Playing For Pride. Finally, though Navy is going to a bowl this year, these teams are playing for pride, bragging rights, and the right to be the last one to sing your school’s Alma Mater after the game. And, though this rivalry is as heated as any, both teams shake hands and stand at attention for the other school’s Alma Mater song after the game.
So wif you're looking for all the best things about college football next Saturday, take a few minutes to watch the Army-Navy game and appreciate true student athletes who are playing for the love of the game, and will pay back their schools for their scholarship by spending five years defending our country. And while you're at it, you might also remember who these teams represent: the men and women of the United States Army, Navy, Marines (and Air Force too)!
Oh and, GO NAVY! BEAT ARMY!!!!!!!!