Looking Back: Army-Navy

Very few people actually attend the Army-Navy football game for the action on the field of play.

After all, how many folks plunk down a couple hundred dollars to watch a quarterback sneak for a gain of 2 yards? I honestly believe that play was run about 15 times in the 110th version of “America’s Game.”

Other than the game, I can’t complain about my day at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. And while that sounds like a back handed compliment, it truly isn’t.

I’ve never been to an Army-Navy game. Watching the game on TV, you miss out on so many of the unreal pre-game ceremonies that your corneas need to view. But even before I reached the Linc on Saturday, I saw something that so perfectly summed up why Army-Navy still remains important. At a toll booth in Delaware, a tiny 2-door car carrying Midshipmen stopped at the attendant’s station. Two minutes later, the Midshipmen handed the attendant a couple of handfuls of change. It’s Philadelphia or bust for the most important game of their lives.

You haven’t experienced tailgating until you’ve seen the massive  parking lot at the Linc. Just try to find your car after the game. Walking by games of bean bag toss and noticing many, many empty bottles of whiskey at 10 in the morning, I got the impression very quickly that these teams know how to party. It’s the game where the family prepares all week to just go out of their minds with ribs, chicken, burgers, hot dogs, along with more side dishes than Golden Globe nominations for “Up In The Air.” It’s equal parts moveable feast and epic party — four hours before kickoff.

The folks at Lincoln Financial Field actually enjoy pampering the press. This is very, very rare. I don’t believe I held a door the entire time in my trip to the Linc. The press facility at this grand stadium absolutely shines. It’s huge. From the separated booth for network & local television on the other side of the press level to the wide-open cafeteria to the vast press box proper, it’s quite a sight to see. Arriving about three and a half hours before the opening kick, I have plenty of time to find my seat: first row, 30-yard-line. Not bad for a free ticket.

Ask any member of the press what the most important part of covering the event and, almost always, the answer will revolve around the free food. Here’s a little secret that most folks don’t know about the assembled press. When we cover a ballgame, the home team hopes we write glowing things about their stadium and offers us unlimited free food as some sort of acceptable payola. Let’s just say the Eagles branded Tastykakes and Philadelphia soft pretzels to go along with authentic cheesesteaks makes me want to write a wonderful review for Lincoln Financial Field. These guys are so good that when the Pepsi fountain ran out of soda, they actually had about 50 chilled cans as a backup plan. Sweet audible!

More than two hours before kickoff, Cadets from Army and Midshipmen from Navy marched onto and off of Lincoln Financial Field with such precision and pride, that it’s tough to pinpoint why these moments were so special. These young gentleman and ladies represent more than a football game with a spot in the EagleBank Bowl on the line. The majority of these folks will serve in a war. Some will come back wounded. A few will die. I’d like to think that these young people treat the thirty minute march on a glorious Saturday afternoon as a class picture of sorts. The only difference between their yearbook and ours? We see these true leaders on the news every evening.

The game itself wasn’t as entertaining as the pre-game pageantry. Army’s passing game totaled zero yards until the middle of the third quarter and Navy finally got their offense in gear after a truly boring first half of play. It was so dull, a Philadelphia newspaper legend that sat behind me in the box uttered “these are the kinds of games you don’t want to leave the house to see.” I think he probably should’ve showed up for the pre-game.

With a minute left in the game and Navy on the precipice of an 8th straight victory, the stadium started to rock. I think the Midshipmen even practiced their celebratory chants as, in unison, they hooted and hollered as Navy made the 17-3 score official. Navy will meet Missouri on New Year’s Eve in the Texas Bowl while Army will wait one more season to become bowl eligible. The Black Knights have a fine base and will be competitive next season.

As 69,000 people squeezed out of Lincoln Financial Field on a downright cold Saturday night, I noticed that the party would continue for Army and Navy fans in the parking lots. The final score didn’t matter. This was their vacation. Their distraction of going to a ballgame is my reality. I’ll remember the 14 full sections of serviceman and women that stood in the frigid seating bowl for about seven hours to watch a game that featured two touchdowns.

Talk about the stat of the game.

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