Wednesday, December 7, 2011

America's Game

I can't remember how old I was.

I know for certain I was in 5th, 6th or 7th grade.  Because we moved to that farmhouse the week of Christmas of 4th grade, and moved away the summer before 8th grade.  So I must have been 10-12 years old when I first watched the Army/Navy Football Game.

I remember the living room, the television, the long old couch that my parents kept forever (seriously, they had this couch for my entire life, and then I think they gave it to my brother).  I was doing what I usually did on a Saturday afternoon in the cold, looked for a game to watch on TV.

This was before cable, and we had a grand total of 4 channels, if you include PBS.  My favorite pastime in the winter months was checking out the stations and seeing if there was a game of some sort on.  I watched tons of college basketball, football, shoot I'd even watch Billiards if it was on (Minnesota Fats vs Willie Mosconi).  Anyway this one fine day, I come across the national anthem for a football game, I was excited.  This was my first Army/Navy game.

It was amazing.  I was enthralled, entranced, and immediately hooked.  I could tell the players on these teams were a little smaller than what I saw out of Notre Dame/Ohio State/Nebraska on a normal Saturday.  But there was just something about the way they played the game... passionate and intense but also.... Regal?  Not sure if that's the right word, but the way the players treated each other on the field was noticeable.

I remember watching the game several times over the years, and although I missed some (I'm not going to lie and say I've seen them all since then) whenever I saw it was on, I always watched it.

Many years later, I read John Feinstein's excellent book "A Civil War".  Feinstein spends a year inside each of the programs, follows them through their ups and downs and finishes with the magnificent event of the 1995 game.  

Since reading that book, I haven't missed one.  Navy has been on a bit of a roll of late (winners of the last 6, and a tie the year before that), but I cheer for Army.  Always have and always will.  

This Saturday's game will be the 112th annual game.  It's a tradition that goes back.  It's a game played mostly by young men, who will never play another game (at least for the seniors).  It's a game played by young men who are the best and brightest this country has to offer.  It's a game where no matter who wins or loses, everyone of the field is a winner.  I know that sounds cheesy, but it's actually true in this case.

So, if you've never seen... or it's been a while... do yourself a favor and tune into CBS this Saturday afternoon.  You'll be glad you did.

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