Photo: Kevin McGuire (via Flickr, 2012 Army Navy Game)
Philadelphia has always been a pro sports town, but for one week a year the City of Brotherly Love rolls out the red carpet for college football's best annual tradition, the Army Navy Game.
For most college football fans, myself included, the Army Navy Game serves as a way to put the game in to its proper perspective. This is the one game of the year not clouded in controversy, polluted by scandal or threatened by a constant need to debate. More importantly, we are reminded that the young men playing a simple game are preparing for much more in life, something with much greater meaning than most fans will keep in mind on a regular fall Saturday.
@KevinOnCFB To me Army-Navy puts college sports in perspective. Enemies for 60 minutes, brothers in battle forever after. It's just a game.— Tom Fallon (@fallonlv) December 12, 2013
Make no mistake, for the football players and coaches at Army and Navy the preparations will be similar to any other game this season. Game plans need to be organized, learned and executed just as they would need to be against Notre Dame, Ohio State, UCLA or Alabama. For 60 minutes, the players on both teams get to escape the reality of a world with unknown dangers lurking awaiting them and they can just play football. They have earned and deserve this opportunity.
This is why it is great to see the Army Navy Game have its own day in the spotlight, on national television. Fans understand the quality of play may not be up to par with what was on display in last weekend's championship games, but few games will pack the richness of everything college football in to one Saturday the way the Army Navy Game does on an annual basis.
The Army Navy Game has a big bowl game atmosphere blended with everything that makes a good college rivalry. No matter what the records may be for the teams, the stands will be packed with loyal fans ready to cheer form start to finish for their team. This is the most important game of the year for these teams. You know that when you talk to the players and coaches in the preseason at media day events. You know that talking to fans year round. A win over the other may mean more to these players than it does for Ohio State and Michigan players or, dare I say, Auburn and Alabama fans.
The pageantry of the Army Navy Game is unrivaled by any rivalry in America. The march on prior to the game. The "prisoner exchange," where selected students from one service return to their side after spending a semester studying "abroad" in the rival service. The gags and fan videos playing before the game. The video messages from military troops from other countries wishing the best for their fellow Army or Navy brothers. The traditional flyovers. And sometimes the president even makes an appearance, which is accompanied by a ceremonial walk from one sideline to the other at halftime so the president can enjoy the game with both service academies.
This is what makes the game so unique and a treasure for the sport. It has survived conference realignment and expansion madness without a blemish, and it appears as though even when Navy does join the American as a football-playing member in a couple of years the traditions will continue.
On Saturday, in Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia you will not be likely to see many players that will be playing on Sundays. Talk about NFL Draft stock is mostly off the table. Many of these young men will be playing their final college football game, perhaps their last football game. Nobody knows what is next for them, but they are committed to serving despite the unknown danger in front of them. And for that we should all be grateful.
Navy looks to extend their winning streak in this historic series to an unprecedented 12 games. Will they sing second once more?