It feels like the college football season is over since we know who’s going where for the BCS games and the myriad of other bowl sites. Yet, I would argue the best game of the season is yet to be played. This Saturday the Army Navy game will be played for the 82nd straight year. There may not be NFL stars a plenty on the field or a Heisman candidate to handicap but the field will be taken by American Hero’s playing a kids game and for some their last game ever.
These men are hero’s because when they’re done playing football they’ll go to war and fight a real battle against our enemies foreign and domestic. The hyperbole of sport becomes reality. They represent a patriotic group who when deciding on college made a bigger commitment to our country. Once they’re time at West Point or Annapolis is done they’ll commit 4 more years to America. At 17, I thought about attending a military academy and changed my mind during the appointment process. As a college freshman, I signed up, without my parents really knowing, for a PLC US Marine Corps program. I spent four weeks in Quantico, VA as an Officer Candidate and began the process of learning what it meant to be a military officer. I hurt tendons in my foot during my 4th week of basic training and was eventually sent home early. But, I grasped what the larger commitment meant.
When a fellow candidate itched his nose while we waited for lunch, you were supposed to read your candidate regulations and nothing else, a drill Sargent materialized from nowhere and began berating him. “Did you just itch your nose? Did you? You just gave away your position because you HAD to move and touch your nose. You entire platoon is dead and you gave your position away for an itch! Because of your lack of discipline you get to write letters to mothers and fathers why their sons died for your itch!” That will get your attention at any age let alone at 18. But, he was right our job wasn’t to take orders and be doers we had a greater responsibility as Officers in the US Marine Corps. We had other men and women’s lives as our responsibility and that wasn’t to be taken lightly. No one wanted to write that letter, ever, but if it had to be written as officers we would be the ones to do so.
Saturday the pageantry of the Army Navy game is a mix of traditional and fun from the pushups that first years do to the singing at the end where both teams honor the other by respecting their fight songs. For a few hours, these two institutions are competitors but after that they’re back on the same team. They’re fighting for the same mission and hoping to come back alive. These warriors aren’t just athletes they’re sons and daughters and they typically range in age from 18-22 years old. They become a lot more responsible than most when graduation time comes.
I hope others will honor them by taking the time to watch the game and learn along the way a little more about the players and the institutions they represent. I wrote before the election we’re all on the same team regardless of how the vote turned out. Perhaps the symbolism of this game can help begin to heal America and show that even though we compete with one another, we’re still going in the same direction when the game is done. If a group of young men under 25 can battle and then be one, perhaps the rest of America can to.