It is Championship Saturday and you are no doubt gearing up for a day of discovering who will be in this year’s Playoff, but over here at Against All Enemies, we are exactly one week away from America’s Game!
Next week, we get the (FBS) college football world to ourselves.
And while the Army-Navy game may be the only FBS game televised in the second week of December, just watching from your couch doesn’t give you an accurate feel of its importance. No, you need to be there to experience what this game really means. If you call yourself a college football fan and have never seen the game in person, that must change. In fact, it should be at the top of your bucket list. Why? Well, let me explain.
Reason Number One: The Student Sections
There is only one FBS football game that involves a filled student section hours before kickoff and that is Army-Navy. And guess what? This game doesn’t stop at filling just one portion of the stadium; no, at this annual rivalry you get the benefit of seeing two filled student sections combined at over 8,000 people strong.
While on television, the students may look like a uniformed bunch celebrating each big play, witnesses inside the stadium can truly attest to the chaotic environment that presents itself within each respective body. Both student sections will have Cadets and Midshipmen acting as if every play is the one deciding the national championship and they usually involve a clever sign or two poking fun at their sister academy. Cardboard cutouts of President Bush and Obama have made recent appearances, along with the occasional full-length broom. Broom? Yep. Our very own Justin Mears completed the 2008 march on with an entire broom up his leg so he could proudly boast of the Navy’s Class of 2009 4-0 sweep over Army. You’ve seen student sections before, but nothing quite like this.
Reason Number Two: The Spirit and the Fans
Clearly the Cadets and Midshipmen bring a level of energy that is hard to replicate in any other football game environment, but the overall team spirit extends well beyond the current students.
First off, it typically starts with ESPN’s College Gameday where Lee, Kirk, and the crew will make their fifth consecutive appearance at the game’s host city this year when they travel back to Philadelphia. After that, it is easy to make your way over to the stadium where one can see a number of tailgates, but this gathering feels different from your normal Saturday in the fall. The smack talk is cordial, it’s extremely common for tents to involve fans from both sides, but you immediately understand the vibe – both sides want to win. It is kind of like beating your brother in one-on-one basketball as a kid; you love him, but you really want to show him who is boss.
Reason Number Three: The Football
Contrary to the negative connotation many casual fans express regarding the actual level of play on the field, the Army-Navy game is starting to showcase some outstanding football every December. I know this isn’t the 1940s where Army and Navy were consistently ranked top five in the country, but this game has actually featured a team that was ranked at some point in the respective season for four years in a row at this point. It’s safe to say that this has exceeded expectations, and we have come a long way from the 1990s and early 2000s. The ultimate bucket list challenge would be attending the game during a year in which both teams are ranked coming into the game. And to be honest, that is entirely possible in the near future. But if college football rankings don’t get you excited, why not just come to witness Paul Johnson’s proteges at work. Chances are your team doesn’t run the triple option, so what better game to come watch when it features the two best triple option teams in the country going to work. Toe to Toe. Niumatalolo and Monken. Mano a mano.
It’s purity of competition in its finest form. Two teams who desperately want to dominate their opponent and nothing else matters. Not the College Football Playoff, not the upcoming bowl game, not what awaits the seniors in May. This IS the season, bottled up into 60 minutes of intensity unlike anything else you will see all year.
Reason Number Four: The Alma Maters
“Singing Second.” Nothing better in the eyes of an Army or Navy fan. When you earn the right to “sing second” it means you earned victory. You see, unlike every other college football game you have ever been to, these two teams will stand side-by-side at the conclusion of the game no matter the outcome. When the final whistle sounds, both teams will first head over to the losing school’s band as the defeated team sings their respective alma mater first. After the final musical note, the winning team breaks off into a sprint to their band on the other side of the field celebrating the honored tradition of singing their alma mater second. It is a fantastic culmination of the Army-Navy week that reminds you that it’s just a football game, yet, at the same time, it means so much more.
Reason Number Five: The Unexplainable
Lastly, if I still haven’t convinced you to make it to this game, let me attempt to explain the unexplainable. First off, the march ons. While each school marches their student body proudly on the field, the casual fan watches this and simultaneously starts to realize just how special college football can truly be. These students are earning more than just a four-year degree while in college and this is a gentle reminder of their upcoming sacrifices.
Next up – the national anthem. I mean both schools come together at once and just knock this thing out of the park year after year. Just watch:
Come for the football experience and get the added bonus of an air show. This game will undoubtedly feature two flyovers likely consisting of the most advanced aircraft and helicopters in the world. And if you can only afford the nosebleed seats, that’s okay, you’ll have the bonus of feeling like you can reach out and touch the Apaches yourself.
This game is a big deal. There is a thing called the “Prisoner Exchange” and a bunch of student-produced “spirit spots.” The week leading up to kickoff features pep rallies at the Pentagon, and it often involves smack talk from members in the highest levels of the military and government each and every year. It is likely the game will feature the Secretary of Defense on the sidelines and may even draw in the President of the United States (more than just the cardboard cutout type). But even with its well-known guests, what makes this game really special are the fans who experience the game for the first time. Fans know this isn’t Alabama-Auburn and that’s okay, they don’t want it to be. They want you to experience more than what the Iron Bowl can provide. This is a spectacle that can’t be put into words or seen on television to understand. It is an atmosphere, purity of sport, and feeling that is honestly inexplicable.
So, my plea to you is that you don’t just take my word for it. If you can’t make it this year, that’s okay and understandable at this point. Tune into CBS at 3:00 ET next Saturday and try and get a glimpse of what I’m trying to describe. After that, pull out the calendar and find December 14, 2019 and make an entry: The City of Brotherly Love, America’s Game, Army-Navy – mark it down and start making plans now.