I had the privilege of speaking with Ross Tucker, who will be calling the Army/Tulane game for CBS Sports Network. It was humbling to hear him talk about the Army football team as well as service members in general with such enthusiasm and respect, and it was interesting to hear his perspective on Army’s match-up against Tulane, as well as the CIC Trophy race.
Q: If you don’t mind, could you discuss what it means for you to call Army football games?
A: Well first of all, thank you very much for your service, I appreciate it. So for me, my grandpa, who has now passed, and my mom are like two of my five favorite people on earth that I’ve ever met. My grandpa was a captain in the US Army for over 20 years, served in WWII. My mom was born in Ft. Lewis, WA. She graduated from Ft. Knox high school in Kentucky. You know, she was a classic Army brat. I think she went to 13 different schools, from kindergarten through college. 13 different schools, Germany twice, so I was kinda brought up that way. (Growing up) like you clean your plate when you eat your food. That’s how my grandparents taught me, how my mom taught me, and also just tremendous amounts of respect for the Army, for the Armed Services, and for our Soldiers. I’ve tried really hard to pass that on to my daughters, so they know that if we’re ever anywhere and we see a man in uniform, or a woman in uniform, we always go up to them. And they’ll know, they’ll see them before me, and they’ll tap me and say, “Daddy,” and I’ll say, “Yep, let’s go.” They know to stick their hand out and say, “thank you for your service.” I passed that on to my children. We live near Fort Indiantown Gap in central Pennsylvania, near the Harrisburg/Hershey area, so we’ll see reservists out at Red Robin or local restaurants or whatever, and anytime I see them anywhere, I pay the tab. It’s very near and dear to my heart.
I don’t have very many regrets in life. I try to live my life without regrets, but I do wish I had some service time or some military service or armed forces in my background. I went straight from high school to Princeton to the NFL to what I’m doing now. So, that’s just a long-winded way of me saying I just have a tremendous amount of respect for the Armed Services, the Armed Forces, and for the decision that these young men make because anybody that goes to play football at any of the service academies, in particular Army, since those are the games I’m calling. You know they had other opportunities. They had other options to play college football, and they chose to serve. They chose that lifestyle, and they chose to potentially put themselves in harm’s way for others for a minimum of five years. I just couldn’t possibly have any more respect (for) the decision they make as 18 year olds. So from just that standpoint, I consider it a true honor and privilege to call these games. Man, I call NFL games all the time, and I’ve called major college football, but I’ve never said it’s an honor and a privilege like it is to call these Army games.
That’s number one. Then the second part of it is, I freaking love the way they play. I’m an offensive lineman, when I was in high school, we ran the Wing-T, which is different than the triple option, but I just love how hard they play, how disciplined they are, how they run the football, how they wear down their opponents. I love watching the offensive line come off the ball. I just love the way they play, and I would’ve loved to have played for Army in that offense.
It’s kind of funny, my high school coach who I’m very close with, (lives in) Reading, PA - he actually has season tickets to Army home football games. He’ll be at the Tulane game Saturday, and that’s because his son, who was my teammate, played on the Sprint football team at Army, and he’s another one. He had a bunch of options for Division III football, instead chose to play sprint football at Army. And now he’s the head coach for Army Prep. So last game, Morgan State, I was up there and I got a chance to see Army Prep practice a little bit and hang out with Andy and have dinner with him, it was great.
So I just love the way they play. I love how good they are and what Jeff Monken has done for the program. It’s really, truly unique. For a former offensive lineman, I love watching their film, you know. You watch so much of these college programs doing the same thing. You know what I mean? They do the same stuff, over and over again. It’s really kinda cool to watch a program that does some things differently and to watch the triple option work and it’s awesome. So for multiple reasons, I love calling these Army football games. I’ll give you one more. Everybody always told me it was great. And I said “yeah, yeah I’m sure it’s awesome.” I had no idea. Like when they told me Michie Stadium was awesome, it is really, really awesome, especially where I’m at. Up in the press box, and the view I have, it is just magical. It’s breathtaking. So, there’s a lot worse things you could do in life than every Saturday, or at least as many Saturdays they have home games, calling an Army football game.
Q: They hadn’t quite turned the corner while I was there. I graduated in 2016, so my last two years were Monken’s first two. And you could see the shift, but when things are going well it’s fun to be in the stands. You know, I think you get a pretty good view of that from the press box, all the cadets jumping around.
A: It’s incredible, I love it. The cadence gets me sometimes, but I love it.
Q: I’m kinda curious, you know, given your background as an offensive lineman. I think last year, that was really kind of the strength of Army’s offense, you know, with Bryce Holland at center, and they just seemed to be a force that couldn’t be stopped. And at least from my perspective, and some others that I follow and have talked with, it seems like Army’s offensive line hasn’t quite made the same statement this year. And I don’t know, do you have any thoughts, or if you’ve noticed anything?
A: Well, first of all, I think Bryce Holland is really good, and secondly, I think that they’ve been moving guys around and to some extent, guys have been in and out of the lineup. So they’ve had to play three centers against UTSA. They moved JB Hunter to center at times, they moved [Peyton] Reeder from guard to center. So they just have a lot of moving parts in there. That’s always something you kind of have to deal with. And really, you know, they’ve got new fullbacks. I mean it was primarily [Darnell] Woolfolk and [Andy] Davidson, and now you’ve got [Connor] Slomka and [Sandon] McCoy, and also you’ve had three different quarterbacks.
So, I just think that they’ve had a lot more bodies, and a lot more moving parts in there than they typically have. And I think that they’re just still trying to get there in terms of their continuity and chemistry. But I think kind of like last year, they’ll keep just improving and they still ran it pretty darn effectively against Michigan. They ran it pretty - very good, obviously, against Morgan State and San Antonio. Now, they’re not #1 right now, but I think we’ll know more after the Tulane game, obviously. But I think this is going to continue to get better as long as they stay healthy. And even having a couple - you know, three different quarterbacks, it’s a little different than when you have an experienced quarterback like [Kelvin] Hopkins in there making all the right reads.
Q: Alright, well speaking of the Tulane game, I think a lot of Army fans, aside from Michigan, see Tulane as the first big test for the remainder of the season. And kind of a good indicator of where the Army team this year is trending. Is there anything you’re looking at heading into this weekend?
A: Yeah well, Tulane’s really good. Watching them play against Houston - I watched it live on TV and then I watched the coaches’ tape. So most of their guys are back from last year. Their starting quarterback, McMillan, is an LSU transfer and is 8-2. And you know, they’re playing good competition, I mean, one of those losses was this year to Auburn. So they’re playing very good competition, and they’re almost all back from last year which they had a winning season. I think this is the second best team that Army plays by a lot. And I’m not sure they’re that far behind Michigan, to be honest with you.
So if you look at them, they’ve got a lot of talent, and all these kids played for them last year. And if you’re playing an American Conference team that’s 8-2 in their last 10 games, and they had a bye week, but they also played on a Thursday night and they beat a good Houston team. This will be a huge challenge. I mean, it’s pretty clearly Army’s toughest home game this year to keep that home winning streak going. So I would agree, I think this is, you know, sort of a benchmark game for Army’s program, to see whether or not they can beat Tulane. Because this is a very, very good team coming to Michie. They’re more talented than Army across the board, and they’re quite a bit more talented than, you know, Morgan State or UTSA, or even Rice for that matter.
The other is that, you know, they’re having a bye before they play Army, which really helps because you get more time with the triple option and the Army offense, and then not only that, they’ve got a lot of familiarity. You know, their D coordinator, Jack Curtis, coached with Monken for three years. So they should be much - and they play Navy every year - so they should be much, much further along in terms of, you know, the stopping Army’s offense than most of the teams that Army plays.
Q: Right, absolutely. I think everybody understands that Tulane is going to be quite the test. I know as an Army fan, I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve got a lot of faith in the Army team, but I think it’s going to be an exciting game, and I think it’ll probably come down to who executes the most and minimizes their mistakes. Looking past Tulane, to kind of look into the Commander-in-Chief’s race, I know Air Force and Navy are playing this weekend to kick things off - how do you think Army stacks up with Navy and Air Force? And what are you thinking as far as who’ll win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy this year?
A: Well this is one of the first years in a while I can remember where it really feels like any one of the three could win it, and that they’re all good and none of them are down. And maybe you can correct me if I’m wrong, but it just seems like - you know, I thought Navy looked pretty good against Memphis. I thought Air Force looked pretty good against Boise. You know, I mean they’ve got, they all look like they’re absolutely capable of winning those two games. So it sets up to be an awesome, awesome round robin and I think there’s a bunch of years when Army was down, or even last year when Navy was down where you really couldn’t say that. But this year I think you can absolutely say that. It’s gonna be awesome.
Q: No, I agree. As an Army fan, you know, I would like it if it was kinda clear that Army was the best team out of the three and were gonna win it, but I think on the whole, for service academy athletics in general, I think it’s better when all three teams are doing well and having success. And you know, it makes it more exciting and builds anticipation for those games that well, “who’s it going to be?” Who’s going to come out and say this is our year and we want the trophy and go out and win it.
A: Yeah, it’s going to be awesome. It really will. I mean, it could very easily be - what do they do if everybody just wins one? Army just keeps it right?
Q: I believe so. I believe Army would keep it by default, but I’ll be honest I’m not quite sure what would happen in that situation. I think that it either stays with the team that won it or -
A: I think it does stay. I guess it doesn’t - I don’t think they get to claim that they won it that year, I guess they just get to keep it. I don’t know, maybe they do get to claim they won it. I don’t know. Maybe that’s the value of having it. I’m going to ask that question this weekend. I’m driving to West Point right now. Yeah, awesome, well thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
It truly was a great opportunity to speak with Ross and get some insight from him on what it means for him to call Army football games as well as to get his thoughts on Tulane as well as the CIC race. You can hear more from him this Saturday if you’re tuning into the Army/Tulane game at 12pm ET on CBS Sports Network.