PHILADELPHIA Been waiting 23 years for today.
It’d been that long since I’d been to the Army-Navy game, since my senior year at West Point.
Thank you, NFL, for having the Seahawks play in Baltimore, a 90-minute drive away, the day after Saturday’s 116th Army-Navy game.
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The video above is, to me, the best tradition in sports.
Yes, it’s remarkable that hockey players line up to shake hands at the end of usual bitter, grueling games over weeks of a Stanley Cup playoff series. But those guys -- those men -- have another game to play the following series or season.
Saturday was the last game every one (barring rare, Secretary of the Army or Navy exception) of those 23 seniors for the U.S. Military Academy and the 29 for the Naval Academy will ever play football. Then, win or lose, tears falling or cheers rising, each player, coach, staffer member and military-officer representative stand at attention for the other school’s alma mater. The players belt out the words to their school song more loudly and proudly than they ever had.
That’s why this game transcends football. I’ve been so fortunate to have covered Super Bowls, the Olympics, World Series, Rose Bowls, March Madness. But there is nothing in sports like the Army-Navy game. Nothing I’ve been to is more pure.
Yeah, I may be (a little) biased. But I’ve had impartial people, including those not in the sports-journalism industry, that have also been to Super Bowls and have said the same thing.
This game isn’t with two teams full of players wowing the NFL and preparing for their next games, the ones for which many will get paid. After Saturday’s game, the next work these seniors will be getting paid to do is to defend our country, defend us from the current era’s war: terrorism.
Duty. Honor. Country.
I got to see classmates on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field I hadn’t seen in 10, 15 years. Steve Heller called me down to section 111 just a few rows behind the east end zone. As Navy parachutists landed behind us just before kickoff, he told me he still has the early 1990s cassette tape of me and two other members of my wedding party, fellow classmate Paul Webb and Mike Best, calling his Army-Maryland NCAA lacrosse tournament game on the cadet radio station inside Michie Stadium at West Point. We laughed and talked like we’d seen each other just last week. That’s the bond you get when you graduate from a service academy.
Colleagues on the Seahawks beat from the Seattle Times joined me at the game that matched the sublime quality of the 65-degree December day. It was one of the best of the series’ last few decades. Army, a 2-9 team and a three-touchdown underdog, led ranked, 9-2 Navy for much of the game. The Black Knights lost 21-17 when Navy intercepted a double pass in the end zone just below us late then batted away a 60-yard, Hail Mary heave on the final play. Bob Condotta, Larry Stone and Jason Jenks seemed to be impressed.
I sure was.
Sunday, back to the Seahawks (7-5), and their game at Baltimore (4-8). Kickoff at is at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on Fox. Our News Tribune live chat begins at 9:15 a.m. here on the Seahawks Insider blog and at www.thenewstribune.com.