Green: A rivalry with no equal (Jan. 20)
Mary Green | Monday, January 20, 2014
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a 10-part series discussing the best rivalry in sports. In this installment, Mary Green argues for Army-Navy. Join the discussion on Twitter by using the #BestRivalry.
Sorry to my fellow columnists, but I am leading off this two-week-long debate by arguing for what I think is the most historic, most meaningful and overall best rivalry in modern sports.
Which rivalry is the most engrossing for the players and the schools they represent, with the students carrying their loathing sentiments for the opponent well past their college days?
Which rivalry is annually televised on a national network even if both teams are nowhere close to contention for a championship, bringing in viewers for the sake of witnessing another chapter in history instead of just watching a contest with title implications?
Which rivalry featured the likes of Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley and led Douglas MacArthur to send the following telegram from the Pacific after his former comrades earned a victory in 1944, “We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success?”
The answer to all those questions is Army-Navy, the only rivalry great enough to stop, at least temporarily, World War II at the command of a five-star general and 1903 graduate of the United States Military Academy.
Anyone who has ever attended the annual football game between the two service academies, a tradition begun in 1890 and played annually since 1930, knows there is nothing quite like the Army-Navy game.
The event, which typically closes out the regular season of college football, begins as cadets and midshipmen march onto the field in full uniform, divided into their respective companies and representing their academies with the full decorum and seriousness of soon-to-be officers in the armed forces.
Leading out their companies in front of the packed crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, FedEx Field or any of the other host venues throughout the years, in front of their families, friends, distinguished alumni and classmates is an enormous honor for the company commanders, establishing them as a leader of America’s future leaders. No other game puts that type of distinction on people not participating in the actual contest.
After the march-in of the cadets and midshipmen, the national anthem is performed with more meaning than at most other sporting events because the game’s players will be fighting in the name of that anthem and for that flag in a matter of years, representing it wherever they go and in whatever they do for the rest of their lives.
Besides, the Star-Spangled Banner always concludes with a stellar flyover featuring the Blue Angels, Apache helicopters and other military aircrafts that makes for a rousing spectacle before the game even kicks off.
But the reasons Army-Navy is the best rivalry in all of sports are the one that most divides the two teams and the one that most unites them.
No other teams hate each other as much as the Black Knights and Midshipmen do. At the end of each game leading up to college football’s most storied matchup, the teams sing their respective alma maters and yell “Beat Navy!” or “Beat Army!” Fans greet each other with this slogan as well and don it on t-shirts, jackets, buttons and anything else that can fit those famous eight letters.
Even if one team has a horrendous season and finishes well out of contention for a bowl game, everything is redeemed if it beats that one hated rival. And, as opposed to other schools involved in noteworthy rivalries, this applies to all sports, not just football or basketball.
But once they graduate, all the players and their classmates work and fight alongside their former adversaries, battling an opponent more dangerous and deadly than the one they used to face on the field or court.
Sure, one could say this is similar to Auburn and Alabama players laying down their differences once they are drafted by the same NFL team or to Duke and North Carolina athletes extending the olive branch once they put on the same NBA jersey.
That is, they are similar if you think fighting in the armed forces in the name of freedom and the United States of America out of patriotism is the same as playing professional sports for million-dollar salaries.
Once they graduate from their respective institutions, the former cadets and midshipmen bond over a common enemy and reminisce about their days of kidnapping goats and stealing mules for the sake of one-upping a foe less than 300 miles away.
And then, for that one December day each year, old rivalries that never quite died are renewed and revitalized because there is no pride like that of a patriot and there is no rivalry like Army-Navy.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.