From the minute a young man walks onto post at West Point until the moment he walks off, one rallying cry is ingrained in him, “Go Army. Beat Navy.”
So, as the rival service academies prepare for the 113th edition of the storied Army-Navy Game, it’s safe to say no love has been lost.
“This is my 15th time playing them and I don’t think for me it’s changed,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “Every year it feels the same to me, it’s Army Week — so, to me, that’s all that needs to be said.”
Navy has dominated the rivalry in recent years, winning the last 10 with an average margin of victory of 24 points. Niumatalolo could use Saturday’s game as a tune-up for his upcoming bowl game (Dec. 29 vs. Arizona St.), but that’s not how this rivalry works. He and his players had this one circled on the calendar back in training camp.
“No doubt,” Niumatalolo said, when asked if this was the biggest game on the schedule. “The Army game is always the No. 1 game every year, that will never change. That will always be our No.1 rivalry game.”
For Army, which has only participated in two bowl games in the past 16 seasons, this is it. And coach Rich Ellerson intends to treat Saturday as a bowl game.
“Without a doubt,” Ellerson said, “because of the double bye, it feels very much like a bowl game — with a lot on the table with the way you prepare for it, the way you practice for it. All those 11 weeks [in September] were about were getting us ready for this.”
When the two squads step off that Linc turf, with the score settled and another Army-Navy game in the books, then the hard part begins for these young men who have dedicated their lives to serving their country.
“The game is not a diversion, it’s the center of their lives,” said Ellerson. “That’s what’s so fascinating about this, this thing builds to a crescendo and then its over.”
Has Army-Navy rivalry lost luster?
The Army-Navy Game has long been billed as, “America’s Game.” Those in charge of promoting it — Nike has even designed special uniforms — have been quick to remind the nation that this is the best rivalry in college sports.
But is that really the national perception? The Midshipmen (7-4) and Black Knights (2-9) aren’t exactly football powerhouses. With many Americans choosing instead to focus on the upcoming bowl games and national championship, Saturday’s game might take a backseat. Of course, this game isn’t about winning titles or making “SportsCenter.”
“I think when you watch the Army-Navy Game, you think about being a Great American,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “It’s not about winning a national championship or anything like that, it’s just about the pride you have to be an American. Everybody has a connection.
“You might see the Alabama-LSU game, and it might be a wonderful game, but if you’re from the West Coast, you might not have any ties to it or any allegiance to it, you just want to watch a good game, where here pretty much everybody can bond or tie in with it.”
Army coach Rich Ellerson admitted the game may have lust some of its national luster, but he sees this weekend as an opportunity to remind everyone about how important it is.
“I think that’s one of the challenges that the broadcasters have but the good news is, that by playing this game when we do, we have a lot of people focused on it, so you have a chance to introduce yourself to a national audience that may not remember or may be relatively new to the equation,” Ellerson said. “But I think the fact that we have this weekend, this spotlight and this opportunity, to educate our country not only about this ballgame and this rivalry but these institutions — the United States Corps of Cadets and the Brigade of Midshipmen — and what these young people have dedicated, these remarkably accomplished young men and women, have dedicated their lives to.”
Three players to watch
1. Gee Gee Greene, Navy RB: The most explosive weapon in Navy’s triple-option offense. Greene racked up 750 yards (7.2 per carry).
2. Trent Steelman, Army QB: He’ll line up under center, but he’ll call his own number most of the time. Steelman ran 224 times for 1,152 yards.
3. Brye French, Navy LB: Defensive captain ranks third on team in tackles (71) and serves as disrupter and emotional leader.
Where they rank
Bring your track shoes Saturday (3 p.m., CBS) …
Rushing offense » Navy ranks No. 6 in nation (3,140 total yards, 285.5 per game)
Rushing offense » Army ranks No. 1 in nation (4,068 total yards, 369.8 per game)