Army-Navy Remains The Sole Constant
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 10, 2011
Once again, Army and Navy have our undivided attention. And for the first time since 2002, the game holds no postseason implications. That fall, Paul Johnson’s first in Annapolis, might have been the worst game in the series’ history: Navy was 1-10, as was Army, and the latter, though it was unaware at the time, was in the early stages of a 19-game losing streak. Yet the game still mattered; it mattered for all the reasons this game always matters, because Army’s on one side, Navy’s on the other, and that’s all there is to say about that.
Surprisingly, given how the Midshipmen owned the series under Johnson, Navy hasn’t come close to duplicating its dominance from that afternoon in 2002. Junior quarterback Craig Candeto scored seven times — six on the ground, one through the air — to lead the Midshipmen to a 58-12 win.
Navy hasn’t duplicated that 46-point margin. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been wins over Army that came with similar ease: in fact, Navy hasn’t had to truly work for a win against the Cadets at any point over its current nine-game winning streak.
There was a 34-6 win in 2003, one that capped Army’s historic 0-13 season. It was 42-13 in 2004; 42-23 in 2005. In both games, Navy scored at least three times in the second quarter, extinguishing any thought of an Army upset. The score was 26-14 in 2006, thanks in large part to a pair of Navy defensive touchdowns. Johnson’s final team, in 2007, cruised to a 38-3 victory.
Enter Ken Niumatalolo, Johnson’s chief lieutenant, and play the same song. Over the last three seasons: 34-0, 17-3 and 31-17. The tenor of last year’s game changed with roughly a minute left in the first half, when a potential Army scoring drive — one that would have made it 17-14 — sputtered, failed and exploded. Instead of 17-14, it was 24-7: Wyatt Middleton picked up an Army fumble and took it 98 yards for a back-breaking touchdown.
Now you’re caught up. This year’s game will have a different feel from the outside, as Army, 3-8, takes on an uncharacteristically poor Navy team, 4-7. There will be no matching postseason trips in 2011, one year after Army beat S.M.U. in the Armed Forces Bowl and Navy lost to San Diego State in Poinsettia Bowl.
This year’s game bears a few similarities to that game in 2002, when neither team entered December with the sort of aspirations found elsewhere in college football: a winning season and a bowl berth, for instance. Navy was looking to build some momentum under its first-year coach. Army was playing out the string, confident in the knowledge that things couldn’t get any worse. The Cadets were wrong, of course.
There is no big picture, as in 2002. There’s no bowl bid on the line. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy will reside in Colorado Springs. Army, as in 2002 and beyond, just wants to end a painful losing streak. Navy wants to keep a joyful winning streak alive. Both want to head into next season on a high note.
But there’s never a big picture when Army meets Navy: whether it’s 2002, 2011, 1902 or 1911, this game shares nothing — not little, but nothing — with any other game in college football. And that includes each team’s annual date with Air Force, which is vital yet secondary to this specific game. You can’t assign the same meaning to this game as you would to others, in short.
There’s too much importance placed upon the big picture in college football, where one game can mean the difference for a national title run — unless you’re Alabama — and fierce arms races, manifested in conference expansion, can lead long, meaningful history to be casually tossed aside. This is the big picture in 2011: the run-up to the game often trumps the game itself.
Not so with this rivalry. But you knew that. It isn’t just the style of play that resembles a throwback; both Army and Navy run the option, which is not aesthetically pleasing to the untrained eye but is absolutely pitch-perfect for this series. There’s anticipation for this game, but the game is never eclipsed by its expectations.
How could it be? You expect hard play, and that’s what you get. You expect no quit, and that’s what you get. You expect no quarter, and that’s what you get. You expect a rivalry to play out in the same fashion as it has for more than a century, and yes, that’s just what you’re going to get.
The President will be there. He’ll start sitting in one section but will switch sides at halftime, a tradition started by Teddy Roosevelt, even if Roosevelt was a Navy man at heart. The teams will play for 60 minutes — or more, I guess. After the game ends, the winning side will stand alongside the loser as it sings its alma mater.
Then they switch. The winner sings. The loser stands idly by. Half the field wears smiles. Tears are shed on both sides. Then there’s pandemonium. I think the winner fires a cannon. The loser trudges off to the locker room.
The winning team’s quarterback doesn’t go to Disneyland. He goes to war, eventually, where he’ll fight for his country, alongside former Cadets and Midshipmen alike. It’s been this way for 111 years. It won’t change anytime soon. Appreciate that fact. Once again, Army and Navy remain the sole constant in college football.
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Tags: Army. Navy, Ken Niumatalolo, Paul Johnson
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