Cadets, Midshipmen Gear Up for Annual Army-Navy Gridiron Showdown

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2006 - Thumps from bass drums marked the cadence of the Army and Navy marching bands and cheerleaders as they made their rounds through the halls of the Pentagon in the buildup toward the 107th Army-Navy football game tomorrow.

The processions, today and yesterday, respectively, capped off a week of celebration building up to the big game at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.

The U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen and U.S. Military Academy Black Knights will face off tomorrow, continuing a rivalry that dates back to 1890.

The Midshipmen lead the series 50 wins to Army's 49, and will attempt to extend their three-year winning streak tomorrow.

On the other hand, tomorrow's game represents the final opportunity for West Point's graduating class to secure the coveted bragging rights that accompany a victory. The Black Knights are 20-point underdogs going into the game. If the cadets lose, the class of 2007 will graduate without having beaten Navy during its four years at the Military Academy.

During the lead-up to the Army-Navy Game, tradition and ritual are visible across both campuses, and school spirit is running rampant.

Teams of marathon runners from both schools are on their way to Philadelphia to deliver game balls in time for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff. West Point's runners left New York last night following the school's "Spirit Dinner," Frank DeMaro, a spokesman for the academy, told American Forces Press Service.

Today, a team of midshipman marathoners left Bancroft Hall, on the academy's Annapolis, Md., campus, en route to Philadelphia, carrying a ball dedicated to those who have served and continue to serve the nation in wartime, Naval Academy public affairs officials said.

A full schedule of activities at both schools has boosted enthusiasm for the upcoming game.

"There's always excitement," DeMaro said. "It's the biggest game of the year; it's our bowl game."

At West Point, cadets held the annual "Go Engineer" event last night, pitting the top 20 percent of the corps of cadets against the bottom 20 percent in a game of tackle football. Following the game (in which the top 20 percent team won), the cadets enjoyed a Spirit Dinner in the mess hall.

The Naval Academy sponsored its traditional pep rally and bonfire with fireworks at the academy's Farragut Field Nov. 29. A group of midshipmen met with the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon yesterday.

Students at both schools said they welcome the festivity and fun surrounding the annual Army-Navy games. "A midshipman once told me, 'This is the only week of the year we're allowed to act like college kids,'" said Frederick Smith, a former Naval Academy instructor.

For alumni, the tradition of the Army-Navy Game -- which emboldens one academy with a year of bragging rights and deprives the other -- often runs deeper than the good-natured ribbing between academies.

"It's a chance to see what your military counterparts are made of," said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1992.

But Carpenter said it also offers a chance for students at the two schools to share their common values. "There's a greater sense that you are enjoying a break from reality with other people who have volunteered to take the difficult task of defending our country," he said.

For Army Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a 1987 West Point graduate, the Army-Navy Game conjures up fond childhood memories that led him to a military career. "I wear my (West Point) ring because it was a privilege to go there and fulfilled my dream as a kid," he said. "And I got that dream growing up and watching the Army-Navy Game. It resonated with me."

Maka, a Pentagon spokesman, said he's developed close friendships with many Annapolis graduates during his career and recognizes the similar experiences they've shared -- experiences he said are unique from those most Americans have had.

He enjoys the friendly rivalry between the two services, but said that, ultimately, it doesn't really matter which team wins.

"There's a lot of friendly jabbing and rivalry and trash-talking that happens," Maka said, "but it's all in good fun. In few other college games will you see as much mutual respect for each other's schools."

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