“Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.” Douglas MacArthur.
“Untutored courage is useless in the face of educated bullets.” George Patton.
We begin this week, in the spirit of the season, with our annual piece about taking my “old man” to the last pure amateur sporting event left in America, in this case, it was the 1998 Army/Navy Football Game.
It is our version of; “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
On December 7, 1963, at the age of eleven, and some two weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy, I watched my first college football game.
It was Army versus Navy, and featured the Middies Heisman Trophy winner; Roger Staubach.
I viewed the game with my dad sharing the couch in the living room on the top floor of our Dorchester – “Wattendorf owned” – three-decker.
We watched on a black and white Philco television, accompanied by the mandatory rabbit ears, and even though the “old man” was WWII Army, I was rooting for Navy.
The game ended on a time expiring controversial no call, with the Cadets perched on the Middies one, as the Sons of Joe Bellino hung on for the; 21-15 victory.
It began a lifelong love affair with the game of college football, one in which I remain intimately involved by writing a seasonal on-line column for the Patriot Ledger, and as a participating voter in selecting the winner of the Heisman Trophy.
But now, a shade over a half-century later, this game for me has much deeper roots.
My father, Ed, passed fourteen-years ago, and four years before his demise, in the spring of ’98 he experienced a “mini” stroke.
After that episode, in which he came through without any incapacitation, I realized that the 75-year old former soldier wouldn’t be around forever, and that revelation inspired me to put a plan into action.
I would surprise my “old man” by taking him to witness the classic first hand, a “full-circle” father-son football and life journey.
It would be a one day whirlwind excursion.
The airline reservations were a snap, remember this was pre 9/11, but now I needed some game tickets, and not just any seats, but something decent, especially for a guy in his mid-seventies.
I called my pal Bill Brett the now retired “great, prize winning” photographer of the Boston Globe.
I asked Billy, if he would ask, the since deceased sports columnist Will McDonough, to ask his son Sean, who at the time was working for CBS Sports and calling the game, for assistance in securing a pair of nice seats.
They all came through.
I picked up the tickets at the stadium’s “Will Call” window which were in a large manila envelope marked: CBS Sports.
The kid working the window glanced at the CBS logo and duly impressed, looked up and proclaimed; “You must be important!”
Little did he know!!
We ventured to our seats; lower level at Philly’s Old Vet Stadium, eight rows up from the rail at the 45-yard line. Absolutely, perfect!
Here we are sitting around various Naval brass, and after a few minutes of silence, the “old man” a former Army corporal, who walked in and out of France and Germany, looks at me and says; “Are you sure we are in the right seats?”
Translation: “How could a nitwit like you, pull off seats like these?!”
Even though it was the fifth of December, the weather was balmy, and we were treated to a great game, watching what was at the time (since surpassed); the highest scoring game in the series: a 34-30 Army victory.
Sitting in the plane and just before we were about to take off, the “old man” leaned in and said, “In case I forget, I want to thank you.”
For a WWII father that simple statement was like; “War and Peace.”
My dad died three years later, but to paraphrase what Bogie said to Bergman in “Casablanca;” “We’ll always have Army/Navy!”
“So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
Now to the game: Army vs No.21 Navy (Ch.4, 3:00 p.m.) – Philadelphia
In the 116th renewal of this classic, the Midshipmen have torpedoed its rival for a “baker’s dozen” of consecutive victories, outscoring Army by the jaw-dropping aggregate; 417-142, and now lead the series; 59-49-7.
To put that run into perspective, the longest previous streak by either team was five games, and the Cadet’s last victory over Navy occurred a couple of months post 9/11 in 2001.
For the Sons of Robert E. Lee, West Point football has been drier than the Mojave, and wins on the Hudson are rarer than the sighting of a large school of N.E. cod.
In fact the last time the Black Knights simply enjoyed a winning season; Bill Clinton was in the “Monica Years” of his second term – 1997.
Unfortunately, the QB situation for the Sons of Dwight Eisenhower remains as muddled as the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, but it appears as if t-freshman Chris Carter, who got his first start two weeks ago in the loss to Rutgers, is the lead dog for the starting call.
Yet still very much in the mix is senior QB A.J. Shorr (7TDs), as well as sophomore signal caller Ahmad Bradshaw (5 TDs) who started seven games, but is working back from ankle and shoulder injuries.
Whoever is under center, tailback Aaron Kemper (506 yards – 3 TDs – 5.4 yds. a pop) is the principal Army bell cow which caissons along as the nation’s eighth best (254) rushing attack, despite an offense that ranks a bottom feeding 106th in scoring; averaging a miniscule 22-points a game.
And on those rarest of occasions when the Cadets, who have 27 freshman and sophomores contributors, take to the skies, wideouts Edgar Poe (nickname has to be Allen!), and John Trainor, are the main targets.
On D, the descendants of Pete Dawkins (’58 Heisman) anchored by backers Andrew King (15.5 TFLs – 4.5 sacks), Jeffrey Timpf, and corner Rhyan England, attack as relentlessly as the annual “weaponized” pillow fight that was officially banned this year by the USMA brass due to multiple concussions, broken noses, and jaws. Oh those Army boys.
In Annapolis, the Middies, are going bowling for twelfth time in thirteen years, and this Navy eleven may be its best since Heisman winner Roger Staubach was lobbing jump pass touchdowns.
The nation’s second ranked (330) triple-option rushing attack is under the command of its Heisman caliber QB Keenan Reynolds (1093 yards-19TDs), who slashes a defense better than a knife made by Bowie.
The starry magician, who is college football’s all-time touchdown rushing leader, is assisted by tailback Chris Swain, and on Navy’s infrequent aerial sightings, Jamir Tillman (great seaman’s name) is the prime target.
On D, the descendants of John Paul Jones (“I have not yet begun to fight”) anchored by backer Micah Thomas, end Will Anthony (10.5 TFLs-6.5 sacks), and a corner with one of the all-time patriotic names, Quincy Adams, are capable of swamping any offense.
With all the unsettledness floating around the country, and the world, this year’s game carries an even deeper connection showcasing the best our nation has to offer.
And on Saturday night in the early evening darkness, in one of the great traditions of college football, we think it will be the Cadets who will be standing behind its Midshipmen brethren as its faithful serenade with; “Navy Blue and Gold” for the fourteenth consecutive time.
Last week: 5-0 Season record: 45-25
That’s it from cyber space. We’ll be back on Tuesday of Christmas week for our analysis of the two New Year’s Eve semi-finals. Until then, Merry Christmas, Peace, and listen to the music. PK