Iraq war. War on Terrorism. Al Qaeda. The Persian Gulf. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Civilian casualties. World War I. World War II. Vietnam.
These are just a few of the images and stereotypes associated with the US military. Regardless of how you feel towards US politics or military policy, here is my plea – set aside those biases, political views,and feelings about war as we visit the United States Naval Academy.
As part of my experience there, I had the opportunity to check out the annual Naval Academy game ball run (West Point does one as well) from the steps of Bancroft Hall to the football stadium (while the game is always a neutral site game, this year the game was played at FedEx Field in Washington DC).
“Hold on. Tears and goosebumps? The passion part I can understand but this is a football game – and a military academy! There’s no crying in football!”
Call it patriotism. Call it awe and respect for what these college kids go through every single day that would give other college kids nightmares. Call it admiration for a bunch of guys who don’t get scholarships to play football and still run the triple option so successfully (if that part is a bit confusing, read college football 101 for a little help).
Maybe my sensitive side makes me go soft and mushy when I see 4,000 midshipman in their Naval uniforms.
OK, maybe not.
However, there is something special about this campus, this institution, and the students (aka midshipman) that can’t be matched by any other university or college. While I will share more about the Naval Academy and what life is like here, it’s time to talk a little football – Navy style.
Annual Naval Academy Game Ball Run for Army – Navy football game
If you love football, one of the great things about the game is college football rivalries. However, none may be more meaningful or passionate than Army and Navy.
From the time the plebes step foot on campus in their first few days at the Naval Academy, they are taught “Go Navy! Beat Army!” It is ingrained in them and all the passion for this rivalry peaks during the week of the Army – Navy football game.
Throw out the records and history books in this one. Every midshipman attends the game and the Army – Navy festivities. And every year, the honor of the game ball run goes to the 13th company.
Since the number 13 is considered bad luck, the Naval Academy solves this by choosing the 13th company to do the run. By getting them off the yard running the game ball, the bad luck goes with them.
The 13th company lines the steps of Bancroft Hall as the opening festivities begin. Wearing their game ball run shirts and fatigues, loud music blares, the football is tossed around, and the company commander and midshipman have fun.
I had the pleasure of talking to one midshipman about his experience at the Naval Academy and what the Army – Navy game means to him as he prepared for the game ball run. 2nd Class Tim Cadigan of Towson, Maryland shared his thoughts:
For a military academy, this is their chance to let their hair down a little and have a good time. 4,000 thousand midshipman joined parents and visitors to watch the game ball run ceremony.
Surrounded by people who are giving their lives to serve, learn, and become leaders, being here is truly a humbling experience. Commandant of the Naval Academy Captain Robert E. Clark II gave an impassioned speech about the real heroes. In his words, we are to remember all of those serving around the world and realize that heroes will be honored on Saturday and not made on the football field.
When the Navy Blue and Gold meet the Army gray, blood will be spilled but in a competitive, safe environment. Once the game is over, Army and Navy will forever be united, working alongside each other under the colors of the United States flag – red, white, and blue.
Duty, honor, and courage
Standing there listening to the speech and seeing all the midshipman gathered around, I got a lump in my throat and my eyes welled with tears. I can’t explain the emotion that came over me but I felt pride and respect for the sacrifices made and the unity of the Army and Navy despite their differences on this day.
This is why the Army – Navy game is different than all the rest. Men step on the field to play each other in football but come together each and every day of their lives to sacrifice for a greater cause than themselves. They aren’t playing football for trophies or titles and kids aren’t recruited here just to play football. This place is different.
Standing around Bancroft Hall with Tecumseh dressed in his Naval uniform, the atmosphere was light and fun. The 13th company at the Naval Academy was getting ready to run a football for 120 miles and music was blaring and everyone was having fun. However, there is something special about this place that you feel the moment you step onto the campus.
Armed military greet you at the gates. The memories of past leaders and service men and women who gave their lives surround this place and touch your mind and heart. I look at the buildings and understand the honor, duty, and courage of the many midshipman, leaders, and heroes that have passed through this campus and these buildings.
This wasn’t an emotional reaction to a war or anything about politics or military policy. The idea that people set aside their differences, become leaders, push themselves beyond what most people would ever attempt, and give their lives for something greater than themselves made me proud and humbled at the same time.
A prelude to the Army – Navy football game
As Commandant Captain Richard E Clark II finished his speech, he grabbed the football and led a few members of the 13th Company down the steps, towards Tecumseh, and on to the streets of Annapolis headed towards FedEx Field.
Goosebumps, tears, and passion set aside, I realized something about that football that was far more meaningful than a football game between two great rivals.
Today, that football began a journey. It would cover many miles over a path that would see the sun set, night fall, and the sun rise again. During this journey, there would be moments of exhilaration as well moments of fatigue. In the end, that football was destined to be part of something much bigger than itself.
Such is the life of every man and woman who enters the Naval Academy. But today the chant rings loud and clear:
“GO NAVY! BEAT ARMY!”
What travel experiences have given you goosebumps or brought you to tears?
Here are a few videos from the Naval Academy Game Ball Run
Go Navy! Beat Army!
13th Company and the Naval Academy Brigade
Naval Academy Game Ball Run Ceremony – 13th Company and Commandant Captain Richard E Clark II speech