Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Anchors Aweigh

When TigerBlog was at the United States Naval Academy Friday night for women's basketball, he asked a few people there which they would rather have for their football team.

1) a loss to Army but a trip to a bowl game in Hawaii
2) a win over Army and no bowl game

As it turned out, sentiment was unanimous - everyone wanted a win over Army. And that's how it played out, with a Navy win (amazingly its 10th straight over Army) and no bowl, since neither team finished .500. For Navy, it ended a string of eight years in a row going to a bowl.

While TB was at the Academy, the football game dominated the talk, and why wouldn't it? When it comes to college athletic rivalries, maybe there are others that mean more to fans or the media. When it comes the participants themselves, there can't possibly be anything to rival Army-Navy football, and it's obvious from watching the game just how hard these teams are going at each other on every play.

As an aside, if you haven't seen the CBS documentary "A Game Of Honor" about the Army-Navy game, it's a must-see.

The scene was different the night before, when it was Princeton-Navy women's basketball. Still, a crowd of 2,312 was in the building - the beautiful Alumni Hall, a perfect setting for college basketball - and the home team played very well while handing the Tigers a 65-52 loss.

Beyond the game, though, TigerBlog was quite in awe of the Naval Academy.

For starters, fans couldn't park on the campus (the Yard, as it's known). For security reasons, everyone had to park at the football stadium (about five minutes off campus) and ride a shuttle over.

Entering the Yard required a photo ID. As TigerBlog came through the gate, he saw about five students who appeared to be playing one of those laser tag games, though it clearly was a military drill, not a game.

Once at the arena, there was no wireless internet, again for security reasons.

Then there were the Navy students. Some wore dress uniforms; others were in more casual uniforms.

During the national anthem, every single of one of them stood at complete attention while saluting the flag. There was no hint of a slouch, of anything that could be construed in any way as showing the slightest disrespect to the flag, the song or the institution.

That, as well as when the band played "Achors Aweigh," gave TB chills.

TigerBlog has seen Princeton play in any number of sports on the road against non-league opponents on all levels. He's done this hundreds of times.

Each time, there is something that TB can pick up on as a sign of respect for the academic commitment of Princeton's athletes. Maybe it's a comment. Maybe it's a chant from the student section that's meant to be derogatory but does suggest that there is a grudging acknowledgement of what it takes to be a Princeton athlete.

TigerBlog used to think there was no difference between Princeton athletes - or Ivy athletes in general - than with their non-Ivy counterparts. It just seemed like many of them were recruited only by the Ivy League and wanted to play in college and so that's how they ended up here.

Then, at the 1998 NCAA men's lacrosse final, TB had something of an epiphany.

The game was between Princeton and Maryland, and it was played at Rutgers Stadium. There's a steep walk up from the field to the lockerrooms, and then both teams were housed down a long stairway (TB isn't sure if that's how Rutgers does it for football; his sense is no).

Anyway, as TB walked to the Princeton lockerroom before the game, he had to go past Maryland's. From inside where the Terps were dressing, he could hear heavy metal music blasting at jet-engine levels.

Further down the hall, he came to Princeton's spot. When he walked in, the room was quiet, and there were two freshmen sitting in the outer area, where TB heard one say to the other: "you can't take that unless you took the other class, because it's a prerequisite."

In that moment, TB figured out that it's not quite the same thing.

It also isn't a negative. It's not that Princeton athletes aren't passionate about their sports. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's just that the passion doesn't come at a cost of the complete education.

They are so passionate about both that they make the commitment to the balancing act between Princeton's academic and athletic experiences. No, it's not for everyone, but it does attract some incredibly impressive young men and women.

And it's something that gets noticed when you're on someone else's campus.

Friday night TB knew exactly how the people who marvel at Princeton's athletes feel, as he watched all of these Midshipmen go about their business.

How can anyone not be filled with respect and awe at what these people commit to doing, both while they are undergraduates and then after they graduate, all with the inherent risks that are involved in military service, especially these days.

Each time TB saw one of the Mids, he wanted to shake their hand and say "thank you" and tell them how much appreciation he has for them.

Of course, he didn't. He would have seemed somewhat odd to do so, and besides, they probably would have simply shrugged it off with a "thank you sir." For them, it's a calling.

When it was over and Princeton lost, TB was a bit bummed. The Tigers never really got into their normal rhythm, and it really felt like one that got away.

Of course, given the opponent, he could only get so upset.

It's hard to root against the United States Navy, after all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent, excellent post. Walking the grounds when the Academy is in session is truly an inspiring experience. One additional thing that will impress you, and an example of what sets the Academies apart from all other colleges: watch them line up in formation and march into lunch.

I don't like to lose, but if we have to lose to anyone, give me Army, Navy, and the Air Force.