Monday, December 14, 2020

The Army-Navy Game

TigerBlog watched his favorite annual non-Princeton-included athletic event of each year Saturday afternoon.

That, of course, is the Army-Navy football game.

Well, he watched most of the Army-Navy game. He did check on Tennessee-Vanderbilt, and he was able to see Vandy's Sarah Fuller kick an extra point in the first quarter.

Fuller, who became the first woman to play in an FBS game two weeks ago when she kicked off in a 41-0 loss to Missouri. This time around, she was called on to kick the extra point after the Commodores' first touchdown, and she did so without much issue.

It was a feel-good moment to be sure. And to see the way she was congratulated by her teammates couldn't help but make TB smile.

As for the Army-Navy game, it's extraordinary from start to finish. Actually, it's incredible before the start until after the finish.

Before the start, there's the national anthem. If you've never seen a game at a service academy, TB recommends going to one as soon as the opportunity arises. 

And then watch the players, and the other students in the stands, as the anthem is played. It'll give you chills.

The game Saturday featured a rendition of the national anthem sung by members of the respective school's glee clubs. And it featured everyone on both sides as they saluted the flag. 

It's a reminder of who it is who is playing in the game, and it's a reminder of what the players and their classmates have signed up for.

The game Saturday was moved to West Point because of the COVID pandemic. Princeton should have played there earlier this year, but hey, that's another story that TB has mentioned before. 

One of the best parts of the game was when Army linebacker Jon Rhattigan said that he had two brothers who played college football, but neither was able to say "Go Army, Beat Navy." One of his two brothers is Joe Rhattigan, who was a two-time second-team All-Ivy running back at Princeton and a member of the 2013 and 2016 Ivy League championship teams.

This fact, or at least that Joe had played at Princeton, was mentioned on the broadcast.

There is another Princeton connection to the Army-Navy game. 

The first Army-Navy game was played in 1890, and the teams rotated hosting the game for the first four years. They did not play from 1894-1898 (TB has no idea why), and when the series resumed in 1899, the game was held in Philadelphia.

Since then, the teams have played the overwhelming majority of their games in Philadelphia. Until yesterday's game, the only other time they played at West Point was in 1943.

Between 1900 and Saturday, there were as many games played in Princeton as there were at West Point. The game in Princeton was played in 1905.

That was nine years before Palmer Stadium was built, which means the game was played at University Field. The game finished in a 6-6 tie, and it was called because of darkness before it reached its end.

The most interesting thing about that game?

There were three United States Presidents in attendance. The President at the time was Theodore Roosevelt, and he was there. He took a train from Washington, D.C., that morning, in fact.

The next President was William Howard Taft, who in 1905 was the Secretary of War (which is now sort of the Secretary of Defense). And the President after Taft was Woodrow Wilson, who in 1905 was the president of Princeton University.

Taft, by the way, is the only person who has ever been the President of the United States and the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Army-Navy game Saturday was played in a dense fog, and it wasn't a game that had explosive offenses (the teams combined for 12 first downs; the 2018 Princeton team averaged 26.7 all by itself). Army did enough to get itself a 15-0 win, marking its first shutout of Navy since 1969.

It's not the score of the game or who wins that makes it such an incredible game to watch. It's how hard every player goes on every play. It's what the game means to so many people stationed all over the world, many in dangerous posts. 

And it is, as TB said before, that these players will shortly be joining those people around the world.

It's just awe-inspiring to watch it each year.

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