There is a purity to the competition. These are real students who will have real jobs when they graduate. And they just aren’t any jobs. They knowingly accept the rigors of military discipline and subject themselves to the academic rigor that prepares them to serve in our military. My former defensive backfield coach at Wittenberg became the head football coach at Navy. John Feinstein in “A Civil War” interviewed Coach Tranquil and asked him, what was the difference in being a football player at Ohio State and playing for Navy. Coach Tranquil coached several years at Ohio State before going to Navy. His answer—”at Ohio State the toughest part of their day is football practice. At Navy, practice is the easiest part of their day.”
At our military academies, football is a means to an end, not the end itself. It is a teaching tool. The lessons of leadership, teamwork, subjugation to a greater cause cannot be taught in a physics or chemistry lab.
People who have never played football at the College or Professional level do not understand the intensity or even the primacy or violence of the game. There is something very primal about drawing a line in the dirt and playing “meatball between two tacking dummies with a blocker a defender and a ball carrier”. It is not war with real bullets or bayonets, but is just as basic and draws on the same instincts.
The Army-Navy game means the world to the cadets and midshipman. They focus on that one day throughout the whole year. Sailors in the fleet and soldiers around the world care deeply about the outcome of the game.
The conduct of the Cadets and midshipman, players on the field and their coaches, was something we should all be proud of and was in stark contrast to what happens on Sunday afternoons in NFL stadiums.
The march onto the field by the cadets and midshipman, the Star Spangled Banner the respect that each team and their fans show each other is a reflection of their parents and of their education. I was on the sideline for one Army-Navy Game and when time ran out both sides stopped for almost 30 secs not knowing what to do or how to act. They were so focused on the “next play” that they didn’t know what to do next. Then they stood and crossed the scrimmage line and shook hands. I have never seen an Army-Navy game end otherwise. The teams then go to their respective fans and sing each other’s alma maters—winner sings last.
These teams earn each other’s respect by the lives they live and by the way they live their lives both on and off the football field. They respect each other because they first of all respect themselves. I guess that is part of leadership but you cannot possibly respect another person if you don’t respect yourself
At the end of the Seattle-Jacksonville game, a game no more fiercely contested than the Army-Navy Game there was a gang fight. As related in the Seattle morning newspaper the fight started when Jacksonville lined up in the “Victory formation” to down the ball and let the time run out.
One of the great players on Seattle and one of their team leaders Michael Bennet dove twice at the legs of the Jacksonville center—purposely trying to inflict a knee injury on his opponent. The subsequent fights and ejections of players and even the actions on the field of Pete Carroll the Seattle Coach demonstrated none of the elements that constitute by any stretch of the imagination qualities of leadership—showing respect for oneself or one’s opponents.
In this case, the field of battle and the intensity of the game exposed the character of the participants. Army-Navy and football the way it is supposed to be played is the antithesis of what is happening in the NFL today and specifically what happened on the field with Seattle and Jacksonville.
The good-lessons of respect and self-respect, discipline, subjugation to a greater cause and being a teammate 1st, playing hard and playing fair give us the greatest team sport ever devised. Like a classic work of art, you don’t have to be an expert or critique to know that it is good and worthy of respect. Army-Navy is worthy of respect, Seattle-Jacksonville is not.
The bad—selfish athletes who put their own selfish interests ahead of their teams and who lack any self-respect or respect for their opponents, will turn the game that they play into a cage match or a match of gladiators.
Thank God the training and education that the young men choosing to serve and protect you and me and all those who play and cheer those who play on Sundays, is as tough and strict as it is—like coach Tranquil said—”The easiest part of their day is football practice.”
PS Michael Bennett was voted “Man of the Year” by Seahawk fans and is a candidate for the Walter Payton award. I wonder what a man of character like Walter Payton would think of that.
And finally, maybe this type of divergence of actions, of grace or lack of grace under duress, is what separates and defines the differences that we are watching amongst segments in our societies. For me, I find it difficult to respect someone who by their actions doesn’t respect themselves or respects me and what I stand for.
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