Last Friday morning, during my weekly appearance on ‘The Sports Junkies,’—the morning show on the CBS all-sports affiliate here in Washington—I made the comment that I thought Virginia Tech might beat Clemson in the ACC championship game the next night.
Then the hosts asked me about Navy playing in the American Athletic Association title game the next afternoon and I went on a mini-rant about an ESPN.com story quoting some dopey anonymous bowl official as saying that most of bowl-dom was pulling for Temple, because a Navy win would mean that (gasp!) the second-tier bowls would have to wait an extra week to finalize thrilling matchups like Maryland-Boston College and Hawaii-Middle Tennessee.
To begin with, the guy’s complaint was completely bogus. It would have taken about five minutes for the masters of the 6-6 bowls to make the adjustments needed. Even THEY could figure it out. Second, I couldn’t understand why the guy who wrote the story would grant the bowl dope anonymity.
I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: Anonymous quotes are a pox on my profession. They’re a copout, both for the guy hiding behind anonymity and the reporter granting it. If someone wants to take a cheap swipe at a bunch of kids who are going to be defending our country in the near future, at least make him have the guts to stand behind it.
A few hours after my appearance, the following e-mail came to me through my website: “Clemson’s not good? Yeh, but Navy is. Who is the MORIN?
I’m guessing he meant ‘yeah,’ and ‘moron,’ and, to be fair, he was only off by one letter in each word. At least, unlike the bowl dope, his name was on the note. I don’t believe I ever said Clemson wasn’t good—I said I thought Virginia Tech might beat them. And, at no point, did I compare Clemson to Navy.
I resisted the urge to write back to the guy because I’ve learned through the years that someone who clearly isn’t listening to what you’re saying (or reading what you’re writing) should not be engaged with. I’ve made the mistake of doing it a few times in the past and it never turned out well. Some people—and I’d include people who call someone a MORIN among them—probably can’t be reasoned with.
But if I HAD written to the guy, here’s what I would have said:
“Dear Scott: I’m going to take a wild guess here and assume you’ve never been to a Navy game and certainly not to an Army-Navy game. Further, I’m completely certain you have no understanding of how remarkable it is for Navy to be as competitive as it is at the highest level of college football.
You see, Navy should NEVER beat Notre Dame—or, for that matter a Houston team good enough to beat Oklahoma. It certainly shouldn’t be 9-3 in a season in which both captains were lost for the season, not to mention the projected starting quarterback—who tore his ACL in the second quarter of the season-opener.
So, if you’ll forgive me, my respect for the young men who play football at Navy, at Army and at Air Force knows no bounds. Am I biased? You bet. I first got to know football players from Army and Navy well 21 years ago when I was researching my book on their rivalry, “A Civil War.” I’m betting you’ve never read it and won’t be reading it anytime soon. Or ever.
That’s fine. But what I learned in researching the book was how remarkable those who play football at the academies are as people. They are asked to compete with teams that are usually made up of players who are, first and foremost, football players. I’m not saying they don’t go to school or graduate—some do—but if you go into the locker room at, say, Clemson—or any other big-time program—you’re going to encounter a lot of future pros and a lot more future wanna-be pros.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just different than the academies. The best line I ever heard on that came from Fred Goldsmith, who once coached at the Air Force Academy. He said: “At a civilian school the hardest part of a football player’s day is practice. At an academy, the EASIEST part of a football player’s day is practice.”
I saw that up close. I saw players, during film sessions stand up and walk to a corner of the room? Why? Because they weren’t allowed to fall asleep. The same was true during classes. The hours cadets and midshipmen keep in order to meet their academic, military and athletic responsibilities are insane.
While football players at civilian schools are doing summer training—and, often taking summer school classes to lighten their academic load in the fall—the players from the academies are on duty somewhere around the world.
And yet, when Navy beats Notre Dame, the way it did this fall, the focus from the national media is on how Notre Dame’s season is crumbling. There’s very little attention paid to how remarkable it is that a bunch of future navy and marine officers can beat a team that—even in a down season—probably has a dozen future pros on its roster.
I did color on the Navy radio network for 14 years. The kids I dealt with during that period were just as impressive as those I became close to while researching, ‘A Civil War.’ (Many of them are still close friends). I’ve gotten phone calls telling me that young men I met while they played football at an academy have died overseas and I cried. I’ve gotten phone calls telling me that others, who have deployed overseas, have come home safely. I probably cried then too.
Nowadays, I write about Navy for The Washington Post—as I’ll be doing Saturday in Baltimore when Army plays Navy. I also do pre-game and half-time commentaries every week on the Army radio network and write a weekly column for the Army website each Sunday during the season. I’ve been privileged to be in both locker rooms and on both sidelines.
Years ago, my son Danny asked me once who we rooted for when Army played Navy. I told him, ‘whoever’s losing,’—which means I’ve rooted for Army a lot the last 14 years. The real truth is I don’t want either team to lose. Of course I’d like to see Army break the streak. I even have Navy friends who say they think the rivalry needs an Army win. ROGER STAUBACH said that last year. But then they all add, ‘just not this year.’
Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. Given all of Navy’s injuries, he should be a national coach-of-the-year candidate this season. But he won’t be because people like you and the bowl dope simply don’t understand what an amazing story Navy has been these past 14 seasons. You and the dope—and many others—also don’t understand how cool it is that Army, Navy and Air Force are all going to bowls this season. That’s only happened once before—in 2010.
Today is the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Those who will be playing for Army and Navy on Saturday are the descendants of the millions who put their lives on the line—and, in many cases died—to save and protect our country and the world in World War 2.
I will leave you with one last thought before you go back to getting into a frenzy over your game with Ohio State on New Year’s Eve: Thirteen years ago, I got a call from Jim Cantelupe, the defensive captain of the 1995 Army team I wrote about in ‘A Civil War.’ He gave me the news that his roommate, Kevin Norman—who had been a punter at Army—had died in Korea. Norman was a pilot and something went wrong with his plane. Somehow, knowing he and his co-pilot were going to die, Norman kept the plane aloft long enough to steer away from a heavily-populated area and crash in an empty field. He saved countless lives.
I said something corny to Jim about Kevin dying a hero because he had died defending his country.
“No John,” Jim said. “Kevin wasn’t a hero because he died defending his country, he was a hero because he was WILLING to die defending his country.
So, Scott, if by some chance you should tune into Army-Navy on Saturday, maybe CBS will show a shot of the brigade of Midshipmen and the corps of Cadets during the playing of the national anthem. If they do, you will see 8,000 hands snap to attention—4,000 on each side—as they begin to play the anthem. What you should know is that every one of those men and women—in addition to those in football uniforms on the field at that moment—has volunteered to die for their country if need be. Every one of them.
So forgive me if I get a little emotional when some dope—moron, morin?—says he and others are rooting against Navy because of some second, third or fourth-rate bowl matchup. Forgive me if I tell you the one and only college football game I will never miss each year is Army-Navy.
This year. Next year. Every year I’m able.
John Feinstein is the author of 36 books, most recently, “The Legends Club,” and “The DH.” He has written the two best-selling sports books of all time, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” and, “Season on the Brink.” The book he is most proud of is, “A Civil War: A Year Inside College Football’s Purest Rivalry…Army vs. Navy.”