Saturday, December 01, 2001

All hail Army-Navy game

Sept. 11 attacks give classic extra resonance

The Associated Press

        PHILADELPHIA — They sense the rebirth of patriotism in the country, embrace the tradition of the rivalry and understand the added significance of this game. Now they just want to play football.

        The 102nd meeting between Army and Navy at Veterans Stadium today comes at a time when the United States is fighting a war. But for 60 minutes, the players will try to focus on winning the most important game of their lives.

        “It's our Super Bowl, the biggest game that we play in,” Navy linebacker and team captain Jake Bowen said. “It's something that you look forward to from Day1 that you're inducted into the Naval Academy — that you've got to beat Army.”

        Navy hasn't beaten anyone else the last two years. The Midshipmen (0-9) avoided a winless season last year by beating Army 30-28. Army (2-8) has defeated only Houston and Tulane this season.

        The 2-17 combined record of the two teams is the second worst in series history. But the records never matter when the two service academies meet. The game often is decided in the fourth quarter, if not the final minutes.

        “I don't think we need to be evenly matched to have a good game,” Army coach Todd Berry said. “You look back through time, and sometimes Army will have a great record and Navy wouldn't or vice versa, and the game was still a close game. Generally, when you talk about rivalry games, rivalry games tend to be very, very close.”

        In 1991, Navy was 0-10 before closing with a 24-3 victory over Army, which entered 5-5. Perhaps the best game in the rivalry was in 1948 when Navy came in 0-8 and Army was 8-0. The game ended in a 21-21 tie.

        Army has won 10 of the last 15 games and holds a 48-46-7 edge in the series. But Navy has won the last two years.

        “We're going to give them a great football game, one way or the other,” Navy coach Rick Lantz said. “I don't look for this to be a 51-0 game. The fans are going to want so bad for everybody to play well, see big plays on defense for both teams. No, excuse me, I forgot I'm a head coach now. I've got to worry about the offense, too.”

        Lantz, the interim coach, was promoted after Charlie Weatherbie was fired Oct.28. The former defensive coordinator realizes the terrorist attacks Sept.11 added new meaning to the game.

        “I don't know how the game could be more important to us, but it is more important to the fans,” he said. “People look a little differently now at the military, police and firefighters.”

        People have always looked at the Army-Navy game in a special way, even before the tragic events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

        “It's always the most-watched game in college football every year because I think it's more than about the game,” Berry said. “It's not about the teams' records and it's not about the star players that are out there. The reason why it's the most-watched game is because of what it represents.”

        This will be the last time Army and Navy play at Veterans Stadium, where in 1998, a railing collapsed, injuring nine students and leaving one with a broken bone in his neck.

        Next year's game will be played at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., because of a shortage of accommodations caused by a medical conference.

        The teams return to Philadelphia in 2003 to play in a new stadium that is scheduled to open that fall. A potential site for the game in 2004 and beyond is the Alamodome in San Antonio.

        The two service academies will review proposals for future neutral game sites this spring. In addition to San Antonio, other interested cities include Chicago, Cleveland and Miami.

        Army is a 1 1/2-point favorite today despite a better record. The Cadets have the edge at the skill positions with running back C.J. Young, quarterback Chad Jenkins and tight end Clint Dodson, an NFL prospect.

        Navy relies heavily on senior quarterback Brian Madden, the team's leading rusher. Madden needs 170 rushing yards to become just the 24th quarterback in NCAA history to reach 1,000 yards in a season.

        Madden ran for 177 yards on 41 carries in a 19-9 victory over Army two years ago.

        “What happened (Sept.11) makes us realize how fragile life is,” Army senior linebacker Brian Zickefoose said. “At the academy, they teach us to focus hour by hour. If it's football, we worry about that.”


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