Why College Football Fans Should Still Care About the Army vs. Navy Rivalry

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 8: The offensive line of the Army Black Knights gets set to snap the ball during a game against the Army Black Knights on December 8, 2012 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Navy won 17-13. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Listen, guys. I get it.

I get that it's hard to care about the Army-Navy game, especially once a long list of bowl matchups—markedly better games—has been set forth before you. I get that it's hard to be excited for two triple-option teams plowing into each other for 60 minutes or to ache for a game that has six times more handoffs than passes.

I get that it's tough to sell tickets and fill seats and lure couch-ridden eyeballs when most folks don't recognize a single name on either side. No one races to sit down and watch the Army-Navy game in earnest—at least not if they haven't done it before.

But trust me: You'll be thankful if you do.

Foremost comes the argument of respect and reciprocation. You should watch this game to support our troops, because the sacrifice they make to our country is profound and taken for granted too often. You should watch these men engage in good-natured competition, because the chance is real that their next opponent isn't so friendly.

That's the reason most people come, which is fine—even noble. But it's the product that makes them all stay. There's something ineffable about this game that makes it special, a sensation hanging over each play like a cloud. Everything is magnified. Everything goes full speed.

Everything sincerely matters.

The football itself is C-plus at best, but the football-watching experience gets high marks. What the Army-Navy game lacks in big plays, long passes and superstars, it makes up for in pageantry and tradition.

There are tons of great rivalries in college football, but only one, as far as I know, has ever had a Jim Nantz-hosted Showtime series dedicated to it:

There's a reason for that.

The series transcends mere rivalry, makes things like the Iron Bowl or Yankees-Red Sox look petty and superficial. Army-Navy players hate each other so much that they love them, love them so much that they hate them, respect them so much that they want to destroy them.

Compared to that, all other rivals seem indifferent.

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 8: Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen scores the game-winning touchdown during a game against the Army Black Knights on December 8, 2012 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Navy won 17-13. (Photo b
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

That passion bleeds over onto the field, imbuing each down with purpose. It bleeds into the crowd, where fully uniformed soldiers do push-ups to celebrate scores. It bleeds through the fourth wall of the television, where even the most placid viewer wants to get up, stand up and hit someone.

If you're lucky, the game will be close, as it was in 2012, when Keenan Reynolds scored the game-winning touchdown with 4:41 on the clock (above), sealing a 17-13 Navy win.

On happy occasions like that, a game that might seemingly appear to have no stakes, because it has no tangible impact on the postseason, quickly becomes one of the most important you'll see all year. The tension can be cut with a knife.

Why? Navy has won the last 11 meetings, taking home every single Thompson Cup since 2001. Short of the BCS National Championship, winning this game means more to Army than any bowl game means to any team in America.

Frankly, it's not even close.

"They say ‘Go Army, Beat Navy’ from day one," said Army head coach Rich Ellerson during a press conference on Monday, Dec. 9. "When they start thinking about coming here, that's one of the first things they start to get their head around."

"This week is easy to coach because I don't have to go out there with bells and whistles to get guys excited in practice. They're zeroed in and ready to go."

So be there on Saturday; come see the fruit of that focus. Get there in time to see them toss the opening coin—the same coin John F. Kennedy would have tossed to open this game in 1963 had he not been assassinated three weeks before kickoff.

Celebrate his life on the 50th anniversary of his death, and celebrate the two most venerable programs in college football.

Come watch the Army-Navy game on Saturday. I promise you won't regret it.