Army-Navy Game: Can Heisman Candidates Stay Afloat Like the U.S.S. Olympia?

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Army-Navy Game: Can Heisman Candidates Stay Afloat Like the U.S.S. Olympia?
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Dec. 11, 2010: Brady DeMell celebrates a touchdown on the pitch in Philly. The Midshipmen cruised to a victory.

“Duty, honor, country.” 

Every West Point cadet should understand the history behind General Douglas MacArthur’s words. They are as American as college football, hot dogs and apple pie. 

I’m sure plenty of people, while watching the game in person or on television, enjoyed their slice of Americana’s pie.    

They saw linemen fulfilling their pulling guard duties; they saw seniors playing in honor of the blood, sweat and tears of their classmates; they saw some of the future custodians of this country’s defense and possibly future presidential candidates.     

What they didn’t see was a Heisman Trophy candidate. Designing a run for the Heisman should be easy for the Army or Navy football-playing engineers.   

They’ve studied the art of building bridges, boats and war time’s big ships. But, something interesting happened since Vietnam. The days of Heisman-winning players from either Army or Navy started to decline. 

The nation’s best players shipped off to colleges that bought them boats and named bridges after them—allegedly.

It’s not good for Americana. 

The nation’s service academies combined should annually have at least one perennial Heisman candidate.

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Dec. 11, 2010: Cadets salute during a ceremony in Philadelphia. The Army-Navy game provided a spectacle.

The last to win it from a service academy was Roger “The Dodger” Staubach in 1963.

He later led the Dallas Cowboys to five Super Bowl appearances. They won two of them. He was the MVP in one. 

On top of that, he was the first of four to win both the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP. Jim Plunkett, Marcus Allen and Desmond Howard are the other three. He was named to the Pro Bowl six times and is still a proud Navy Midshipmen and Vietnam vet. 

Speaking of Navy and ship, the fate of the U.S.S. Olympia provides a good analogy of military schools and the Heisman Trophy Award.

Just days before the ship was scheduled to be shut down on Nov. 22, 2010, officials announced they’d raised enough money. At Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pa., the U.S.S. Olympia was saved from being sunken. 

Officials raised enough money to make repairs. The National Historical Landmark was allowed to remain open, but its fate is uncertain. Its plight is similar to the Heisman Trophy prospects at Air Force, Army and Navy.

The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York has three Heisman Trophy winners in its history: They are Doc Blanchard (1945), Glenn Davis (1946) and Pete Dawkins (1958). 

On Heisman Trophy Award Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Field in Philly, the Black Knights battled the United States Naval Academy. Philly is about half the distance between West Point and Annapolis, Maryland—home of the Naval Academy. 

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Dec. 11, 2010: Naval Academy cadets march on the gridiron at Lincoln Financial. The pageantry was spectacular.

All the pageantry from the cadets, whose military characters are as fine and close to stainless as can be, is still inspiring. 

The Midshipmen and the Knights, officers and gentlemen, battled for inter-service pride and bragging rights. Some of the futures of the world’s noblest figures, meanwhile, played a mere game of gridiron football. They battled to determine who’s stronger, weaker, prouder and unbending in honest failure and humble success. 

I guess it was Navy—all the above. No disrespect to Army, my father is a World War II veteran (Guam, Phillipines). No Air Force player has won a Heisman.  

Between the battlefields and shell-pocked roads, my brother, a tailback, played semi-pro football for the U.S. Air Force in Europe. I have two brother-in-laws who served in Vietnam. 

My military career, though, is like a freshman finding the way and the light. He finds his way to the end zone, running with the poetry of imagination. 

I appreciate the cadets and soldiers who prove they’re brave enough throughout their careers.

I’m brave enough to say the Army-Navy game, without viable Heisman candidates on display, could be for scary for television executives. Ratings matter.

The game was once played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day. Since 2009, they get it in on the second Saturday in December. This allows the game to avoid scheduling conflicts with the various conference championship games. 

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Dec. 11, 2010: In Philly, Jared Hassin runs through the Midshipmen. The Black Knights fought until the end.

Traditionally, it’s the last game of the season for both teams. By moving to the second Saturday, it’s the last game of the NCAA FBS football season.

It takes place the day of the Heisman Trophy announcement, and I think it’s a shame.

The game should either be moved up a week or back a week to allow for a player to be invited to the Heisman ceremonies. It’s almost like organizers have given up on the player’s opportunity to even be considered for the Heisman. 

It could be officials need to ensure Army numbers, instead of ensuring football victories.  The service requirement includes tours of duty in Afghanistan and officials don’t want the NFL tugging on any player’s heart. I understand that.

The academic requirements, height and weight limits, and the military commitment required have reduced the overall competitiveness of both academies. I get it. 

There is something I don’t get: After his required service in the Navy, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, Staubach joined the Dallas Cowboys. He had an 11-year career in the NFL. 

Why can’t others do it? You tell me.

Why is it since 1963, only the 1996 and upcoming 2010 games have seen both teams enter with winning records? Could someone please explain it to me?

I’m not asking for a Heisman candidate every year, it’s an unrealistic approach.  Not even the mighty SEC has a Heisman Trophy candidate every year.  Oh, wait, yes they do.  Tebow, Ingram and Newton have won “fall trophies.”

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Dec. 11, 2010: Cadets invaded Philadelphia and had a good time. Thanks to all of our troops.

Last Saturday afternoon was a fall classic weather day where I was. I watched the 111th meeting of Army and Navy and it thrilled me. Broadcast around the world, the gray skies and gray cadets humbled and inspired me. 

Army scored a touchdown against Navy for the first time since 2006. Hurray for the underdog. But Navy proceeded to return a fumble for 98 yards at the end of the second half. 

Army was about to score a touchdown to make the score 17-14 at halftime.

By then, from the Pacific Ocean to the Hudson River—red, white and blue had watched the game. But, the game would've been more intriguing if it had a Heisman Trophy candidate. 

Oh, well, it seems the Heisman talent will not stay afloat like the U.S.S. Olympia.

Does either military academy really care?

No. I think, um, duty, honor and protecting the country is more important—I get it. 

That’s how it should be, but a little Heisman talent every now and then on a military roster wouldn’t hurt—would it?

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