The 112th Army-Navy Game will be played near Washington DC for the first time this year. The game is sponsored by USAA and hosted by the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. The kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m., and CBS will televise the game as the capstone game to end the regular season of college football.
Last week, the captains of the two teams, coaches Rich Ellerson of Army and Ken Niumatalolo of Navy and officials of the two Academies came together for a press conference at the Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va.
Army (3-8) will be trying to break a nine-game winning streak by Navy (4-7). Last year was close until Navy's Wyatt Middleton ran back a fumble for a touchdown at the end of the first half, a heartbreaking moment for Army.
West Point is hoping for the return to the lineup of junior quarterback Trent Steelman, who has been injured twice this season against Vanderbilt and three weeks ago against Temple. Steelman had started 32 straight games for Army, the longest streak in Academy history, before having to sit out the Fordham, Air Force and Rutgers games.
The three Army captains—Steve Erzinger, Max Jenkins and Andrew Rodriquez—all have the West Point poise and politeness that you would expect. They have a strong a sense of competition and would dearly enjoy finding a way to end their college playing careers by beating Navy on Saturday. Problem for Army is the Navy seniors feel the same way; they dearly want to beat Army.
At the end of the day, they sing the Alma Mater of the losing team first, then they sing the Alma Mater of the winning team.
When I visited an Army practice early this year, the prospective chairman of the Joint Chiefs, West Point graduate General Martin E. Dempsey, addressed the team. Thinking ahead to the last game of the year, he said, "Let's sing the Alma Mater last. "
At the press conference, the Army captains all talked about the excitement and fun of the game. The Navy captains, Alexander Teich and Jabaree Tuani, talked about the competitiveness of the Army-Navy game. Both sets of captains talked about the eternal rivalry between the two Academies, but acknowledged that they will all soon serve together as members of the Armed Forces defending the country.
Army captain, quarterback Max Jenkins, described the thrill of this game, "Just excitement, it is a great opportunity, it is always fun to play in the atmosphere of Army-Navy, and everything that surrounds it, what it means, and stands for. It would be awesome to get a W and end the season on the right note".
About the Navy team, the Houston, Tex. native said, "We respect them for what they do, and what they stand for as well; they are kind of in the same boat as us. Being my fourth Army-Navy Game, it is a great opportunity, always a fun experience. Hopefully, we can pull out a win this time."
Jenkins serves as the Deputy Brigade Commander of the Corps of Cadets. He described the responsibilities of this position.
"I am second in command; it has been exciting and fun so far working with the rest of the brigade staff, trying to make the right decisions, make sure the operations run smoothly, so I am learning a lot, hopefully this will pay dividends later on in my career. Right now, just doing the behind the scenes stuff."
Talking with Army captain Steve Erzinger about playing in Washington DC, the nation's capital, in front of 85,000 people at Fed Ex Field:
'It will be an awesome experience; we are all excited about getting out here, and it is going to be fun playing in DC. The Army-Navy game serves as almost a bowl game for us in a sense, as we did not have the opportunity to make one. They are one of the biggest games on our regular season schedule. So we are excited to get out there, and it is going to be fun."
About the challenges this year in leading the defense, the second of the two Army captains from the Houston, Tex. area commented:
"Learning from the negatives, the negatives the young guys make, or even I make, But really focusing on the positive, the experiences you can take away and build on. We have been getting better each week as far as the defense, and it has been exciting to watch them grow. But again, you want to make sure no one points fingers; no one is getting mad at each other, but we are just moving forward as a unit."
Erzinger hopes to serve in an infantry or Armor unit after graduation.
The third Army captain, Andrew Rodriquez, is a true scholar athlete, having been a finalist for a Marshall Scholarship and recommended as a candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship. He also had to come back from serious back injury requiring surgery last year. There was doubt about his ability to come back and play, but he has played every game for Army this year.
About playing in this Army Navy game near his home in Alexandria Va., he said:
"It has just has been a huge blessing for me to be able to play, and then to have the opportunity to go out on a game like this which is such a big rivalry, with all my teammates, and play at a place really close to my hometown is really exciting for me, and I know all my teammates are looking forward to going out and trying to win this game."
To recover from the serious back injury, Rodriquez said:
"It took a lot of support from my family, friends, teammates, coaches, to keep going and stay with it despite the adversity. I also had great help in rehabilitating from the training staff at Army, so the combination of things like that, and a good surgery by my doctor, helped me get back".
About being able to excel both athletically and academically while recovering from a serious injury, he said,
"I am lucky to have great coaches; that helps me excel athletically, then good teammates. I really benefit from playing with teammates who make me look good sometimes. Academically, you just try to do the best you can, work with your teachers and work with your classmates. It is part luck, part skill, but it seems to work out at in the end. It takes a lot of time management; that is something we as a team try and do, so we can be successful on the field. but it also helps in doing well with school and with other military duties."
Rodriquez, the son of an Army General, hopes to become an infantry branch second lieutenant next year, heading to Fort Benning in Georgia for further training and then assignment to leading a unit.
One of the great aspects of the Army-Navy press conference is the chance to meet the players from Navy we have heard about, read about, reported on all year and actually meet them as individuals. Last year, we had a great opportunity to meet quarterback Ricky Dobbs, and safety Wyatt Middleton, now both serving as ensigns in the Navy.
This year, we had the chance to meet Alexander Teich and Jabaree Tuani.
Teich is a fullback who has rushed for over 2,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns for Navy. Last year, he rushed for 210 yards against Notre Dame. He told me about his expectations for this years Army-Navy game:
"It is going to be a special experience, I did not think about it being my last game until today, when I started to get questions about it. It is going to be an awesome experience just because of what this game represents and the guys playing in it from both sides of the ball. If you have to go out one way, this is the way to go out.
Sometimes, those bowl games are nice to be playing in, but for this one to be the actual last game, with Army, is going to be very special for all of us."
The Conroe, Tex. native described the rivalry between the two teams,
"It is a mutual respect between the two academies because of what the two teams represent, You are representing America, in general, and your two institutions, all the people in the services, The game is bigger than yourself. It is a passion that you get about this game; it is the feeling or aura you get walking to the stadium that day of the Army-Navy game. You can just feel it, it is a patriotic game,
There is the love between your brothers on your team and your brothers you will be serving with some day. One day, you will be serving along side these guys; we all understand that."
But when it comes down to the game itself on the field, it is hard hitting..the way the game was meant to be played, run the ball, hit each other in the mouth and get back up and do it again."
About his future plans, Midshipman Teich said,
"After graduation, I will be going to the Navy Seals. I got selected to join the Seals community, very honored and excited about that opportunity."
Tuani, a senior defensive lineman from Madison, Tenn. has 42 career tackles for a loss, tied for second most in Navy history. He talked about the competitiveness of the game, wanting to win the game and not being the team which loses the game to Army:
"You don't want to be that person, that you lost to that team, I know they are feeling the same way. They are finding that motivation, that they have not won in the past nine years, It makes me work even harder. because I know those guys are over there working, I know they are over there working, working their tails off, doing whatever they can. Because that is how much it means to them".
Tuani was well aware of the alma mater tradition that Navy already came out on the short side this year against Air Force:
"People don't even realize, whoever loses that game, will sing their alma mater first and then stand behind them as they sing their alma mater second. It kills you, doing that at the Air Force game. It brought tears to my eyes. From their perspective, they are going to do whatever they can, whatever they can to come out here and try and beat us."
"Coaches are going to make you realize that you do not want to be on the other end of that losing battle. You do not want to be on the other side; it is more than a game.
Sounding like someone who will be a coach one day:
"I love this game of football, This is going to be the last game I ever play, so I am going to prepare as hard as I can, I want to be prepared for December 10."
Tuani described his future after graduation from the Naval Academy:
"I plan to go for Surface Warfare, so I'll be on a ship. I am going to try be the best leader I can for those guys, just like I am for the guys on the football team. I am going to give them my best; that is what they deserve. They signed up for to be part of the Navy and serve the country, so did I. I plan to give them my all just like I have given this program all I have."
We will have more about the Army-Navy Game throughout the week.
Ken Kraetzer will air a one hour Army-Navy Game special on Tuesday December 6th from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on WVOX 1460 AM and available nationally on WVOX.com.