After 121 years, we still love the Army-Navy game. The pageantry, pride and patriotic emotion remind us of all that's still good in America.
Starting back in 1890, the nation's oldest service academies began this football rivalry. The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York (Army) pitted their soldiers against the sailors of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
And a national tradition was born.
This isn't just a regional rivalry
Unlike virtually every other rivalry in college football, this game isn't just a regional dual between schools with relatively proximate geographical ties. It isn't just a New York school against a Maryland program.
There are active and former soldiers and sailors all across this great land. From former submariners now living in Colorado to former grunts taking up residence in Virginia, to the men and women actively serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, this game represents all of us.
The Red River Rivalry may be an intense match that every football fan enjoys partaking of, but the bragging rights associated belong mostly to those who are from the region or now live in the region.
Not with this game.
The game may have once meant something awfully big in the national title picture, but the pure hatred can only really be felt between Michigan and Ohio.
Not this rivalry.
This rivalry knows no geographical boundaries. It doesn't wane the farther you get from the East Coast. It doesn't diminish when you leave the comfortable confines of American soil.
Wherever there are those who are serving or have served, this rivalry burns hot in their hearts.
It represents the best of us
Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have long given each other their fair share of good natured (and sometimes not so good natured) ribbing. Nicknames like "jarhead," "flyboy," "grunt" or "fish" get jabbed at one another with a mixture of solidarity and branch pride.
Occasionally, there have been some drunken bar fights that quickly followed, but those are mostly relegated to a not-so-distant past in our military history.
Serving in the United State Armed Forces isn't just a job or even a duty. It's a brotherhood unlike any other. There's an unspoken understanding and bond between those who have served this nation. They each know the sacrifices that are made—sacrifices that are borne by entire families and communities of those who serve.
However one decides to go about their service—be it aboard a mighty warship or hunkered down in a foxhole in the sand—those who have "signed the dotted line" and dedicated themselves to the defense of these United States of America have volunteered their lives. They've accepted the debt of death in defense of our country.
When these two teams take the field, the young men wearing those uniforms represent more than the young men and women in dress uniform in the stands. They represent the best in all who have served. They are the future leadership of our Armed Forces.
They are the next General Eisenhower or the next Admiral Nimitz. They'll be the ones that lead future generations of soldiers and sailors into harm's way for the sake of all of us.
When they place boots and rifles on the field in memory of those who have been lost, they're not remembering past players that have gone on to greatness on professional fields or who retired old and tired. They're remembering very real people who faced very real dangers that most of us can't fathom. And they paid the ultimate price.
That's what this game is. It's what it's always been. It's a celebration of our brightest and finest. It's a friendly rivalry between two institutions that build our nation's warriors and defenders. It's a showcase of our future, a reminder of our past and an illumination of our present.
Whether in war or peace, we love this game because it demonstrates the very best of America.