We saw two weeks ago in Washington how special the Army-Navy rivalry really is.
We have heard the year-round cheers of "Beat Navy" at the US Military Academy and "Beat Army" at the US Naval Academy. There are the pregame traditions, the bonfires, pep rallies, spirit videos and the goat and mule capers. On game day we see the the Corps of Cadets and the Brigade of Midshipmen proudly "March On" to the playing field. We see and hear the bands blasting at each other, parachute jumps, fly overs, color guards and attendance by the the most senior military leaders.
This year we even had the President of the United States attend the game, flip the pregame coin, and cross midfield at halftime to spend half the game with each group of students and officials of the two Academies.
The game itself witnesses extreme competitiveness with three or four tacklers making every play, and the outcome remembered a lifetime by the seniors.
But few outside of alumni, parents and military veterans have a true idea of what the demands of life at the service academies is really like.
Now we have a full length film to enjoy about the most special rivalry in sports.
Showtime has been working all year on a special full-length film based on recording events and conducting interviews at West Point and Annapolis. The show debuted December 21st on Showtime with subsequent rebroadcasts. Video preview segments of the show are available here.
The show will cover a number of events we covered on our WVOX radio reports and Bleacherreport.com articles. They start with"R-Day", the day that 1,200 recent high school graduates and a number of soldiers from the field arrive at West Point to begin their training. You will hear the unforgettable words every parent remembers for a lifetime.
"You have 90 seconds to say your good byes."
They present the parade of "New cadets" on the plain, which ends the R-Day. The "New Cadets" in their new uniforms demonstrate that they have already be shown the basics of how to march by parading in formation on the majestic grounds just above the Hudson River.
Freshman football player Terry Baggett from Chicago is followed as he is instructed by upperclassman James Whittingham of El Paso, Texas, who does not reveal that he is also a football player.
One scene they filmed, I witnessed in August followed a scrimmage at Michie Stadium. Head Coach Rich Ellerson gave the team a talk about approaching the season, saying, "Turn of the score board, play the game one series, one play at a time."
The film interviews a number of extraordinary people such as Eric LeGrand, the Rutgers football player paralyzed after a collision with West Point's Malcolm Brown on a kickoff play last season. The heart warming story of the supportive relationship that has developed between the Army players and Eric and his family is presented.
Another touching segment is an interview with Navy graduate LCDR Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, who is now the coach at the SUNY Maritime Academy in the Bronx, NY. Last season LCDR Kendrick-Holmes received a letter saying he was being called up from the reserves to serve on the ground in Afghanistan for a full year.
After the playoff game that followed an undefeated season, he left his family for training and was on a Christmas Day flight into the war in Afghanistan. The deployment was cut short and LCDR Kendrick Holmes came back late in the summer just in time to coach his team again this year.
Then there is the game, Army trying desperately to break a nine-year streak by Navy. The Annapolis team just as desperately not wanting to be the Navy team which lost the streak. The result was an epic that went down to the last minute, as Army twice tied up the game and made late stands on defense to give themselves a chance.
One of our radio colleagues, Craig Roberts, a retired Navy officer, and Media Relations Manager at The American Legion attended the the Tuesday night preview in Washington DC, provided us this review:
"Showtime’s A GAME OF HONOR is a wonderful work. Assembled by Pete Radovich, Jr., the award-dripping creative director of CBS Sports, this feature length – and unashamedly patriotic – documentary purports to tell the story of the ancient and fiercely intense Army-Navy football rivalry. I say “purports” because the “GAME” in the title is a bit of a marketing ruse. This is not a sports film. It is much, much more than that. It weaves sensitive stories of military families, wide-eyed plebes and cadets, jacked up athletes, fiercely proud warriors, friends old and new, and the common bond of national service into an evocative tapestry.
"Sure, A GAME OF HONOR has more than enough high-def images of crashing helmets and colliding shoulder pads accompanied by high decibel/high fidelity hoots, hollers, grunts, groans and occasional obscenities to satiate the hardcore sports fan. But, the feature-length film is balanced with a measure of pure and unselfconscious pathos in quiet, sometimes tearful tales of loneliness, courage, pride and familial bonding that compels and satisfies the viewer who doesn’t know – and doesn’t care to know – a tight end from a running back."
Every football fan and American who interested in how military members and families prepare to serve will enjoy the show and probably watch the reruns several times. Both Academies are already counting down the days to the 2012 Army-Navy game in Philadelphia cheering every day,
"Beat Navy" and "Beat Army".
Ken Kraetzer covers West Point football and Iona basketball for WVOX radio 1460 AM in New Rochelle, NY and Sons of the American legion Radio. Quotes obtained for this article were first-hand. His address on Twitter is http://twitter.com/SAL50NYRadio