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Army-Navy: A Time to Remember Our Hero, J.P. Blecksmith

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterDecember 11, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 05:  Jabaree Tuani #98 of the Navy Midshipmen listens to the National Anthem before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

They play for one reason, and one reason only—for the love of the game. Their work ethic, sportsmanship, and dedication to their country are the reasons why the Army, Navy, and Air Force epitomize everything right with college football.

There are no rumpled jerseys, no earrings, no flashy jewelry, no long hair, and no beards on their sidelines.

There are no touchdown celebrations involving unsportsmanlike conduct. Questioning a coach's decision is a foreign thought and the respect they hold for authority is second-to-none.

They are, arguably, the ultimate football players.

James Patrick "J.P." Blecksmith (Navy 2003) was one of those role models—a role model who never came back after graduating from the Naval Academy.

His athletic and academic accomplishments were impressive. He lettered four years in track, two in soccer, and three in football at the tony Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada, Ca. J.P. was first team, all-CIF quarterback as a junior and a senior.

He was named to three national All-American teams as a blue chip athlete. He was also all-CIF track in his sophomore, junior and senior years, and was the Prep League's Most Valuable Athlete in 1999. He was also 10th grade class president, a National Honor Society member, and a peer counselor.

J.P. was the kid you wanted your daughter to marry.

After accepting an appointment with the Naval Academy, Blecksmith played four years on the Navy football team, eventually lettering as a senior wide receiver. While most college football players have aspirations of big money in the NFL, Blecksmith had his life already planned out.

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Marines Corps and commanded the third platoon (India Company) of the Third Battalion, Fifth Regiment of the First Marine Division.

He was killed November 11, 2004, after deploying to Iraq. His unit was taking part (clearing a building) in a mission in Fallujah, Iraq when he took a bullet to the left shoulder—it eventually lodged in his heart. He was 24 years old when he died.

J.P. had two missions when he deployed to Iraq, to be the best leader of the platoon he commanded and to bring back all of his men safely. He succeeded in both missions.

His death was the only one in his platoon. J.P. paid the ultimate sacrifice, and was awarded the Purple Heart—as well as the Bronze Star—posthumously, in front of his platoon, for his bravery.

Many critics of the service academies point out that they are not as competitive (due to height and weight restrictions) as other FBS schools, and in particular, elite schools. I say no one team plays more competitively than a service academy football team.

The Naval Midshipmen and Army Black Knights share five Heisman Trophy winners. Navy has been one of the nation's top ten rushing teams for nineteen of twenty-one years.

The service academies are no pushovers, despite some less-than-distinguished season records.

Navy beat Notre Dame, 46-44 in triple OT in 2007, snapping a 43-game losing streak going back to 1963. The Midshipmen then won again this year in South Bend, to make it two out of three against the Irish in three years.

Sure those wins were big, but all Midshipmen seniors are looking ahead to tomorrow.

While many football players start looking for agents for their possible future in the NFL, the Navy football players know their path is far different.

They came to play a game, be their most competitive against a vastly superior talent pool, and hopefully, show some young school-age boys a different view of what sportsmanship, commitment to one's country, unselfishness, and sacrifice really mean. 

The Navy's sidelines aren't filled with dead-pans into the cameras, or "we're No. 1" shouts.

Instead, their sidelines are filled with empty chairs—chairs with a set of shoulder pads and jersey for each of their fallen comrades.

A poignant and solemn reminder of really how unimportant football is in the scope of things. Perhaps no game signifies the importance of the contributions made by the service academies more than the Army-Navy game usually played the first Saturday of every December. This year, it is on December 12th.

The beautiful sight of college football is completely captured in this game. Young cadets in their formal uniforms, with brass buttons shining in the sun, and their clean-cut, scrubbed faces ready for a day filled with fun, and yet, carrying with them the knowledge that their future is uncertain, but embraced, nevertheless.

They are football players who don't possess the five-star athletic ability of some of their rivals, but whose hearts and minds are so driven, that they are a force to be reckoned with in every game.

To quit is not in their language.

To finish strong is their mission.

To face all odds with bravery, and to finish the game with intensity is their goal.

To represent the finest America has to offer, with dignity and class. To play the game the way it was meant to be played. Nothing more.

For most seniors, the last game of the year is the most emotional—it is probably the last time their cleats will touch grass on their home field. They also know that for some of them, it's the last time they will see some of their teammates' faces.

Many of them will be deployed, and during this wartime, some will not come back.

It's time to get serious with life.

It's time to say goodbye to their teammates, time to say goodbye to the other team's players. Each one of them knows that while they fought tooth and nail to beat each other up on the field, eventually, they all will be working together, on one team, to defeat the enemy.

To protect the very precious soil that they stand on. And play on.

After the game is finished, the losing team's alma mater is played, while the winning team's players stand side-by-side with the losing side's players, facing the losing side's academy section of the stadium. And the process reverses for the winning team.

Each side—once enemies on the field—comes together as one after the game, and solemnly recognizes that they all have each other's backs for as long as they live. Fittingly, there are no losers in this battle on the field.

America, however, has suffered losses—some of its finest representatives of true role models. The sport of football has lost some of its greatest players as well. Not due to their athletic prowess, nor their bowl wins, or great comeback-wins.

No, football has lost some of its greatest players because of what they represent—excellence both on and off the field. Sacrifice.

All of football is truly graced to have these service academies remind us of what is really important in sport. Army, Navy, and Air Force capture the essence of sportsmanship—competition, pride, and class. Something both college and professional football players need to never forget, and perhaps, even learn.

The next time you watch one of the service academies play, remember J.P. Blecksmith's face. Remember a young man with short-cropped hair, squeaky-clean good looks, and a mega-watt smile. A young man who stood on the proverbial fence so we all could sleep safely at night.

He wasn't just a football player. He was somebody's son or brother who tried to make you proud of his team and proud of your country.

And, more importantly, he made sure your family was safe while he was watching your back. Yeah, they all have our backs. We thank you for giving us these great games. And we thank you for making us proud to be Americans.     

James Patrick Blecksmith, Navy, '03, 09/26/80-11/11/04, Go Navy, beat Army. R.I.P.

 *Special thanks to JP Blecksmith Foundation, at JPBlecksmith.org.

**This article was originally posted by me in July of 2008 and has been modified slightly to reflect current events.

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