Lesson one is persistence, especially when facing a profound amount of adversity. Clemson and LSU faced late eight-point deficits after playing 58 minutes of horrible football, only to get off the deck and drive down the field for hard-earned touchdowns and clutch, game-tying two-point conversions. They carried that momentum over to overtime and won enormously satisfying games.
Lesson two is to shrug off setbacks and stick to the plan when the scoreboard might not reflect your dominance. Rutgers is a team that can teach Army a ton. Like the Black Knights, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers have been looking for a spark for some time, and the finally found one after stunning Michigan State in its season opener. Despite dominating the first half, Rutgers trailed Michigan State 7-6. But the Scarlet Knights kept plugging away and doing what they did in the first half, when they moved the ball down the field but couldn't score. In the first half, Rutgers attempted four field goals but converted only one. In the second half, the Scarlet Knights attempted three more field goals and made all of them. Not being unnerved by the sight of an unfair scoreboard kept Rutgers fighting for 60 minutes. That's a real-life example of gridiron gumption that Army would do well to retain against a potent but potentially impatient attack offered by Louisville. If patient, Army could force Louisville mistakes and surprise people the way Rutgers did this past weekend.
Lesson three is that anything's possible. Oregon State decisively outplayed LSU as an underdog of almost 20 points. Army will face long odds against the high-powered Cardinals and Stefan Lefors, but college football teaches that anything can happen, especially in these emotional early-season games. Army can certainly use emotion to its distinct advantage.
West Point men are supposed to be world class students. As the hype recedes and Bobby Ross' team finally hits the gridiron in a game that counts, let's hope the Black Knights have been doing their football homework. They've needed to learn countless lessons from Ross, their wise mentor and teacher, but they also need to learn how, in the heat of battle, other college football teams fashioned some special and inspiring stories over the Labor Day weekend. Time for Army to labor and see how far hard work can take the Cadets in 2004.