The Army Football Fan

Saturday dawned with the potential of big doings for the Army football program. After winning a road opener for the first time, here came a beatable BCS team with the chance of starting the season 2-0 and finally getting on a run to shake the horror of the last decade.

You would think that the fan base would be excited, that the Corps of Cadets would be sky-high, that there would be some electricity in the air.

You would be wrong.

Instead, a smallish crowd showed up seemingly waiting for all the bad things of the last few years to manifest itself again. Most folks sat on their hands, needing prompting from the PA man to make noise. The tone of fans sitting in the section with me revealed folks that were happy to be at the game, but needing to be convinced that the hype was for real. The turnover fest that they saw snuffed out whatever hope they had at the start of the contest. As the result of the game became clear in the 4th quarter, the same pall came over the place as it has for so many years. It got me to thinking about the fans who show up week after week at Michie.

I've come to the conclusion that no matter how sucessful the program may become, the noise factor that makes so many other stadiums tough to visit will never be a part of an Army home game. Why?

There's many factors. The fan base not surprisingly is largely made up of military and ex-military people who are a pretty stoic bunch. These fans are not given to paint their faces, wave their pom-poms or draw attention to themselves. They cast a wary eye at those who do jump around, trying to get their section to get into the game.

Another big factor is that many of the fans come for a day at West Point. The football game is just part of that day. They come early to tailgate and see folks they haven't seen since last year. They don't show up for the game until late in the 1st quarter or early in the 2nd. And a lot of them won't be around for the end, because getting back to the tailgate is more important. I've always been amazed at the amount of fans who head for the exits in the 4th quarter, no matter what the score or how exciting the game has been. And if it's a blowout, most people flood the exits as if the stadium's on fire. This has been the case even in the good years and is never likely to change.

As for the Corps, you can't really expect more than you see at the games. Almost all these kids came from somewhere else in the country, rooting for the big schools in their home state. And they come to the games for four years, seeing one dismal defeat after another. I sit right behind the cadets at Michie, and the noise level is fine until defeat once again rears its ugly head. Then there is a level of disinterest that is disappointing, but you can hardly blame them, as this is all they get to see almost every game. In this case, some wins will cure all ills.

Michie Stadium is always listed as one of the best places to see a football game year after year. And it is warranted. But will it ever become a noise hotbed, where visiting teams fear to play? The answer is no. Why? The average fan is older. Home games have been drawing smaller and smaller crowds every year. Back in the 80's and early 90's, sellouts were commonplace. No longer. The crowd Saturday of 26,000 has become the norm, not the exception. And when many of those fans leave before game's end, it's tough to feel the passion. The college football experience at West Point will remain a beautiful but certainly not an intense, noisy one.

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