I can hear them now, the yearly debates intensified. Who should play for the National Title? Why are we still following the BCS model? When will we acknowledge it's all about the money, and that the exploited college athlete has been taken advantage of?
The debates and questions will reverberate on halftime shows and from the booths, echoing through gameday newspaper stories to tailgate radio shows. The noises continue.
In between talks of rematches and strength of schedule there are news updates. Seemingly pulled from an issue of Time magazine, they're ugly reminders of what 2011 has brought with it. Scandal. Trial. Sex abuse. The painful realities of the intersection between athletics and the law reaching new heights amidst the now-commonplace reports of player misconduct, arrests, and impropriety.
Then there are the noises of late November that we don't hear. The behind-closed-doors meetings of coaches and athletic directors. The grumbling of alumni over inflated salaries and lack of on-field progress. The last-ditch arguments of having only so much time and resources to pull from, as coaches – young and old, veteran or inexperienced – are relieved of their duties.
I wish it would stop there, but it doesn't.
There's the hoopla of the start to the recruiting season, the daily attention given to the heights and weights and 40-times of "four-stars" and "five-stars." The "anonymous" sources quoted on twitter and instantaneously broadcast, the sure sign of conference expansion to be or not to be. The reports – confirmed, now erroneous, updated and unconfirmed again – of the University of This or the University of That joining Conference X or Conference Y. Oh yea, and the "don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out" grievances of university presidents and board members.
The noises are enough to drive a fan crazy. To depress -- even amidst the most welcoming time of the year -- the honest, hard-working fan in us all who lives for the spirit of 60 minutes played by hardworking student athletes. Naively idealistic? Incomprehensible? No longer possible?
Perhaps this weekend. But on December 10th, for three and a half hours on a cold Saturday afternoon, it is possible.
The words mean so many things for so many different people. It's impossible to begin a conversation about the game without the use of clichés of how the rivalry on-the-field will transform to the brotherhood off-the-field. Just take one paragraph from John Feinstein's A Civil War and you'll be struck – if not moved to reflection – by the meaning of the game for all those who have played, will play, and have served in either branch of our nation's armed forces.
But Army-Navy is more than that. It's more than just this year's bowl game for Army and Navy teams which have underperformed. It's more than just the yearly reunion for alumni of both school, and its significance extends even beyond the huddled combat soldiers and sailors watching from tents in Afghanistan and carrier hangers cruising somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
Army-Navy is the game the college football fan needs. The game that every fan -- regardless of school affiliation, conference loyalty, or other rooting interest -- can admire. It's the game where players want to play the game for all the right reasons under all the right circumstances. Amidst getting ready for finals in Calculus or International Relations (not Shuffleboard 101 or Introduction to "General Studies" – whatever that is), the players eagerly anticipate the carnival or dress uniforms in the stands and the thundering boom of low-flying aircraft prior to kickoff. There, on that second Saturday in December, they'll play in offenses described as "throwback" and "tough," auditioning not for future NFL contracts but rather for each other. Because, they'll tell you, the game is all about each other, about their brothers.
And in that, the average college football fan -- the nine to five, live-for-Saturdays civilian -- can rejoice, and find enjoyment in a game that is needed now more than ever. This week, the noise continues. But on December 10th, the music begins.
Adam Nettina is the former editor of the Utah Statesman. He can be contacted at AdamNettina -- at -- gmail.com
Army-Navy Needed Now More Than Ever
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