As a Naval Academy graduate and diehard fan of the midshipmen, I watched (and am now reviewing) "A Game of Honor" which premieres Wednesday on Showtime at 10 p.m. with somewhat of a unique perspective. I've probably read every article, book, or profile about the amazing rivalry in the past 20 years. So in "A Game of Honor," I was looking for – and hoping for - something different – something more than the traditional ‘these guys are the best people in the world' and a bunch of flag-waving. Don't get me wrong, I like a feel-good, all-American story as much as the next patriot, but with the unprecedented access given to Showtime and with their massive resources, I wanted more out of this behind-the-scenes look at the Army/Navy series – and for the most part, I definitely got it.
One of the unique perspectives I was really hoping to see and hear in "A Game of Honor" was the raw emotion of an Army or Navy locker room during halftime and after a game. Until now the closest I (or most Navy or Army fans) had come to viewing this scene was in edited pre-game pieces aired prior to a game telecast on CBS College Sports.
Without a doubt, for me, the best parts of "A Game of Honor" were these locker room moments which did more than capture the emotion of the players, it gave viewers a good taste of how coaches motivate some of the most motivated young men in America. There have been a lot of Army fans who have complained this season about Coach Rich Ellerson's lack of passion on the sideline or his apparent inability to put a charge in his players. This documentary should put those concerns to rest. Ellerson's intensity in the Army locker room was inspiring and a lot of fun to watch. However, even more entertaining were some of the unscripted words that came from both Army and Navy players in this setting. I won't provide any spoilers but Navy's John Dowd and Army's Joe Bailey stole a lot of scenes.
Speaking of scene-stealers, both SIDs at Navy and Army deserve a ton of credit for the young men they probably had a hand in Showtime spotlighting for the documentary. In addition to Dowd and Bailey, who are equally smart and hilarious, Navy's Alexander Teich and Army's Andrew Rodriguez definitely fulfill the role of All-American heroes-in-waiting. From examining Teich's mistakes to the pressure which may come with Rodriguez being the son of a General, it seemed as if no topic was out-of-bounds – an important aspect if you are aiming for an authentic look at the two military academies.
Even though I wasn't overly impressed with the portions of the documentary that looked at the two academy's summer indoctrinations (been there, seen it a hundred times), I'm sure most of America who might see this process for the first time when watching "A Game of Honor" will appreciate it nevertheless. And it's not like you could tell this story without showing the first-day in the military for both student bodies. However, I do think the focus on a certain player's concern over the possibility of losing a portion of his tattoo got too much screen time.
After getting a heavy dose of the training that both midshipmen and cadets go through, the documentary delved into the football season. For this portion I was curious to see how the producers were going to handle the fact that both teams had disappointing seasons. The answer came pretty quickly as they spent a good minute or two recapping Navy's opening victory over Delaware and a mere sentence (without video accompaniment) of Army's humiliating season-opening loss to Northern Illinois. With so much material to cover, this didn't come as a surprise nor did the fact that most games were not even mentioned.
The one mid-season game that did receive a lot of coverage was both teams' contests against Air Force. Even though Army and Navy both lost to their rival from Colorado Springs, Showtime did a great job in depicting both schools' disgust for the Falcons. From the perceived arrogance of their football team to questioning the very mission of the entire service, Army and Navy get in their fair shots at Air Force. Perhaps that will help ease the pain of suffering heartbreaking losses and the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to them.
Of course the climax of the documentary was the game itself between the Cadets and the Midshipmen. With just about a week to edit the material from the game on December 10, the producers did as well as could be expected to cover the pageantry and emotion of the contest. The actual game highlights were not spectacular but some of the coverage in the locker room, at halftime (Dowd once again with a great one-liner) and after the game in particular (Teich's postgame speech is memorable) was superb.
The two-hour film culminates with a look at the unveiling of the service selections for some of the seniors on the football team. Most Navy graduates will notice some creative editing was probably used for this portion in terms of the timeline, but it was still an effective way to close the film.
If there is one audience that "A Game of Honor" will really resonate with, it is each and every high school football player who is considering whether or not to attend either the Naval Academy or the Military Academy. I'm not sure you could make a better recruiting video. It doesn't shy away from the inherent risks associated with the military career path, instead it confronts them head-on. But it does it in a way that should motivate any intelligent and gifted high school athlete to attend an Academy. If a high school senior comes away from watching this documentary not wanting to play for either Navy's Ken Niumatalolo or Army's Rich Ellerson, they are probably not worthy to play for them.
"A Game of Honor" will make you laugh out loud at some of the things that come out of Bailey and Dowd's mouths. It will also touch your heart when you see the resiliency of those who waited at home for loved ones to return from the battlefield as well as those who were wounded on it. But most of all it will make people who know nothing about the service academies appreciate the schools for what they do – and that's produce some of the finest leaders in our country. And without a doubt, "A Game of Honor" will recruit many more to follow in their footsteps.
David Ausiello is the senior-writer for GoMids.com and a 1997 graduate of the Naval Academy. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"A Game of Honor" premiered at the Newseum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, December 20th. GoMids.com was there to catch all of the action and these photos.