The Military Bowl is a day for Navy to be grateful... and great

Monday, December 28, 2015. Two careers end. Another career continues. Navy football will march on after all sorts of transitions. It's a day to give thanks... and to try to end a remarkable season in a fittingly triumphant manner. We'll see if the Midshipmen can orchestrate a proper sendoff for Keenan Reynolds and Buddy Green... and make some history in the process.

Keenan Reynolds rewrote the NCAA record book.

Buddy Green rewrote the history of Navy football.

Both men get to say goodbye to the program and coach Ken Niumatalolo this upcoming Monday. 

That they get to do so on their home field, in front of their own fans, is a high honor and privilege. It's going to make the Military Bowl a richly emotional and poignant moment in the life of Navy football. 

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Keenan Reynolds, as every Navy fan always believed -- and as many national college football observers felt in late November -- ought to have been given an invitation to the 2015 Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York. That he finished fifth in the voting only underscored the idea that the Heisman ought to invite more young men to celebrate their contributions to college football, even if they're not likely to win the award. Reynolds -- had he been able to helicopter in from Philadelphia for the ceremony -- would have created spectacularly great optics for the award and its mission of honoring great players who perform with integrity. However, the Heisman Trust is stupid and shortsighted, so that didn't happen. (Not inviting Reynolds to the ceremony is as dumb as playing the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year's Eve. It's so college football of college football to do something like that.)

Reynolds, though, won't mind his Heisman snub too much -- not when he has a 4-0 record against Army, a bowl win already in his pocket, and a 10-win regular season, not to mention piles of NCAA scoring records. Navy gets to celebrate his remarkable career in a bowl game... in Annapolis. It's a welcome consolation prize after the Midshipmen couldn't secure a New Year's Six bowl bid, which really would have been the cherry on the sundae of an incredible season. 

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Buddy Green was there at the start. 

In 2002, when he and Paul Johnson (and others) were trying to build something at the Naval Academy, the certain knowledge of success did not yet exist. Navy had to labor through a very difficult season before seeing the light in that first thrashing of Army, the conquest which began the glorious 14-game winning streak the program enjoys today.

Green, Johnson, and then Ken Niumatalolo and Ivin Jasper are the pillars which have supported Navy's rise and its sustained period of power in service academy football and on the national scene at large. Only once in the past 13 seasons has Navy failed to make a bowl game. The Midshipmen have won a majority of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophies up for grabs in that period of time. Navy has shut out Army in terms of wins and CIC trophies. The Midshipmen have scored inspiring and memorable wins in bowl games against the likes of Missouri and New Mexico and San Diego State and more. 

When Navy reached New Year's Day bowl games in the 1950s and 1960s, college football and the world at large were very different. Under the circumstances -- and the constraints -- of modern service academy football, what Navy has done over the past 13 seasons is nothing short of remarkable. 

Buddy Green was an active member of the Navy football family through all of it. He laid the foundation, he kept it in place, and this season, his successor -- Dale Pehrson -- showed that the Midshipmen were in good shape, the Buddy Green vision alive and well in the hands of the next man in line.

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Keenan Reynolds and Buddy Green have been perfect ambassadors for Navy football. Their careers end in a public way -- in public view -- on Monday. Navy will be saying goodbye to them in a football-only sense, of course; as persons and as contributors to the program, they will continue to lend more support in the years ahead.

However, lest you think that the Military Bowl is only about saying goodbye, it's also an occasion for Navy to celebrate the career which is continuing at the academy: Ken Niumatalolo's career.

It was with great joy and a profound sense of relief that Niumatalolo, a Mormon with a son on the BYU football team, declined to move to Provo and become Brigham Young's next head coach. If there was a non-Navy job with Niumatalolo's name on it, BYU made the very brief short list. It's hard to see Niumatalolo leaving Navy anytime soon, now that this hurdle has been cleared. A team, a locker room, and a university administration must all be deeply thankful that an historically successful coach -- so dominant in the Army-Navy Game -- isn't uprooting himself to scratch an itch elsewhere in the country. The Military Bowl might be a time to say goodbye to Keenan and Buddy, but it's also a time to embrace Ken Niumatalolo with even more gratitude.

It's a day to give thanks on so many levels.

There's just one thing left to do: win.

What would a win do? There is no need for explanation or embellishment -- a simple declaration of fact will suffice.

If Navy wins on Monday, the Midshipmen will win 11 games in a season for the first time ever. 

Staubach. Bellino. The 1955 Sugar Bowl champions. The 1958 Cotton Bowl champions. None of them won 11 games.

This team -- this coach, this quarterback, and this beloved retiring defensive coordinator (turned consultant) -- can all make a great day even greater.

Emotions will run high. The challenge for Navy -- filed under "easy to say, hard to do" -- will be to channel those emotions into the game against Pittsburgh, leading to clarity of focus instead of a distracted and disjointed performance. If Navy can be vigilant and attentive, its energy and enthusiasm should be allies in the quest for 11... and the perfect way to honor Keenan Reynolds and Buddy Green.


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