It's that time of year again.
The end of every college football season brings with it the inevitable discussion: what is the best rivalry in college football?
Each year, the same games get that label. Ohio State-Michigan. Harvard-Yale. Cal-Stanford. There are games for the Apple Cup and Paul Bunyan's Axe. There are games with catchy nicknames like the Iron Bowl or the Backyard Brawl or the Civil War.
But for all that, there is one game that stands out. One game that alone defines the season of its participants. One game that stirs emotion at the mere mention of its name. One game that needs no introduction.
The Army-Navy Game.
For the uninitiated, certain elements of the Army-Navy rivalry can be difficult to convey. Any description of the experience is doomed to fall short of truly relating what the game means. How can you tell someone what it's like to be indoctrinated in a rivalry from the first day you step on either campus? How can you explain what it's like to cheer a team of roommates, companymates, classmates, and friends? When so many rivalries are based on hate, how can you explain a rivalry forged through brotherhood? When so many rivalries have their origins in the mere proximity of two schools, how can you explain a rivalry where two teams fight for their school's way of life?
The Army-Navy rivalry extends beyond the playing of a football contest. Just as the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy are about more than football, so too is the game between them. These players will not be moving on to the NFL the next year. They aren't looking to boost their draft value. While "playing for the love of the game" might be a cliché in the modern sports world, it's reality at Army and Navy. But it isn't just the love of the game that they are playing for; it's a love of country and respect for one another. Nowhere in college football do we find two institutions so unique. These players usually do not know each other, yet through their experience they share a common bond. For these teams, the only other people that can genuinely understand their dedication and sacrifice as service academy football players are those lined up on the opposite side of the ball in this game. Unlike other rivalries, Army-Navy isn't about how much the teams hate each other. This game is a celebration of what these two schools share. When these players shed their blood and give more than they thought they had on the football field, it isn't just for school pride. It's a statement to those lined up on the other sideline, that the drive and purpose they exhibit as an adversary is the same drive and purpose that they will exhibit when side-by-side as brothers in combat. The spirit and determination of the entire Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets is a glimpse of the same zeal with which these young men and women will assume their roles as guardians of the Constitution. It's reassuring; not just for one another, but to a country that expects the best from these future officers.
Nowadays, the Army-Navy game has
taken additional significance nationally as the last bastion of true amateurism
in college football. As ethics and graduation rates become more of a novelty
than a staple of college football, it's refreshing to many in the country to see
true student-athletes, true representatives of their school, take the field.
Even with all this, the argument persists. Army and Navy aren't playing for national championships. There's no conference title at stake. No BCS implications. How can this be the greatest rivalry?
ABC tells us that Ohio State-Michigan is the greatest rivalry. It's the BCS Spotlight Game of the Week! It seems like the Big Ten title always revolves around this game, they say. Sometimes national titles do too! Surely, this is the greatest rivalry!
Every rivalry has its merits, but
few capture the attention of a nation like Army-Navy. Do we watch Ohio
State-Michigan for the rivalry, or
for its Big Ten and national title impact? Would Ohio State-Michigan be
nationally televised if both teams were 1-10? Maybe, if you subscribed to
the ESPN GamePlan. Would it be nationally televised for 50 straight years,
regardless of OSU and
The significance of Army-Navy cannot be summarized in a few short paragraphs. It is not measured by conference championships. Its merit is not based on BCS hype. The Army-Navy Game is instead a window into the soul of our nation, and a tribute to those that defend it.
It's a national treasure, and I wouldn't miss it for the world.