It was just after 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and I was getting ready to bite into a barbeque sandwich at the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café in Frontierland at Walt Disney World when my cell phone rang. It was my brother in North Carolina and he was about to break my radio silence request. He was calling to talk about the Notre Dame game. I swear I tried so hard not to answer the call but…
Well, before I get to the rest of my story, let me give you some background. As I had previously written in my yet-to-really-catch-on blog, my wife and I decided a few months ago that it would be pretty cool for us to celebrate our five-year-old daughter's birthday at Disney World. We had both experienced the magic of Disney at about the same age, so we thought it would be a good year to make the leap…that along with the Disney brochure that said you get free admission on your birthday swayed us.
So we made plans to go to Florida in early November in order to be at the Magic Kingdom (Cinderella's Castle) on the 7th – my daughter's birthday. A quick look at the calendar showed that Delaney's birthday fell on a Saturday. As my wife and I both noticed this at the same time (back in June), I quickly logged onto the internet to look at the Navy football schedule. I didn't tell my wife this – I sort of just did it on my own. Sure enough, Navy was playing Notre Dame that day, and now I was going to be in Cinderella's Castle just before kick-off. If Delaney's birthday had been a day earlier or later, I probably could have thrown out a simple suggestion to my wife like, "Why don't we leave on her birthday, and just surprise her," but in a matter of seconds, back in June, I just agreed to being at Disney World during the Navy-Notre Dame game.
So for five months, I prepared myself to believe that this was not going to be a big deal. First and foremost, I am very lucky to have the support of my family who allow me to write for this web site and thus cover every game either in person or from afar. So I tried to convince myself that this was the very least I could do for my family. I could miss one game – even if it was the Notre Dame game…no problem. And after all, it would be for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend Disney with my family…on my daughter's birthday…in Cinderella's Castle…no worries.
Secondly, it was Notre Dame. Navy had already beaten them to end the streak and going into the season, it looked as if this game probably wouldn't even be close. Most experts were predicting the Fighting Irish to win 9 or 10 games, and few really considered Navy as anything more than a little speed bump on their way to the brink of a BCS game. Last season's game was close but it took a furious comeback by Navy to make the final score look more than respectable. So for five months, I let myself believe that Navy really didn't have a chance and that catching another loss to Notre Dame on some type of tape delay (DVR at home most likely) wouldn't be a big deal. It would end a streak of 17 years of seeing the game either in person or live on television, but it would just be another loss.
It took me only one game of this season (Navy's close loss to Ohio State) for me to start thinking about reasons to cancel the trip to Orlando. Maybe, just maybe the Mids could give the Irish another scare. Perhaps I could change my daughter's birth certificate? Or maybe just fake a leg cramp before the flight…Of course those were just silly, drastic ideas that I would never really consider. So instead I just decided to find every sports bar within a five-mile radius to the Magic Kingdom. You see, it wasn't as if I was going to be able to just go to the ESPN Zone restaurant at Disney on that Saturday. I was going to be at Cinderella's castle for lunch, on Saturday, the 7th of November. It just wasn't going to be that easy. I needed something close to that pointy structure in the middle of the Magic Kingdom.
So I called Walt Disney World several months ago and asked them where in the Magic Kingdom I could watch a football game at 2:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, November 7th. After what seemed to be a pretty long silence, I got the feeling that I was asking a very inappropriate question – like how much does Minnie Mouse weigh or how old is Mickey Mouse. After a very polite lady said, "I don't know sir," something clicked in my mind. I needed to drop this insane path I was going down. I was going to miss the game and I needed to deal with it. My family was more important (duh) and I'd be able to see the game (probably a loss) the following Wednesday. I decided to move on. And to make sure I moved on, I told all of my close friends and family to not call or email me during the game. Nothing…no hints via text messages…nothing…I would find out the score later that day and just watch the game upon my return to Maryland.
So fast forward to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 7th – I had dinner in my hand and I was staring at my beautiful daughter across the table at the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café in Frontierland at Walt Disney World. Delaney was all dressed up in her princess outfit, still in awe that she got to meet Cinderella, Snow White, and several other princesses on her birthday. Everything was great. Life was perfect. Then my phone rang and in an instant everything changed.
It was my brother, Pete, calling from North Carolina and I knew why he was calling. He wanted to know if I had found a place to watch the game, and he wanted to get my reaction to what he had been watching. He thought I would have broken down and found a way to watch the game. He was wrong. However, that did not stop this insane Navy football fan from doing what any insane Navy football fan would do in the same situation. I answered his call.
Me: "Shut up."
Pete: "You are not watching it?"
Me: Singing out loud: "It's a Small World After All…It's a Small World After All…"
Pete: "Do you want to know?"
Me: "No…yes…no…ok…just tell me if I am going to be happy or sad."
Me: "(Expletive under my breath because we were at Disney)….ok, tell me."
Pete: "14-0 Navy, just over 9 minutes to go in the third quarter."
Me: "Oh my God!"
My wife: (To me at restaurant, not realizing I was on the phone) "Oh my God, is everything ok?"
Me: (To my brother) "Thanks. I have to go."
I told my wife that it was just my brother, Pete, and she immediately knew what that meant. My promise of radio silence during the game, while at Disney, was broken. Like any good husband would do, I immediately blamed my brother for calling and interrupting our family vacation to talk about football. How inappropriate!
So there I was in Frontierland…no television within any walking distance…and with the knowledge of the details of the game going through my head. Instead of thinking what the next ride would be that I take my daughter on, I couldn't stop wondering how Navy's defense was able to stop Jimmy Clausen and shut him out for nearly 2 and a half quarters. I knew turnovers had to be involved, so as we got up from dinner and started to make our way to Adventureland, I started to play through a bunch of scenarios in my head. It was pure madness. I began to actually think about Navy football while carrying on a conversation about the Pirates of the Caribbean with my five-year-old while walking around the Magic Kingdom. Then, as luck would have it, I came up with a plan.
Since my two-year-old son, Will, was also with us and anything other than "It's a Small World" petrified him, I volunteered to watch him while my wife took Delaney on the scary (or so I played it up to be) aforementioned pirate adventure. That would give me a tired two-year-old to look after for about an hour. She agreed and off I went to explore Disney World at dusk with my unsuspecting son. I say ‘unsuspecting' because little did he realize that I was off to find the perfect area for cell phone coverage so I could get play-by-play updates live from my brother. It was now just after 6:00 p.m. and because I had broken radio silence an hour earlier, I was now getting emails from all over the country with updates.
So I knew the score was 21-14 in Navy's favor with just under three minutes to play. All I needed was a distraction…something to keep my son occupied for another 20 minutes or so…perhaps longer if overtime was required to decide the game.
That's when I got my second break courtesy of a group of ducks on the lawn adjacent to Cinderella's Castle. Who would have thought there would be a bunch of ducks of the live variety (not Donald or Daisy) roaming the property at sunset? You see, ducks were perfect because my son has been going to the local park in Maryland all of his short life to feed ducks. He loved ducks. He loved to make duck noises. And now, for the first time in my life, I loved ducks too!
My brother Pete used to play football and he is a sports junkie. An avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, he knows how to deliver a play-by-play over the phone. He gave me down-and-distance, camera angles, announcer reactions…everything! "Sack, Tuani, hand salute, safety, Schaefer, Mids going crazy in stands, etc…" I couldn't watch the game, but boy I got to experience the exciting ending in a really unique way.
Someday I will explain to my son why his daddy was jumping up and down and yelling, "We beat them again!" at the top of my lungs as he watched ducks and tourists gave me strange looks. He was happy. I was happy. And for that moment just East of Main Street U.S.A., everything was right in the world. And that was before I discovered I could watch the entire replay of the game on NBC.com the following day in my hotel room. Ok, I watched it twice after the kids were in bed. There is nothing quite like the magic of Disney World to knock them out early…and to provide their dad with a pretty cool Navy football memory as well.
Will, 2, moments after Navy beat Notre Dame.