In all my years of being a college football fan, there was one event that I had never attended that I badly wanted to do should the stars align: the annual Army –Navy game. This year I was fortunate to be in the vicinity on business and was able to join friends and family in attending one of college football’s holiest grails. The event for me began the Friday before the game as I met up with old college friends and Army buddies throughout the weekend. I was invited to tailgate with a crew that originated with the Cliffside Park, NJ class of 81 football team, one of which was my college fraternity brother, Ray Carlucci. We were joined by other old friends from Frostburg and West Point Alumni connected to the Cliffside boys or the “Goodfellas” as I prefer to call them as most of their last names ended in I or O and talking with their hands is a requirement. In our crew were several people that I consider hero’s for the sacrifices they made for their country. One in particular is my good friend Lou Cappezzuto, USMA class of 86. I have known Lou since my freshman year in college as he was one of the Cliffside boys. Lou is the most humble and modest guy I know so he will probably kick my ass for saying this. Three years ago, long after he had worn the uniform and had become a successful corporate attorney, Lou felt the need to serve his country again. In the infinite wisdom of a sometime beuracratic Army, they would not take him back as an Officer. He proceeded to enter the Army as an E-5 (Sergeant for the civilians) and joined a National Guard Infantry unit that he knew was being deployed to Iraq. He put aside his career and put his life on the line for his country. At age 45, Sergeant Lou manned a 50 Cal and patrolled the streets of Baghdad with his Stryker Brigade. Lou, I along with all your friends, we salute you for what you did. Now don’t hunt me down and stuff me a trunk! I also would like to give a shout out to my brothers Bill and Chuck, both Vietnam combat vets who were under the weather and not able to make it in for the game.
The tailgating was classic with every kind of food and beverage imaginable. Retelling old stories with friends from my past and present and now future (for the instant buddies of the world). I was in awe at the camaraderie shown between the opposite camps of Army and Navy. There was no gang banger crap or fisticuffs one can expect while attending a USC game (Sorry I had to take one more shot). You see this event represents much more than just a rivalry game. Many of these people attend year in and out not only to attend their Alma Mater’s biggest game and reconnect with classmates, they have also given a substantial part of their lives to serving in the Armed Forces. An event and venue like this is the most natural kind of homecoming for these patriots. They will visit with old buddies from units they served in and retell the most interesting stories you will hear. Not stories of kicking ass in combat but the funny stories of getting in trouble and pulling shenanigans while wearing the uniform (As Bill Murray so eloquently pointed out in Stripes "it's the stories you guy's tell"). These events are the ones that bonded them with their unit buddies for life. I connected with my old buddy the legend that is Buck Oxendine and we retold the story that almost cost me my marriage one year into it. After Buck got out of the Army he came and stayed with us in Atlanta for a bit to look for a civilian job. Amy and I had been married less than 2 years at this point. A few days became a few weeks and next thing you know we had the basis for “You Me and Dupree”. After pouring down substantial amounts of liquid courage at a local watering hole one night, Bucky and I thought it would be a good idea to go back into the Army and join the Georgia National Guard as they were about to deploy to Saudi Arabia for Gulf War 1 (Fall of 1990). So we contacted the Georgia Guard and were offered two Captain’s slots immediately. We came home probably by way of Taxi and announced to my new bride our bright idea. The next thing I know her wedding ring was on the counter and Buck’s bags were thrown out the front door. I got the distinct feeling that she didn’t share our enthusiasm. Better judgment or a good hangover prevailed and we did not follow through with our plan…marriage saved, friend still kicked out. So Buck, I apologize I need to show a little more “Danness” next time we get one of these ideas.
For those of you truly interested in the history of college football, you must know that this game was once one of the most meaningful game in the country played every year. This was the 111th time these two teams played. Between the two schools there are 5 Heisman Trophy winners: Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard, Pete Dawkins, Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach. These two teams would regularly compete for the top spot in College football rankings. But as the game of college football grew in prominence it became harder and harder for the service academies to attract the type of talent that would one day play for money on Sunday’s. Instead they get the kind of young men that are solid athletes, sometimes undersized and not always as fast as the more well known powers in CFB today. But what they get more than other schools are young men of the greatest character. The kind of player that will always out work you and try harder than their opponent. Simply becoming bowl eligible for a lower tier bowl and beating the other academy are usually the goals set at the beginning of each season. These young men that are Seniors are usually playing their last game in pads ever will wear their next team’s logo on their shoulders, designating their unit assignment upon graduation (this year both teams will play one more game in their respective Bowls). All of these young men will go on to a minimum 5 year commitment on active duty. Some will even pay the ultimate sacrifice. Although the rivalry is monumental, they realize that this is just a game and the real war may await them later. The mutual respect between the two squads because of this bond is apparent throughout the contest as the game is played the way it should. No cheap shots, no taunting or trash talking, no dancing and no Pete Carroll antics! The game itself does not stand up to say an Alabama – Oklahoma shootout but it touches you more than any national championship game ever could. With parachuters, apache helicopters, the hair raising F-18 flyover prior to the game and of course the National Anthem sung with passion by 70,000 fans…you get the meaning of this game real quick. With Navy having won the previous 8 years, the feeling was that this Army team had a chance to break the streak. However it was not to be as Navy prevailed 31- 17 in a game that was closer than the score as Navy capitalized on a few key plays and one major turnover. As tradition will have it, each team faced the student sections together after games end sung each other alma mater songs.
The night did not end there as the tailgate was fired up for a few more hours in the parking lot and an after party back at the hotel. A great time was definitely had by all! If I can recommend one book for any College football fan to read it is called “A Civil War”, written by John Feinstein. It is the story of the rivalry between Army – Navy. The author followed each team through a whole season in the early 1990’s culminating in the year end rivalry game. If I have not convinced you about the need to see this game live, this book will most certainly do the trick. I certainly plan on attending again and tailgating with my friends and brothers who make this an annual event.
Other news in CFB this week, congratulations to Cam Newton on winning the Heisman. Not only did you do it on the field better than anyone else this year you fought through serious adversity off of it and only played better each week. We may never know what truly happened with the scam but as I have said all along you were the best in the business this year. You even gained more respect from me for giving a shout out to God and the Men and Women fighting overseas for your freedom in your acceptance speech. Will see you next year on Sunday’s. Perhaps a Redskin? In coaching news, Pittsburgh made a serious blunder in forcing Dave Wannstedt to “resign”. I felt that Mr. Wannstedt did a remarkable job with a program that will never be what it once was without its own facilities. Pitt's boosters have unrealistic expectations. Are we sure our boy Urban won’t change his mind again and send Brutus in waiting Will Muschump crawling back to Austin begging Caesar Brown for forgiveness? The proverbial "spend more time with your family” sounds like a good idea at the time until Mrs. Meyer has you filling your time with runs to Piggly Wiggly and carpool duties. Miami should look no further than Mike Leach as its next coach. With his contrarian image and ability to put up big points, he is the perfect fit at the U. Also, I will slit my wrists if I have to hear him announce one more game on CBS sports as his ability to commentate does not match his coaching genius.
Next week the Tailgate will attend its final game of the season at the Las Vegas Maaco Bowl with Boise State taking on the Utes of Utah. I will do one maybe two more blog entries this year and then go on my 8 month annual sabbatical. Unless of course something really interesting pops up to talk about like Lane Kiffin, Big Smo, Pete Carroll, Mark May, Craig James, Rich Rodriguez or any of the Tailgate’s other favorite people.