With the Philadelphia Eagles’ terrible struggles this season, not many Philly fans have left Lincoln Financial Field feeling satisfied. Strangely enough, on December 8th, about half of the fans left the Philadelphia stadium with a sense of excitement. How could that be? The pleased football fans were the supporters of the United States Naval Academy, the team that beat the United States Military Academy in the 113th Army-Navy Game.
The Army-Navy Game is not only infamous for the legendary rivalry between the two military academies. Some familiar sports technologies made their debuts at this historic game. In 1893, future Admiral and Navy player Joseph Reeves was told by a team doctor that a kick to the head would result in “instant insanity,” so he commissioned an Annapolis shoemaker to create what is widely considered to be the first ever football helmet. Instant replay made its first appearance at the 1963 game.
I was fortunate enough to attend this historic game with my aunt, uncle, and cousin, who is a senior at the Naval Academy. I didn’t want to attend this game because I was interested in merely watching it, which I could have done at home and been a lot warmer. I went to experience the whole event. You could actually smell the patriotism and tradition in the air. The Army-Navy game itself is known as “America’s Game,” and just to be a part of the greatest rivalry in college sports is pretty cool. Excuse me *sniffle*, I’m getting a little choked up here.
Sorry about letting my emotions run wild back there. Anyway, back to the game.
Navy, led by coach Ken Niumatalolo, entered the game with a 7-4 record on the year, but more importantly a ten game winning streak over Army (side note: “Niumatalolo” is really fun to say). Army came in with a 2-9 record, but one of those wins came against fellow service academy Air Force. On paper, this looked like Navy’s game to lose. However, the game is usually more competitive than mere paper would suggest, and the year before Army came closer to winning than it ever had in the last decade, losing 27-21.
The game got off to a slow start. Both teams ran an archaic offense known as the triple-option, in which the quarterback can hand the ball off, run it himself, or pitch it back to a second running back. This type of offense is usually pretty successful, but the two defenses played disciplined football and stifled the offenses.
Going into halftime, it appeared as if Army had all the momentum, as quarterback Trent Steelman drove the Black Knights down the field in 25 seconds, and kicker Eric Osteen made one of the ugliest kicks I have ever seen — off the uprights and through the goal post — tying the game at ten.
After a slow start to the second half, Navy fumbled deep at their own 37-yard line, and soon Army moved the ball down to the two. Army looked poised to go into the end zone, but the Navy defense held its ground and forced a short Osteen field goal, putting Navy into the lead late in the third quarter.
Navy then punted again, and another long Army drive put Osteen in position to convert his third field goal of the game, this one from 37 yards out. However, Osteen put this field goal wide left. Navy had life.
Of course, as soon as I left my seat for a trip to the bathroom, the most exciting play and drive of the game happened. Freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds of Navy completed a 49-yard pass to Brandon Turner down to the eight-yard line, and on the next play Reynolds ran it in himself to put the Midshipmen ahead 17-13 with four minutes left.
This amount of time proved enough for Army to mount one last effort. Steelman willed his team all the way down the field to the Navy 14-yard line with a minute left. He was not to be denied a victory in his final college football game. Then disaster struck, as a botched handoff between Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon resulted in a fumble, which was recovered by Navy. Game over.
Navy ran out the final minute and eked out a 17-13 victory, the closest Army-Navy game in the last decade. You have to feel for Steelman, who started in four Army-Navy games and lost all of them in heartbreaking manner. He was inconsolable on the sidelines. His own coach, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, could not soothe his pain. What truly stood out were the efforts of the opposing team’s coaching staff to console Steelman. This gesture really demonstrated the true spirit of this game. The winning school does get bragging rights, but ultimately, the players from both academies will be allies in the future. That’s the beauty of this tradition.
Special thanks to Aunt Mary and Uncle Gary for getting us those tickets, and to Sean for going to Navy in the first place. I had a blast.