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Army-Navy: An Annual Clash Between Our Nation's Leaders of Tomorrow

jedhughes_optBY JED HUGHES
COMMENTARY

When the Army Cadets battle the Navy Midshipmen this Saturday, December 8th, it will mark their 113th meeting. The 2012 inter-service game will be played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, which has more than 80 times hosted the nationally televised game. Navy leads the series (56-49-7), winning the past 10 games and 13 of the last 15.

The games are played at neutral sites, partly because the service academies' respective stadiums are relatively small, and interest is so big. The 2011 matchup drew over 80,000 fans and registered a 4.0 TV rating, up 14 percent from 2010.

Traditionally, the Army-Navy matchup is the final contest of the regular season and is usually the last football game ever played by the graduating seniors. Few, if any, of Army-Navy players will make the NFL. Their paths lead elsewhere. However, big time bragging rights are at stake. It is particularly emotional during times of war because some participants may lose their lives on real battlefields.

Decades ago, when both service academies were powerhouses, the contest had championship implications. In 1926, the Army-Navy Game was played in Chicago on the day that Soldier Field was dedicated to World War I servicemen. Although it ended in 21-21 tie, undefeated Navy sailed away with the National Championship.

In the World War II era, Army had consecutive undefeated seasons from 1944-46. In 1944, Army beat Navy 23–7 in Baltimore and was named AP's National Champion. The following year, the Cadets again topped the Midshipmen, 32-13, as Army repeated as AP's #1 team.

Army produced Heisman Trophy winners in back-to-back years: Doc Blanchard in 1945, and Glenn Davis in 1946. Navy Quarterback Roger Staubach was the 1963 Heisman winner.

Service academy dominance in college football waned as the level of play at other schools improved, and college athletes became driven by prospects of playing in the NFL. High academic requirements, height and weight limits, and the academies' post-graduation military commitments have significantly reduced the competitiveness of both teams.

However, some Army-Navy participants have had success as professionals. After fulfilling his service requirements, Roger Staubach went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys and was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl VI. He led the Midshipmen to victories over Army in both 1962 and 1963, a year when Navy finished with a #2 ranking.

Navy wide receiver and return specialist Phil McConkey was a popular player on the Super Bowl XXI champion New York Giants. In 1986, running back Napoleon McCallum played with the Los Angeles Raiders while concurrently serving in the navy. After fulfilling his military commitment, he returned the NFL as a full-time player from 1990-94.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has been preparing this country's leaders through rigorous programs since 1802. The U.S. Naval Academy has been developing young midshipmen into fine leaders since 1845. While the Army-Navy Game may never again impact the National Championship, it is nonetheless a game of interest to millions of college football fans, regardless of whether they attended either school. The pride and pageantry of the game are unmatched by any other contest.

After the conclusion of the Army-Navy Game, the real game of life -- no more impactfully than being in harm's way. The traditions, the training, and the rigorous amount of academics they endure is hard to imagine. The primary appeal of this annual event is not necessarily who wins the game. Rather , it is appreciating the predetermined future of the participating athletes who will protect and serve the country upon graduation.

This year's Army-Navy Game kicks off at 3 PM from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The game will air nationally on CBS.

A native of Newark, Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and head coach Brady Hoke. Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy, and New York Jets President Neil Glat. Earlier in his career, Jed coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.

 

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