Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Army vs "Army"
I’m about to commit collegiate and football hari-kari. But I can’t help it.
I wanted to root for Army this Saturday.
So what’s the big deal? Because they were playing my alma mater – Texas A&M.
Another post will tell you more than anyone would care to know about how grateful I am that I attended A&M and got two degrees and even taught there for awhile while in graduate school – “the best job I ever had” I tell people all of the time.
But this was about something else. Texas A&M probably has, if not the largest, the most visible ROTC program on a major college campus. The school was all “Corps” until the early 60’s and didn’t admit women until the end of that decade. Now it boasts an enrollment of 45,000 of which only 2,000 are cadets but that is the face of the school. The rest of the population is pretty much like any other college – but with a fairly deep reverence for the traditions that paved the way – bonfires, midnight yell practice, the 12th man – maybe you’ve heard about it.
Great great stuff.
So the schedule-makers got together and suggested that we play Army – and I mean the real Army. We have yells during the football games that are marked off by the male yell leaders (no pom’s pom’s and glitz here) and one of them actually is “Army Fight”. The word “Army” is used interchangeably through a bunch of A&M stuff to signal its military heritage. So I guess those yells got retired for the day. And if you didn’t know - back in the 40’s and 50’s Army was the team – they were a football juggernaut. And now well they are (and still were) West Point – the military academy. Their football players are soldiers – not looking at college as a way station to the pros – but as a call to duty.
But as excited as I was to see this fairly long-awaited match-up of which was presumed to be a “natural” I felt queasy about the comparisons between the two schools – and not so much the schools but the football teams and its players. A&M was favored by 27 points. We outweighed Army players greatly – our players were guys who were recruited nationwide for their speed and strength. Army guys were men who wanted to fight for their country.
By halftime it was tied 14-14. A&M was supposed to romp – but other college football games have been close midway through the contest until the more “talented” team (as we were told endlessly on ESPN) finally breaks free from the underdog.
Not this game.
And I started to feel the juxtapostion of what was really displayed on the field. Every man on the field for Army had a tour of duty planned for him upon graduation. The only Aggies even planning for such were in the stands banging on a drum.
By the third quarter I wanted to root for Army. This team was armed with gutsy guys, outmanned the entire game but giving it all on the football field just as they had the summer before at what the broadcasters’ described as “bayonet training”. Think the A&M team went through “bayonet training” last summer? No, they went through Wendy’s.
A&M did start to pull away but, through a series of events that can only be described as “college football”, Army was on the A&M 2-yard line with seconds left and a chance to win the game. Army beating A&M would have been a colossal cherry for the cadets and the Academy’s program – actually beating a historical football factory of a school. For A&M it would have been “be careful what you wish for”. While on paper a game with Army sounded romantic, a loss would have been historic for all of the wrong reasons.
Army coach Bobby Ross sent in a running play with 9 seconds left and A&M gobbled the runner up behind the line of scrimmage. Time runs out. Game over. A&M wins.
But Army you won for me.