Go Army, beat Navy

Those who have a little Navy – the branch of the service, not the shade of blue – in them, are excused.

Otherwise, Army needs all the support it can get Saturday. You will be expected to pull enthusiastically for the Black Knights of the Hudson in their 117th football meeting with Navy.

The game falls neatly in the lull between conference championships and the playoffs/lesser bowls. Which is appropriate because this one deserves to stand alone.

That certainly was made clear when we spoke with a couple of metro Atlanta Army players, as well as Army coach Jeff Monken for a story in Friday's AJC, appearing also on myAJC.com.

This is the game that helps cleanse all the cynicism and the hypocrisy that has built up over a college football regular season.

This is a game that makes it safe once more to believe in the basic purity of the competition and the motives of those who play it and coach it.

Before such a game, the participants may say some beautiful and stirring things, and not once are you even tempted to roll your eyes and say to yourself, “Yeah, yeah, sure, but could you find the library if you had to?”

And the camera is never going to land on a single student in the stands who’s shirtless, painted up like human bag of Skittles and generally embarrassing his parents.

This was from Fayetteville’s Joe Walker, a senior running back slotted for service in the infantry not long after Saturday’s game is done, when asked to describe the atmosphere of an Army-Navy game:

“It’s a game bigger than football, bigger than what’s going on the field. At the end of the day we’re on the same team – defending America, you know – but on that field, we’re not playing go to the NFL. We’re playing for the love of the game and the spirit of the rivalry.

“And you’re always surprised how many people you have supporting you. You have the whole Army supporting you. And the Navy supporting them.”

And listen to Monken, the one-time Georgia Southern head coach and Georgia Tech assistant, when asked how often he gets goosebumps working at a place with a mission such as West Point’s. Not often, he said. His job is still pretty basic – to coach football and try to win games. But sometimes.

“You think about those who have served and the fact that you are part of a team that represents them,” he said.

“When you hear stories of great courage and valor and to know that you put on the uniform that they wear, that sometimes will give you goosebumps. The pride you have to serve and to serve these young men who are going to go out and lead soldiers and do things that are courageous and heroic that the common man isn’t willing to do is pretty inspiring.”

All that being said, it is about time Army wins one of these things.

Nearly a touchdown favorite Saturday, Navy has won the past 14 meetings with Army. Never has the century’s-old rivalry been this lopsided. It has become an uncomfortable competitive imbalance, and there should never, ever be anything uncomfortable about this game.

Army just needs this one a lot more – for itself and for the health of the series. That should earn it plenty of fans from the base of the otherwise uncommitted.

This year’s game in Baltimore presents an opportunity to momentarily turn the tide. Army is starting to reverse course behind Monken, and Navy lost its starting quarterback and slotback a week ago. This is still, however, a daunting uphill charge for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

So, join me, please. In the interest of bringing back some equilibrium to a classic rivalry, I know I’ll emotionally invest in the underdog. That I have a kid in the Army has nothing to do with it whatsoever, I’m sure.