PHILADELPHIA -- On a day when a nation will pay tribute to the events 50 years ago that drew the United States into World War II, two of its service academies will continue one of the biggest rivalries in the history of college sports.
It's the 92nd meeting of Army and Navy, which will play to a sold-out crowd of 66,592 this afternoon at Veterans Stadium. Unlike last year, when each team was playing for a winning record, Army (4-6) and Navy (0-10) will be playing this one strictly for pride.
nTC "Emotionally, I have a lot more feeling for this game than any other big game in my coaching career," said Navy coach George Chaump, who experienced his first Army-Navy game last year. "You play it like a national championship. For what it represents, it might be the biggest rivalry in college football."
And, if the past is any indication, it should be a close contest. Each academy has 42 wins, with seven ties.
Both enter the game on the verge of ending a season of disappointment. For Army, it's the disappointment of a losing season after three straight winning seasons.
"It's been a tough season," said Army coach Bob Sutton, making his debut in the big game. "We let some games slip out of our hands, and we're disappointed. But it's imperative to finish as a winning organization -- it's crucial."
Navy's disappointment is getting off to the worst start in school history, a shock after the promise of last season's 5-6 record.
"I never dreamed we would be in this position," said Chaump. "We hope to do better than last year [a 30-20 Army win]. Things being the way they are, this is probably the biggest game of my life. There's an awful lot riding on it."
That said, look for Chaump to come out with a wide-open offense for a unit that spent a lot of the year stumbling. Plebe quarterback Jim Kubiak has had success throwing, and sophomore quarterback Jason Van Matre has been impressive running. Chaump has indicated he may use both in the same quarter.
"That's a tough position, because we're not sure what they'll do," Sutton said. "We have to prepare for both styles. We're definitely concerned."
The biggest challenge will be for the Navy defense, which has allowed a lot of individuals to experience stardom for a day. Delaware's Bill Vergantino (20 of 26 for 239 yards and two touchdowns), William & Mary's Robert Green (181 yards rushing, two touchdowns) and Ball State's Corey Croom (190 yards rushing, three touchdowns) have enjoyed big days against the Midshipmen.
"We seem to bring out the best in other teams, because they always come out with the big plays," Chaump said. "We'll hold up with them statistically, and then 'whack.' "
Now, Navy, whose defense ranks 103rd out of 106 Division I-A teams against the rush, will attempt to stop an Army rushing offense that is third in the nation (304 yards per game). There's no question what Army will do -- the Cadets have averaged just 5.2 passes and the 34.3 passing yards per game ranks last among I-A schools.
The time leading up to the game (three weeks for Army, two for Navy) has allowed both to enter the game fairly healthy. Army will be without the star of last year's game, quarterback Willie McMillian (career-high 195 yards rushing against Navy), who suffered torn ligaments in his right knee.
"It's kind of tough, because when you're a senior you always look forward to your last Army-Navy game," McMillian said. "I'm going to miss the hitting, and getting hit. But just being on the sideline will be good enough for me."
And it will be a tremendous opportunity for Chaump, who never (( has lost like this on any level.
"They tell me it's a one-game season, and this time I'm going to really believe that," Chaump said. "At times like this, I'm happy that's the case."
Navy (0-10) vs. Army (4-6)
Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, 1:30 p.m.
Television: Channel 13, 7
Radio: WERQ (1010 AM), WNAV (1430 AM), WMAL (630 AM)
Series record: Tied, 42-42-7