Football keeps a proper place at Army and Navy

November 10, 1996|By Dave Kindred | Dave Kindred,THE SPORTING NEWS

Army is undefeated in nine games. Army!

Navy has won six of eight.

When they meet in Philadelphia on Dec. 7, it will have been a generation, back to Roger Staubach's youth in 1963, since Army and Navy came to their annual game recognized as legitimate powers in college football. To which the proper response is another exclamation. Hallelujah!

The son of a soldier who grew up believing this country fought just wars, I'm a sportswriter who made a habit of going to Army-Navy football games. And not for the football, but for the players. They are dedicated, disciplined symbols of the people we ought to be. Warriors who believe.

If the teams came in 1-9, fine. Let the football factories feed the NFL. Let the folks with 100,000-seat stadiums go at one another's throats in recruiting competitions for illiterates.

Give me Army. Give me Navy. There we know that football, while important, is important in the way college football was meant to be important -- as a game for students.

No one goes to Army or Navy to get ready for the NFL.

No one gets a fancy car.

No one cuts class.

At Army and Navy, we meet young men such as Jim Cantelupe and Andrew Thompson, defensive backs and captains on last season's teams.

You would love them. The scouting report: average size, average speed, uncommon humanity.

I know them well. I know them because John Feinstein, who has written the best-selling sports books of all time, has made Cantelupe and Thompson the heart of his new book, "A Civil War: Army vs. Navy." We share the captains' lives as Feinstein spends the 1995 season inside the academies doing the richly detailed reporting -- his signature -- which makes us a part of those places so hard, so unforgiving and so wonderful.

Here's a Jim Cantelupe story from "A Civil War." There are six weeks of Army summer known as "Beast Barracks," a gut-check time for men and women entering the U.S. Military Academy. The plebes are reminded of their lowly status by first classmen -- seniors -- who scream questions such as:

"Klein. What kind of name is that?"

"Sir, it's German, sir," came Derek Klein's answer.

"O'Grady," a first classman screamed. "What kind of name is that?"

"Sir, Irish, sir."

About the same time at Navy, Andrew Thompson, polite and earnest, is engaged in an academic comeback unlike anything ever attempted at the football factories of this land. Here is Thompson's daily schedule for nine weeks:

5 a.m.-7 a.m. -- Wake up. Breakfast. Training run with Satan (Phil Emery, the strength and conditioning coach).

7 a.m.-8 a.m. -- Prepare for chemistry class.

8 a.m.-noon -- Chemistry class.

Noon-1 p.m. -- Lunch. Get ready for calculus class.

1 p.m.-4 p.m. -- Calculus.

4 p.m.-6 p.m. -- Lift weights with Satan.

6: 30 p.m. -- Dinner.

7 p.m. to sleep -- Study chemistry and calculus for tomorrow.

Haircut inspections. Guard duty. Marching. First class at Army: 7: 15 a.m. First class at Navy: 7: 55.

Twelve days before last season's Army-Navy game, Jim Cantelupe and Andrew Thompson met at a news conference. "Each had understood immediately," Feinstein writes, "that the other was a soul mate. Neither had been recruited by any big-time football schools. Both simply loved the game, the competition, the camaraderie. Both had put up with the frustrations and vagaries of military academy life for four years for one reason: the chance to play big-time football."

If they couldn't play for Notre Dame, they would play against Notre Dame. At Army or Navy for four years, they then would give five more years to the military.

Army beat Navy last season, 14-13. Beat Navy for the fourth consecutive time, the victories coming by a total of six points. After Army's raucous celebration, Jim Cantelupe, in his black and gold uniform, walked to the Navy locker room, a funereal place.

There he put a hand on Andrew Thompson's shoulder. The Navy captain who would never beat Army wept. The soul mates embraced. They spoke softly of football gone, of memories they'll keep.

"We're brothers now," Thompson said. "For the rest of our lives."

"Damn right," Cantelupe said.

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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