'Freed' fans change their stripes 'Prisoner exchange' part of tradition-filled rivalry

December 07, 1997|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The kickoff of yesterday's 98th Army-Navy game capped a strange week for Everett and Edie Alcorn, brother and sister from Manassas, Va.

He's a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. She's a cadet at West Point.

It's a sibling rivalry that carried an extra twist this year: Edie Alcorn spent the fall semester in Annapolis as part of a student exchange program that sends nine students from each academy to the other.

That put her and eight fellow cadets in enemy territory for last week's countdown to the biggest game of the year, where they were subjected to the pranks and ribbing that accompany this emotional rivalry.

Earlier in the week, Edie tried to serve both masters, with a "Beat Navy" button on her left lapel, a "Beat Army" button on the right.

But there was no mistaking her loyalty yesterday as she and the other exchange students from both schools were marched out to midfield for the traditional "prisoner of war exchange," one of many grand rituals that have been honed across the century of Army-Navy football games.

At noon, nine West Point cadets met face to face in the middle of Giants Stadium with nine midshipmen. They switched sides and then followed behind their brigade commander, marching toward their home team's side of the field, as roars filled the chilly air.

Then, after watching paratroopers and Navy Seals parachute onto the field, Edie and her fellow cadets stripped off their long gray coats and lined up side by side to reveal T-shirts spelling "Beat Navy" on the front; "Eat Squid" on the back. Navy's nine exchange students did likewise, spelling "Crush Army." Hardly your typical collegiate football contest.

It was the grandeur of the POW exchange that Edie witnessed at her first Army-Navy game seven years ago that inspired her to apply for the prestigious exchange program last year. Both schools' top students are chosen.

And with her family, her brother, and more than 77,000 others watching, the exchange was everything Edie had hoped. "That felt great," she said afterward, standing in the end zone just before the kickoff.

Edie and Everett Alcorn took odd routes to their respective academies.

Their grandfather had been an Army aviator who took his grandkids to air shows in Virginia Beach, but never once nudged them toward the military.

Their mother exerted no pressure: she was in the Peace Corps. And dad was drafted and fought in Vietnam, "but he never talked to us about it," Everett said. "And he passed away without ever talking about it."

So it was actually their older sister, Ginger, who paved the way, attending West Point and then marrying a fellow cadet. "So it was her influence that I felt," Edie said.

For Everett, it was a substitute high school teacher -- a former naval commander -- who suggested he consider Annapolis. "Senior year, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and he kind of pushed me," he said.

After attending every Army-Navy game since 1990, this year's game made for a special end to their fall semester together. For siblings who had gotten used to being 400 miles apart and rarely seeing each other, they now feel closer than ever, even if they rooted for opposing teams yesterday.

"We'd eat dinner together a few times a week. We'd go running together at 5 a.m. every morning," Everett said.

"Before this, we almost never saw each other, except at holidays," Edie said.

Now, they're looking forward to the Christmas break with family and friends, where Edie will tell tales of her months in Annapolis and her big moment at Giants Stadium. And Everett will remind everyone that, after five losses in a row to Army, it was his team that won the game.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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