Army-Navy attracts patriotic fans

After Sept. 11 attacks, teams expect more interest in 102nd game

College Football

November 30, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Whenever the Army and Navy football teams go on the road, they are normally accorded a warm and polite reception from opposing fans because of what they represent.

Perhaps the only exception is at Colorado Springs, Colo., where the Air Force Academy backers mirror the haughtiness of the team that likes to toss around reminders about who monopolizes the Commander in Chief's Trophy among the three service institutions.

This season - in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - the cordiality has been especially graphic, the flag-waving never more pronounced.

So, when the 102nd Army-Navy game unfolds tomorrow in Philadelphia, there is likely to be another surge in patriotism from an American public ready to pay tribute.

Always, rival fans can be seen toe-tapping and singing along to "On Brave Old Army Team" or "Anchors Aweigh." This year, they have never been more emotional about it.

For Navy, the welcoming was never more friendly than two weeks ago at Notre Dame, where the fans are disenchanted with the team's record and coach Bob Davie. The 38 straight Irish victories in their series had no bearing on their reaction. It was almost as if they had adopted the Midshipmen for the weekend.

"When we got to the stadium, there was a cordon of people clapping for us and our guys," Navy's interim head coach Rick Lantz said. "Toledo gave us great respect, too.

"People have gotten a much greater appreciation for what our people do. They're looking at the military a little differently. I've never seen so many American flags."

Forget the combined 2-17 record of the two teams and Navy striving to avoid a winless season for the second straight year. For the public, this game is about showing respect.

"After our games, people are always cheering for us, telling us what a good job we're doing and because of what we're going to do," Army captain Brian Zickefoose said.

"It is much more noticeable this year. A lot of people are calling up to see what I'm up to. They're concerned."

"You try to focus only on the game, but there is a lot of nationalism going around," added Army captain Clint Dodson, who is headed for field artillery duty. "There is just more respect."

For the players, coaches, brigades, corps and officers who will comprise the majority of the approximately 70,000 at Veterans Stadium tomorrow, the emphasis on Army-Navy is constant.

The game is the conference title showdown, national collegiate championship game and Super Bowl all wrapped into 60 minutes of determination.

"I've coached in six of these," said Lantz, "and I don't see how the kids can put any more importance on it now. The records have nothing to do with it. This is not a rivalry like some in the deep South where fans intensely dislike each other. These guys may end up in the same unit."

Because of the surge in interest, Navy's players believe the television ratings will climb. The feeling is that people will watch simply to pay homage.

"I don't think there's any difference for the players," Navy center Brian Schulz said. "But the game does take on a new tone because of the national exposure to what's going on in Afghanistan."

"For the general public, no doubt a lot of people will be watching to see what these kids are about," Navy quarterback Brian Madden said. "I believe they will take a vested interest and want to know what it is that makes these guys special."

"We look at it as something that is always huge," defensive end Michael Wagoner said. "A lot of the American people are more interested in how things are going in the world. The one big difference to us is that you find yourself feeling a lot more fortunate that you're able to play football. When you look at what happened at the World Trade Center, you never know when it's going to be your last day."

Next for Navy

Opponent: Army (2-8)

Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

When: Tomorrow, 11:45 a.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (1300 AM), WMAL (630 AM)

Line: Army by 1 1/2

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