On field, around the earth, they're family

December 04, 2005|By RICK MAESE

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia-- --When it was all over - when Navy had defeated Army for the fourth straight year - players from the two teams came together at midfield.

I was reminded of one word that I'd been hearing over and over the past week: brotherhood.

Of course, we all understand how teammates are connected to one another. They flippantly use the word "brother" and we rarely question it. But the brotherhood that surrounds the annual Army-Navy football game is different. It has nothing to do with uniform colors and knows no boundaries.

To understand what this game means, you had to trace that brotherhood. From the field to the stands, from Annapolis to West Point, N.Y. And beyond. Much further than you realize.

Lincoln Financial Field was sold out yesterday. The seats were filled with brotherhood. Sitting there watching was:

Capt. Brian Grana, who played tight end for the Midshipmen and graduated in 1996. When the current season started, Grana was living in Fallujah.

And Lt. Billy Hubbard, a former Navy receiver who graduated in 2001. Until six months ago, he was living on the USS Harry S Truman in the Persian Gulf.

And Capt. Tom Vanderhorst, a placekicker who graduated in 1999. He served in Iraq during the initial assault in 2003.

But the brotherhood extended much further than that. By the time Navy's 42-23 victory officially entered the record books last night, it was 2 a.m. in Iraq. Do you think American soldiers were sleeping?

A few years ago, Ed Malinowski, former quarterback and co-captain of the Midshipmen, presented President Bush with the game ball prior to the Army-Navy game. Today, Malinowski is living in northern Iraq at a hydroelectric dam that provides power for one-third of the country.

Malinowski was able to watch yesterday's game in the mess hall. The Armed Forces Network aired the game on three channels.

Shortly after it ended, he e-mailed: "I had butterflies in my stomach before it started and all the memories of what it was like to wear that gold helmet came rushing back."

Malinowski, who began his second tour of duty in Iraq three months ago, keeps a football under his desk, plays Madden 2006 whenever possible and says football is never far from his mind.

"I am always the point of contact in the battalion for the latest news on Navy football," he said. "I can't tell you how many times people have asked me to explain how the triple option works."

About 200 miles to the south of Malinowski is Lt. Joey Fay, living in barracks at Camp Mercury in Fallujah. There isn't a day that passes that Fay doesn't look back on his time in a Navy jersey.

"This game meant a ton to me back then," he wrote in an e-mail, "and it continues to mean a lot to me today. As a fan, I find that [this game is] the most exciting sporting event in athletics. As a patriot, I find something fundamentally American about that game and, at the risk of sounding sappy, it inspires me in my current occupation."

Philadelphia and Baghdad are 6,000 miles apart. You might not believe me, but the brotherhood stretches even further that that.

Bill McArthur graduated from West Point in 1973. He was a pilot for the Army and became an astronaut in 1991. For the past two months, he's been living aboard the International Space Station. NASA officials spent last week working to get McArthur a live feed of yesterday's game.

When Army took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter, McArthur was drifting over Mexico, 200 miles above the earth's surface. The space station was moving at more than 17,000 mph and McArthur was already over Ecuador when Navy's Reggie Campbell scored the game's first touchdown just a few minutes later.

With less than four minutes to go in the first half, Navy quarterback Lamar Owens slipped four tackles and spun his way into the end zone to give Navy a 14-10 lead. McArthur was watching, zipping along the southern tip of Africa, high above the Indian Ocean.

By time the Black Knights scored late in the third quarter to make it 35-17, McArthur had already circled the world and was flying over Chile. Navy scored on six straight possessions and it was getting ugly. Personally, I hoped McArthur had killed NASA's video feed or maybe found a rerun of M*A*S*H to watch.

He was near the border between Mongolia and China as the final seconds ticked away. Two hundred miles below and halfway across the world, Army and Navy players were meeting at midfield, shaking hands and patting each other on the back.

From high in the stadium, all you could see were gold helmets. Later, Navy linebacker Rob Caldwell would explain that the Army-Navy game is "like fighting your brother in the backyard."

"They're on our team right after the game," he said.

They gathered together near one end zone to sing Army's alma mater. Then, the teams walked across the field for the Naval Academy's version.

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