With some new revelation breaking almost daily in the tawdry scandals that have soiled the great sports programs at Penn State and Syracuse, it might be easy to overlook this uplifting little piece of college football news.
Senior fullback Alexander Teich will not be selected in the first round of the next NFL draft and he will not become an instant millionaire for trying to carry a ball past a chalk line, but he did get the offer he was looking for upon graduation from the Naval Academy.
He was officially chosen on Wednesday to join the Navy SEALs — the elite commando unit that made huge headlines seven months ago when it paid an unexpected visit to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
It was just a coincidence that the post-graduation service assignments came out on the same day that Teich was taking part in the Army-Navy news conference in Arlington, Va., but it certainly highlighted the thing that makes the Army-Navy Game a truly unique college football event.
The players — almost to a man — are playing entirely for the love of the game and the love of their country, which will be expressed in a far more meaningful way when they leave Annapolis and West Point for their various billets.
Teich chose one of the most demanding and dangerous assignments that any branch of the service has to offer, and he was lucky to be one of only 28 selected from this year's graduating class to train as SEALs. Why he would want to do that might be a mystery to those of us who make warmth and safety a top priority, but he can't wait to take the next step in his military career — as soon as he gets done going 4-0 against Army.
"I've been blessed to be in this opportunity where I've been part of this brotherhood here, and it's always been in my mind set that I want to be the tip of the spear,'' Teich said. "I kind of want to be in the action. I want to be leading men that are a lot like myself. I talked to some SEALs who were Navy football players at one time, and they were talking about how the brotherhood there is just unreal — just the experience and the tight-knit guys who are willing to go forward. I want to be one of those guys."
Clearly, he's a hyper-competitive guy. That was apparent when he made his one big mistake of the 2011 football season, drawing a one-game suspension reportedly for walking off the field in frustration after the overtime loss to Air Force while his teammates assembled for the Air Force alma mater.
That intensity figures to serve him well in a dangerous world. It certainly has on the football field, where he is a leader both in title — offensive team captain — and by example. He is the key running back in Navy's triple-option attack and has rushed for 1,653 yards and eight touchdowns over the past two seasons.
His toughness has been on particular display in a couple of very important games. He rushed for 210 yards and caught a 31-yard touchdown pass in last year's 35-17 victory over Notre Dame and he rushed for 148 yards in the overtime loss to Air Force earlier this season.
Next week, he gets one more chance to put on a football uniform and lead the Midshipmen against the band of brothers from Army. Teich has walked off the field victorious in each of his first three matchups against the Black Knights. Winning one more would go a long way toward easing the disappointment of this senior class' first losing season, but he said Wednesday that 2011 has been a valuable experience.
"I think I've learned a lot more in this season than I have in the previous three,'' he said. "When you're not faced with a lot of adversity, what do you learn about yourself? Seeing first hand — taking the losses, taking the criticism, feeling the pressure that you're letting down the program or whatever your take on it might be — how you respond to it speaks volumes about what kind of guys we have on this team."
No one seems particularly surprised that Teich has chosen to test himself again in a hyper-intense military setting.
"Does not surprise me that he chose this,'' said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. "The kid is one of the toughest kids I've ever been around."
Teich said that pretty much everyone has been supportive of his decision, though his mother wasn't particularly excited about the prospect of him jumping out of helicopters to root out enemy combatants.
"My dad, he's proud of me, but moms aren't going to be happy with that kind of decision,'' Teich said. "They'll always support me in whatever I do. I don't know if she was the most excited person when I came here, or when I was going to do SEALs or play football even. She wouldn't let me play football until the 7th grade. "
Even his coach gets a worried look when he talks about the dangerous assignments many of his players accept upon graduation.