Navy kicker Jon Teague, right, kicks his first of two field goals… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
LANDOVER — It is only because of the unique nature of the Army-Navy football rivalry that redemption can be this complete.
Anywhere else, there would be no salvaging a season with so many difficult moments, but this is Army-Navy, which is a season in itself. It's the Super Bowl of service academy football — the end that for one team each December, fully justifies the means.
Navy kicker Jon Teague is this year's poster boy for the power of this 121-year-old rivalry to erase everything that has come before it. His two late field goals were the difference in a 27-21 victory at FedEx Field that was Navy's 10th straight against Army. His performance, after such an imperfect season for both Teague and his teammates, was simply perfect.
"Coming out there today and being able to make those two field goals, it's the greatest feeling in the world,'' Teague said.
If you doubt any of that, just look at some the things that happened during Teague's star-crossed senior season:
It was his blocked PAT in overtime that was the difference in a frustrating loss to Air Force. Never mind that it was a 35-yard attempt because quarterback Kriss Proctor got called for a taunting penalty after scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
Two weeks later, Teague had a 34-yard field goal attempt blocked in the final minutes of a 21-20 loss at Rutgers.
He clanked a potential game-tying 42-yard attempt off the right goal post with eight seconds left in a three-point loss to East Carolina, and a mishandled snap kept him from attempting a 45-yard field goal against San Jose State that might have kept Navy's bowl hopes alive.
Not all of that was Teague's fault. Maybe not even most of it. They call it special teams because nothing that happens can truly come down to one player, but the kicker always gets the heat when the big kick doesn't go through the uprights. Which is why Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo could not hold back tears Saturday when he talked about what Teague went through to get to his finest and final hour as a Navy football player.
"It's just a game,'' Niumatalolo said, wiping his eyes and fighting to keep his voice steady. "Things were said about that kid … some personal things were said about him. These are just college students playing football, and people were saying things like this kid committed a crime. I'm just so happy for him."
In that regard, football at any highly publicized level can be a cruel sport. Teague knew what people were saying, but he says now that he was able to survive and finally thrive against Army because of the thing that makes service academy football so special — the band of brothers who start out as a football team and end up part of this nation's fighting force.
"Kicking is about 90 percent up here in the head,'' Teague said. "It's a battle. After the middle of the season, the thing that helped me the most was knowing that all of my brothers had my back."
Nobody should need proof of that, but the first thing teammate Alexander Teich talked about in Saturday's post-game news conference was not his own performance — which included 93 rushing yards, a touchdown and a big kickoff return — but the way Teague handled failure and rose above it.
"He's an example of the team, a guy who took all the pressure and took all the criticism and stayed the course,'' Teich said. "Those two kicks he made today were the most important two kicks of the season, and he was ice."
There are more important challenges ahead, of course. All the seniors who played their final Army-Navy football game Saturday move on to a five-year commitment as military officers. Teague will soon be headed for flight school and a career as a pilot in the Marine Corps. Against that backdrop, kicking two field goals and three extra points against Army might not seem all that significant, but you can bet that Teague will remember this day for the rest of his life.
"It couldn't have ended better for someone like Jon, who had to persevere through so much criticism,'' Niumatalolo said. "It's part of the deal, but I felt for the kid. He's a great kid. He's one of the most special kids you're ever going to meet."
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.
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