On playing Navy

Saturday evening I attended the Memphis vs. Navy football game at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. I’d prefer not to write about the game, for obvious reasons, but I do have something to say about our opponent, the Midshipmen from Annapolis. This was the first sporting event I have ever attended that involved one of our service academies. Having been in the Navy myself in a previous life, I typically pull for the Midshipmen — except when they play Memphis. I was so hoping the home crowd would refrain from booing Navy like we usually do the visiting team. Fortunately, the visitors entered the field to what I would call polite applause. So far, so good.

I was really interested to see how the Navy team and its fans conducted themselves, not in a judgemental way, but just to see if there was something different about them. And believe me, playing a service academy gives you a different sort of opponent. For one thing, Navy is an incredibly disciplined football team, which is exactly what I would expect from a group of future Naval officers. For example, Navy committed zero turnovers. (Memphis, uncharacteristically, committed three.) Navy committed two penalties for five yards, and one of those penalties was an intentional delay of game flag when they were trying to draw the Tigers offsides on 4th-and-4. (Memphis committed 4 penalties for 43 yards — a low figure for us.) Navy runs what’s called a triple option offense, which is quite rare, and I hope to never see it again because the Midshipmen executed it to near perfection and shredded the Tigers’ run defense. In a nutshell, the Midshipmen did not make mistakes.

Aside from the team were a smattering of Navy fans blended into the crowd. Some were even around me. They represented the academy well. The ones I saw were not caustic the way Ole Miss visiting fans can be. Navy even brought its own band, a cadre of sharp-dressed cadets who were serious about representing the academy well. (I do love the uniform.) Our season tickets place us on the third row at the 21-yard line of the visiting side, so the Navy team and its accessories were right there in front of me. There were a handful of Navy and Marine Corps officers (and a master chief petty officer) on the sidelines with the team. I’m not sure what their role was, but they were all in dress uniforms (again, very sharp, flawless appearance). The only other penalty committed by Navy was a personal foul when Memphis had the ball inside the Navy 1-yard line (so the penalty amounted to about a foot). One of the Naval officers, a captain, looked none too pleased about the personal foul. I don’t know if the player got an earful behind closed doors, but it appears the academy does not look too favorably on personal fouls in their football games (except maybe when they play Army).

During one of the timeouts, the University of Memphis honored a wheelchair-bound World War II Navy veteran with shaky hands for his service nearly 75 years ago. When it was over and they were wheeling him off the field, I watched this group of Navy and Marine Corps officers walk along the sideline and into the tunnel, presumably to meet the elderly man who had just been honored.

I hate that Memphis lost that game. Navy is a good team. They came into the game at 6-1, so we knew we’d have our hands full. And the Midshipmen were simply a better team than Memphis on Saturday evening. Aside from my disappointment over the game’s outcome, I was pleased by how the Navy team and its supporters conducted themselves in our stadium. It’s not that I hold them to a higher standard than myself, but I just wanted to see that the Navy is still the class organization I left 24 years ago. Again, the team isn’t just a group of college-age football players. These are all future Naval officers. These are the individuals who will soon be defending America’s freedom. It’s obvious that great emphasis is placed on honor and dignity when the Midshipmen wear the uniform (both the football uniform and the military uniform). I guess they know people are watching them, expecting them to be different, exclusive even. And they are. 



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