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Steigerwald: Army-Navy Always the Best Game of the College Football Season



So, you think the major college football regular season ended last week? That’s understandable since, on Sunday, the stupid committee revealed the four teams who will play for the Mythical National Championship.

But the regular season has one game left and it’s the best one of the year. It’s Army-Navy in Philadelphia on Saturday. It’s the only FBS game left and it’s always the best college football game of the year.

Not because it has Mythical National Championship ramifications or it’s full of future NFL stars. The fact that it has neither is what makes it great.

It’s real college students and it’s the most intense rivalry in American sports. Forget Ohio State-Michigan forget Yankees-Red Sox. They’re not close.

Neither team is in the Top 25 and neither program has been in the Top 10 since long before any of the guys playing on Saturday were born.

It’s just pure football being played by real college students.

I’m old enough to remember when Army and Navy were two of the top teams in the country. I was in high school when Navy finished as the number two team in the AP Poll and Roger Staubach, who was a junior, won the Heisman Trophy.

Joe Bellino, a running back from Navy had won it in 1960.

Army and Navy could compete with the best teams in the country because those teams also had mostly real college students playing football.

In 1963, Pitt went 9-1. The only loss was to Navy. The late great Beano Cook used to talk about the number of future doctors, dentists, attorneys and CEOs on that Pitt team.

Believe it or not, there was a time when the first priority for college football players, including the stars, was college.

How many future doctors and dentists will be playing in the NCAA Stupid Committee’s Final Four?

You won’t see any Athletic Coaching or General Studies majors playing in Saturday’s game. Players at Navy get to choose between Chemistry, Cyber Operations, Economics, English, General Science, History, Math, Oceanography, Mechanical Engineering, Physics and Political Science.

I always liked the Army-Navy game but really began to love it in the early ‘90’s when I realized it was the greatest rivalry in sports.

In 1991 Navy won to take a 43-42 lead in the series. There were seven ties. Imagine that. After 91 games the series had been tied 42-42-7. Army went on to win the next five games by scores of 25-24, 16-14, 22-20, 14-13 and 28-24.

Panoramic photograph of the 1908 Army-Navy Game at Franklin Field — Library of Congress

Since 2002 Navy has dominated the series, with 14 wins in a row before losing last year. It’s much harder for Army to recruit when the country is at war and September 11, 2001 meant a lot more overseas duty for guys in the army.

You think Pat Narduzzi has a tough time recruiting players for Pitt? Army coach Jeff Monken told USA Today that most of the kids on his roster had never heard of West Point when he recruited them and that includes his starting quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw.

Saturday’s game will be different from any game you’ve watched this season and not just because of the pageantry and the tradition.

Army averages 30.5 yards passing per game.

You read that right.

It’s all about the triple option, which should be a refreshing break from all those spread offenses you see every Saturday and Sunday. Army completed one pass in a 21-16 win over Duke and has won three games without completing a pass.

Navy’s not bringing an aerial circus to Philadelphia. It’s averaging 91.2 yards per game and beat SMU 43-40 without completing a pass.

Sorry, but that is astounding. SMU is a legitimate FBS program and Navy, in an era when 25 passes a game would be considered conservative, not only wins without completing a pass but scores 43 points. Come on.

But you will be seeing the two best running teams in college football and two teams that average over 30 points per game.

Five of the last six games have been decided by one score.

There has not and will not be a game played in college or the NFL that produces the intensity that  the Army-Navy game Saturday will produce and no game that has been played this season will have meant more to the guys playing in it.

There might be a player or two in the game who will get a shot at the NFL after they complete their mandatory service but many will end up being involved in action much more intense than anything produced by a football game and it won’t be in a home game.

And they knew that when they signed up.

The goal on Saturday is to sing second.

Both teams stand in front of the student sections and sing their alma maters after the game. The losers go first.

Best game of the year.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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