If you love college football, you love Army-Navy.
The annual game between the county’s East Coast military academies represents everything that’s great about the sport.
It’s steeped in tradition from the pre-game “prisoner exchange” of “captured” cadets and midshipmen to the winners singing their alma mater second at the end of the game.
The teams have varied in quality throughout the years. This year’s game should be a good one, with the 9-2 Midshipmen ranked No. 21 in the country and the Black Knights featuring a top-30 defense as they try to win their fourth straight against Navy.
There will be few, if any, future NFLers on the field on Saturday afternoon. Instead, future sailors and soldiers will continue their careers not on the gridiron, but in the service of the country.
In a college football landscape infested with pay-for-play schemes, bag men, predatory agents, millionaire coaches and a pervasive subservience to the almighty dollar, Army-Navy is one of the few times a year that college football still feels like college football.
There’s nothing wrong with players getting paid, in fact I’m in favor of them being able to profit from their name, image and likeness, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with football teams being the revenue drivers for what is currently the largest and most diverse collection of amateur athletics the world has ever seen at the Division I level.
But as the sport and the landscape has changed, it is good to be reminded that not everyone is waiting for their NFL payday, not every athletic department is guided solely by dollars and sense, and many people, all across college sports, are playing simply for the love of the game.
That is what is celebrated on the second Saturday of December in Philadelphia, in addition to the service and sacrifice that the young men and women at our academies: the willingness of young people to uphold and honor traditions and play the game the way it used to be played.
Whether you have a rooting interested or not, patriotic or agnostic, it’s a game and a moment worth celebrating.
And if you do tune in this Saturday, keep your eyes peeled for the nine WPIAL alums that will be playing in the game:
RB Connor Slomka (Pine-Richland)
OL Nick Kotok (Moon)
WR Ryan Jackovic (Quaker Valley)
TE Jake Lauer (Franklin Regional)
DL Ryan Duran III (Pine-Richland)
LS Michael Pifer (Penn-Trafford)
SB Carlinos Acie (McKeesport)
G Niko Yaramus (Moon)
WR Aleksei Yaramus (Moon)
Also, if you do have a rooting interest in this game, leave a comment about who you want to win and why.