PHILADELPHIA –– I was in Philadelphia Saturday to see America’s team (not the Dallas Cowboys, who pretentiously claim that title and whom the Philadelphia Eagles defeated Sunday night, though in Dallas) but America’s true teams: Army and Navy.
This was college football at its most idealistic, played by young men, all of whom will turn pro after they graduate, only their commissioner will be the Secretary of Defense and their road trips will be to places that most of us would not want to go to.
Watching the spectacle was very uplifting, and I am not talking about just the football game. Long before the teams kicked off, the Navy’s entire midshipmen corps marched in, all of its members dressed in black coats and white officer’s hats. Then came Army’s Cadets, resplendent in the dress uniforms that historically gave rise to the description “long gray line.”
There were skydivers, a fly-over by Army Apache helicopters and then Navy Jets streaking across the sky. Everything seemed to be done with precision, even perfectly, including the West Point chorus’ singing of the national anthem. Someone in our entourage warned us that she got teary easily, and it didn’t take much for that to happen, if not from the pageantry than maybe from a film clip that featured a former Army football star taking about his experience overseas and the pride he had in his country. The camera pulled back to reveal that that experience had left him with artificial legs. Yet, he assured us, he had no regrets.
Being there kindled a memory from my childhood. One Saturday after Thanksgiving I went downtown shopping with my father. We stopped at the Sazerac bar in the Roosevelt Hotel where he visited an old friend working behind the counter. At one end of the bar was a small TV set showing the Army-Navy game. I watched it with awe while my dad sipped a drink with his friend; nevertheless, I discovered the Army-Navy game on the same day that I discovered Sazeracs. I have experienced the latter far more than I have experienced the former, but now that I have experienced both, that’s worth drinking to.
My group at the game was solidly pro-Navy, no doubt influenced by a niece who is a senior at Annapolis and preparing to be a flight officer, They were benevolent enough to still accept me when I told them that my family’s heritage, including my father who was a medic at both Normandy and The Bulge, is Army. I have great admiration for the American Navy, whose first ships, dating back to colonial times, were built nearby along the Philadelphia docks, but I am in awe of those with boots on the ground working their way in hostile places through enemy minefields, both militarily and sociologically. I was not against Navy, but I was pulling for Army.
Unfortunately rooting for the Cadets is a losing cause, now for the ninth year in a row, though the game was closer than the 31-17 score indicated. (I finished the year with a .500 average at Army-watching. Earlier in the year I saw the Cadets rumble over Tulane in the Dome.)
Later that evening we were in the hotel elevator. There was one other passenger, a man in his 20s wearing a cap with the very prominent “A.” As he got out, I yelled to him, “Next year is the year.” He smiled, and we exchanged thumbs-up. And the caissons go rolling along.
NEW: SEE ERROL LABORDE’S MARDI GRAS VIDEO HERE.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival- Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e-mail at email@example.com or (504) 895-2266).
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. ON WYES-TV, CHANNEL 12.