Standing up to sing “Blue and Gold” after the Army/Navy Game was something I had done forever. Since I was a student at the Naval Academy, while I was in Afghanistan as a Second Lieutenant, and in the bars, living rooms, and assorted back corners in which I have watched the game over the years. And lucky for me, Navy has beaten Army 14 consecutive times—since 2001—so I’ve been accustomed to celebrating after the biggest rivalry of the year.
As tradition has it, the winner of the Army/Navy game gets to sing their school’s alma mater second. That was always my favorite part of the game, watching Army sing as the opening act, then watching our players—the headliners— run across the field to the Brigade to boisterously and boastfully sing “Blue and Gold.”
I could wax poetic about how the Army/Navy Game is the greatest rivalry game in all of college football, but I will try and keep my love for this game brief. Forget rankings, conferences, the CFB Playoff, and the NFL Draft because 99 percent of these players in this game will not play in the NFL. They’re not even thinking about it. Instead, six months after this game, all of the seniors on both teams will accept a commission in the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps and begin their service in the defense of America. Oh, you want to talk about draft prospects?
The fact that there is a bigger mission creates a mutual respect amongst both sides, but a ferocity in the competition. As service members, we are on the same team for 364 days of the year, but for 1 cold day in December, we are the most bitter of enemies.
As a plebe (freshman), every time you squared a corner in our dormitory you screamed GO NAVY or BEAT ARMY. While a Midshipman at Navy, we went 8-0 against our service academy rivals (Army and Air Force), winning the Commander in Chiefs Trophy for four consecutive years.
That kind of dominance creates not only the culture of winning, but also the expectation. And man, does winning feel good. Even after I graduated, Navy continued to dominate the rivalry. Even the years when the games were tighter, we somehow found a way to win each and every year.
The Streak was a source of pride at the Naval Academy. No senior class wanted to be the one that lost to Army and ended the streak. The game is not just about bragging rights between the Corps and the Brigade. Instead, the eyes of the armed forces serving all over the world are fixated on this game.
This year, Navy entered the game against Army reeling after a devastating 34-10 loss to Temple in the American Athletic Conference Title game. In that game, Navy lost its starting quarterback Will Worth and two starting running backs for the rest of the season. Losing Worth hurt most, not just because he led the NCAA in rushing touchdowns, but also because he was Navy’s unlikely hero—the senior backup quarterback who took over when Navy’s first string QB tore his ACL in the opening game of the year.
The loss to Temple and of three key players meant Navy’s quest for a conference title and a berth in the Cotton Bowl were over. But we still had one shining light: We could still beat Army.
On the other hand, Army entered the game on the strength of their first winning season since 2011. Already eligible for a bowl, Army had three weeks to rest for the big game, whereas Navy would be playing for eight straight weeks. Call it what you will—bravado or arrogance or the will to win—I still agreed with my friends that Navy was the better team. In our eyes, the streak would continue.
Army’s preparation showed as they stormed to a 14-0 halftime lead, running their triple option to perfection while capitalizing on Navy’s turnovers and sluggishness on defense.
After a cringe-worthy halftime appearance by our President-elect, Navy mounted a comeback. Army committed two turnovers that led to 10 quick Navy points. Then, in the beginning of the fourth quarter, Navy third string QB Zach Abey, who earlier looked distraught after a disastrous first half, took the ball 41 yards on a QB keeper to finally give us the lead at 17-14. I celebrated gleefully, thinking that now that Navy finally had control, we would close them out and keep the streak going.
Yet Army didn’t back down, marching methodically down the field to retake the lead with a TD. Navy was in an unfamiliar situation: down 21-17 with 6 minutes to go. We got the ball back, but I started to sweat as Army played an inspired defensive possession, forcing us to punt with 4 minutes remaining.
This didn’t feel right. Usually Navy was the team in control late in the game, with the ball and a comfortable lead, but now the shoe was on the other foot and we needed a miracle to stay in the game. When Army’s fullback barreled through the line for the game clinching first down, that was it. My heart sank as the cameras panned to the cadets celebrating wildly, while the midshipmen looked on with despair.
Shortly thereafter, the cannon sounded signaling the end of the game.
The Corps of Cadets stormed the field at M&T Bank Stadium, celebrating with the players who ended nearly a decade and a half of losing. As I sang “Blue and Gold,” I felt for the Navy seniors. Injured and undermanned, they fought valiantly to preserve the streak and Beat Army yet again, but this was not a year for last-drive heroics. We finished our song, and now it was Army’s turn.
I watched as the Corps stormed onto the field in celebration, gleefully singing their alma mater, then continued to break out into raucous cheers after the song was complete. I couldn’t believe the breach of decorum—Navy had never stormed the field after beating Army— but I understood their exuberance. Having been in South Bend in 2007 after Navy ended a 44-year streak of losing to Notre Dame, I know what it feels like to finally get that monkey off of your back and beat your big brother.
Much like Navy’s victory over Notre Dame that year, Army’s victory was fully deserved. I don’t know whether it was stupidity or curiosity or masochism, but I found myself scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, where I saw the raw reaction, the stupefied elation of my friends and colleagues affiliated with West Point and the Army as they celebrated this victory in all corners of the globe. After being on the other side of the coin for so long, I guess they deserve to gloat.
It seems only fitting that in 2016, which saw the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Cavaliers win titles to end their losing streaks, that Army would follow the trend. I take some solace in the universe having a bigger mission.
After all, that’s the thing about all streaks in sports. You appreciate them, you enjoy them while they happen, but at some point they come to an end. A streak over your rival is all the more impressive, if I do say so myself. And because of that, I’m proud of the 14 consecutive years that Navy sang second. While I congratulate the Army team on their victory, I’m also quick to remind myself that there are 363 days until a new streak begins.