The Full Nelson

A few weeks ago I couldn’t find GW students a college football team but now I realize where I went wrong. It was an easy mistake to make yet, so stupid. Now though, I have found a suitable team. here’s how.

I was invited to the Northwestern vs. Navy game by my girlfriend’s father, uncle, and older brother. (Right off the bat, that sentence tells you two things. a) Despite the goofy looking picture of me used for this column, someone actually dates me. and no, I don’t pay her. b) Finding a football team was not my main priority that day. My main priority was – “don’t say anything stupid that will make my girlfriend’s family hate me forever.”)

My girlfriend’s brother lives in Annapolis with his fiance, and my girlfriend’s father and uncle drove down from Buffalo for the weekend. My better half and I made the hour drive up there with little incident – my only gripe was the profanities that flew every time I had to frantically change lanes, but all in all, it was a nice little drive.

An hour and a half before kickoff, we separated. The two women stayed at the apartment, while the three men and the little lady- me when I’m nervous- went off to the game. We parked a few blocks from the out-of-sight stadium and began to walk.

As we got closer, I could see all these tents and flags in the parking lot. Many had numbers – ’56, ’64, ’78 – which I soon realized were former classes tailgating. There were older men talking and laughing with younger folks while little kids ran around – very reminiscent of a picnic. Other groups had men and women in their 30’s, some with spouses and families, all sitting around a grill, making some burgers and having a good time.

This was pretty cool, I thought. The camaraderie created by going through the Naval Academy stays with these men and women for their entire lives. I’m just hoping I stay in touch with a few college friends years after I’ve finished the Gdub. Definitely a nice atmosphere before the game. Each class was like a big family. Group hug.

Closing in on the stadium, I was surprised at its structure. Rather than the bowl I was expecting there were two grandstands, one on each side of the field, upper and lower decks on each. Behind each end zone there was a large patch of grass, one held the locker rooms while the other, on a steep hill, held some small bleachers.

To be honest, it was a little disappointing from a distance. Not the overpowering feeling I usually get walking up to a football stadium (although I’m spoiled having gone to Lambeau Field several times (note to reader: every time you read Lambeau Field, please read it in your head with a low, bellowing voice. Thank you.)

As we got closer, I could see writing on the face of the upper decks. I assumed they were famous Navy players although there were an awful lot of names. Besides Roger Staubach, I couldn’t think of any other famous Navy football players, so I was looking forward to seeing which greats attended the Naval Academy.

But then I made out some names on those grandstand faces. Midway. Guadalcanal. Pearl Harbor, to name a few, listed from one end to the other.

Not great Navy players – great Navy battles. Not individuals -entire fleets. Wow.I mean.Wow.or to put it another way.Wow. You really have to see it to get the full effect (and it helps if you don’t know its going to be there, which I just ruined for you) but that overpowering feeling hit me after all. And it hit me hard.

How great was this. Honestly, I was just blown away.

In post Sept. 11 America, there have been tons of articles and stories and TV packages about sports being put into perspective but this affected me more than anything I had seen or read. For the Northwestern players, this game would be as much pressure as they faced all week, that is the game was probably their biggest concern.

But for Navy players (and the Naval Academy students in the stands), this was their getaway. During the week they had to worry about Afghanistan and Iraq. While football was still important, I imagine pressure came from other places. Maybe I’m being melodramatic here, but the men who had played for this football team and sat in those stands had served this country, some died for this country – and not just in World Wars. There were so many names of strictly military operations, including Somalia and Kosovo, and even Enduring Freedom.

I know I’m getting gushy here, so I’ll stop. But needless to say, my opinion of the stadium had changed. Powerful stuff, I tell you. Powerful stuff.

Upon arriving at the gates, I had to buy a ticket. $19 for those bleachers at the top of the hill seemed a little steep, but I considered it a contribution to the academy. Besides, I live in Washington and attend GW, so I’m used to paying way too much for most things. I bought my ticket, and we headed in.

These were some sorry looking bleachers. I’m talking middle school soccer field bleachers that should have had nurses on hand with tetanus shots. They were also pretty far from the field. Luckily, I was with intelligent men (was that too much? Do I just look like a brown nose here? I’ll have to remember to change that later), so we decided to sit on the hill, which was more comfortable and gave us a better view. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, with an hour until kickoff.

Only problem with the hill was my tush started to fall asleep after 20 minutes. So I got up to get a soda and look at the souvenir stand. I’ll tell you straight away that I am a complete sucker for souvenirs. The people at the stands see me coming and call home to tell their wives to dress the kids because the family is getting steak tonight. Let’s just say that if the toilet paper had Navy emblems on it, I’d take a square. If it had the date, I’d take the whole roll.

Well, I ended up with a Navy sweatshirt and a souvenir cup from the soda. I like both, and probably needed neither. But oh well, everyone has their vices. My roommates’ is gambling, mine is souvenirs. We both lose money.

Shortly after I returned to the hill, they started marching each division of the naval academy into the stadium. They were in their dress whites, and walked in perfect harmony. Group by group they entered the stadium and took their place on the field. And they just kept coming.

Twenty minutes later, the entire field was filled with members of the Naval Academy and the crowd had filed into the stadium. The Midshipmen on the field turned to the visiting side of the stadium (a large contingent of Northwestern fans there), and began to shout out “N – O – R – T – H – W – E – S – T – E – R – N .. Go Northwestern.” Upon finishing, they tipped their caps to the Northwestern fans. The Midshipmen were not extremely loud or enthusiastic, but it still seemed an odd thing to do.

Then the Midshipmen did an about face, and yelled to the Navy side of the stadium “N – A – V – Y..Goooooooooo Navy.” This time they were loud and enthusiastic. It was a nice show of sportsmanship to the visitors and a fine tradition. I was feeling very patriotic at this point, and had great admiration for the men and women standing on the field. Moreover, I was getting excited for the game.

The Star-Spangled Banner followed, and with the men and women who serve this country in the same stadium, it seemed to have an added effect.

Near the end of the anthem, I could see four fighter jets off in the distance, headed our way. For anyone who has been to a sporting event where jets flew overhead, you know how electric it is. They got closer and closer, louder and louder, and then pppppsssssshhhhhhhhhheeeeeewwwww, right past us. Those people in the stadium who did not have goose bumps were pronounced dead at the scene. I absolutely loved it. I turned to my girlfriend’s father and asked, “Where do I enlist?”

The Midshipmen then took their place in the stands, and the game got underway. After a Northwestern punt, Navy took over, and had a 50-yard touchdown run only minutes into the game. As soon as the running back crossed the goal line, two things happened. A few officers set off a loud cannon, and a huge group of Midshipmen stormed the field. It was explained to me that the freshmen run out on the large patch of grass behind the end zone, and do a pushup for each point scored. For a touchdown, they stop after six, stay in the pushup position, and wait for the extra point to be kicked. When it goes through, they do another pushup.

What a great tradition. I was eating this stuff up. I’m small, scrawny, and had to do girl push-ups until high school, but I wanted to charge that field and do some pushups, too. How could I have been at GW for three years, and never have gone to a Navy game? I was kicking myself.

Northwestern responded in the game with a touchdown of their own, and the scoring barrage began. I don’t remember what the exact score at the end of the first quarter was, but it was close. Having noticed plenty of empty seats in the upper grandstand, we decided to move. This came as good news to me, because my left cheek was fast asleep and my right cheek had just brushed its teeth and changed into pajamas. We made our way up and found four empty seats surrounded by many other empty seats. These seats were more comfortable and the view was even better. We stayed here for the remainder of the game.

The game went on, back and forth, and it was exciting. The freshmen did pushups, pushups, and more pushups, while the Northwestern cheerleaders (all six of them) did pushups each time Northwestern scored. The final was 49-40 Northwestern (too many turnovers by Navy in the red zone), and for the last touchdown by the Wildcats, only the three female cheerleaders did the pushups. The three male cheerleaders just stood over them, and one even flexed his muscle to the Navy crowd. Back where I come from, this is called “cruisin’ for a bruisin’ (I come from 2nd grade). Of all the places to taunt the fans, it seemed the Naval Academy might not be the wisest choice. When I pointed this out to girlfriend’s brother, he said it was all in good fun, and he was right.

Everything about the Navy football game was in good fun. Great traditions, great atmosphere, and a relaxing day of football. Yes, the Navy team is pretty bad, and it’s not Florida – Florida St. But the Navy games make your realize that Florida – Florida St. takes itself too seriously. Pre-game fights? I guess when you may be fighting in Iraq next year, you don’t care to fight your opponent before a football game.

The reason I overlooked Navy in my last column was because of the “Brewers rule.” This rule stated that GW fans should pick a team to cheer for that actually has a chance at winning a national championship. What I failed to realize is that Navy, unlike other schools, has a national championship game every single year. It’s called the Army-Navy game, and if you don’t think it has a national championship atmosphere, then you’ve never watched one. The teams may be lousy, but the bragging rights mean more to the students, alumni, and fans than any other college football game (and I would argue any other rivalry in sports).

Now that I’ve been to a Navy football game, I hope to go back. And one day, I’d like to attend an Army-Navy game. I could never root against the Army because my grandfather was a soldier in World War II and my father was in the reserves, but I would still enjoy the game immensely.

As for the rest of you GW fans, I strongly recommend going to a game in Annapolis. It’s a beautiful city, it’s close by, and it’s a great way to spend a Saturday. I’d also like to point out that they have similar colors to GW – gold and blue. I only say similar because Michael, a GW alumnus, wrote in to point out that our colors are not gold and blue, like Pittsburgh’s as I said in my last column. They’re buff and blue. Thanks Michael, and I hope you start rooting for Navy.

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