College FB: Midshipmen dominating Army-Navy series

PHILADELPHIA — The Army-Navy game has always been about celebrating the brotherhood of the military. It’s about the fight songs and chants, the salutes, and pride of playing for servicemen all around the world.

Forget bowl games and Notre Dame. Army and Navy are always the most meaningful names on each other’s schedules.

The game has meant something else this decade: Navy domination.

Good thing it’s called the Army-Navy game. It’s about the only time Army comes out on top.

“We’ve got respect for people at West Point and Army,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “But for this one day, we’re going to both try to beat each other’s brains in.”

When President George W. Bush attends the 109th meeting between the two service academies Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, he’ll see the latest game in a series that has never been so severely lopsided.

The Midshipmen are 52-49-7 against Army, their biggest lead in a series that began in 1890. Navy became the first team in the series to win six straight after last year’s 38-3 victory in Baltimore.

Navy has won 12 straight times against Air Force and Army since 2002, outscoring the programs 407-205 during the streak.

The pregame and postgame festivities have become wildly more fun to watch than the game.

“I don’t want to go out of the Army saying I never beat Navy, because every time you talk to a soldier out there (and) they find out you played Army football, one of the first things they ask you is, ‘Did you beat Navy?”’ said Army senior linebacker John Plumstead. “I definitely want to be able to tell them, ‘Yeah, I beat Navy.”’

This one, though, doesn’t figure to be much closer. While the Black Knights (3-8) are again trying to end their season with a win, Navy (7-4) still has one more game left on the schedule. The Mids have accepted a bid to play in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 20 in Washington — their sixth straight bowl game.

Navy seems to have an anchor attached to that Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. With a win, Niumatalolo would become just the second service academy coach to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in his first year, joining Navy’s George Welsh in 1973. Niumatalolo has picked up right where former coach Paul Johnson left off.

Army coach Stan Brock was an offensive tackle in the NFL for New Orleans and San Diego and played for the Chargers in the 1995 Super Bowl. He said it was unfair to his seniors to label them as three-time losers to Navy because most of them weren’t key contributors in any of those games. Brock knows how badly his seniors want to win this one and called this patriotic series “10 times bigger than the Super Bowl.”

“If you go the Super Bowl, and it’s in a 70,000-seat stadium, the majority of those people at the game are not rooting for either of the teams. When you go to the Army-Navy game, there are 70,000 people in that stadium that this game means the world,” he said. “This is it. Then the people that view this around the world in the military, it really means something to them.”

Brock brought back the option offense to Army, one reason Collin Mooney is only 54 yards away from setting the program’s single-season rushing record. Mooney has rushed for 1,285 yards on 214 carries and is closing in on the 1,338 yards rushing set by Mike Mayweather in 1990.

Mooney said it would be a thrill to set the record in front of the president.

“I’ve never played in front of anybody like that before,” Mooney said. “Playing in a front of a president is a huge deal.”

The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing at 292 yards a game.

The game still serves as a tribute for the troops stationed around the world.

“What I have found since I have been at West Point is that the players don’t truly understand it until they’re out,” Brock said. “Then they’re over in Iraq and they are fighting the war and they see how everybody else is impacted. But until you are out and you see that units in Iraq are shutting down and going to find the smallest TV they can find to watch and to cheer for whoever they want to win, I think that’s when they get a real understanding.”

The Army-Navy game also marks the 45th anniversary of the first use of instant replay, used for the first time by CBS director Tony Verna on Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh’s 1-yard TD run.

For the first time since 2001, Army hopes this is a game it wants to watch again.

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