By Darren Podolak (He’s in the middle of the featured picture)

I used to think I knew what a rivalry looked like. I’m a graduate of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, which is exactly one half of the “The Rivalry” between Lehigh and Lafayette College in Easton,PA. “The Rivalry” is the most played football rivalry in the nation and I’ve experienced that game and participated in those activities around 10 times. It’s a fun weekend – there’s sports, games, parties, Greek events, fundraisers, pep rallies, and plenty of other sanctioned (as well as lots of unsanctioned) college competition-related events centered around determining which school comes out on top. It’s Us vs.Them, and only one can prevail.

“The Rivalry” is great, don’t get me wrong – but the Army-Navy game makes “The Rivalry” look a little bit like a petty elementary school quarrel.
I’m not sure there’s a competitive rivalry in the nation that matches Army-Navy in the level of intensity, amount of tradition, high-profile focus, and absolute camaraderie that engulfs both teams, their respective institutions, and also a good portion of the viewing public. I happened to run into the Chief of Naval Operations, the highest ranking military officer in the Navy and four-star admiral, in the elevator on the way down to the field. He made a joke about the cramped elevator being like the living quarters in a submarine. “But Sir,” I said, “we may be on the wrong side of the field for that analogy. We’re on the Army side.” His response back to me was very telling of how both sides really view the Army-Navy rivalry. “Today is all about America and the soldiers and sailors.”

(Note to CNO: Sir, I apologize if I misquoted you or paraphrased as the crowded elevator didn’t allow me to jot down your response, but I believe the message was properly conveyed.)

At the time I wrote off that interaction as merely a politically-correct response to the question, but after I had experienced the game and festivities and had some time to reflect, I truly do think that’s the way both sides view the rivalry at its core. This rivalry isn’t about which team is better, or which school is better, or who can raise the most money. It’s also not about which team or school is worse in any category as well. During every break in play for a commercial or time out, there was some kind of mini-event soaked in tradition or good-will. From the swearing in of future Midshipmen or Cadets, to an advertisement for an armed services blood drive, to an intramural obstacle course between Midshipmen and Cadets, to a car company donating toys – every single second of the contest was really about America and these sailors and soldiers, just like the Admiral said.

The game itself was more exciting in person than anyone expected it to be on paper. Army was the heavy favorites and every bookie from here to Vegas had their money on them, but those that knew the rivalry knew that Navy was going to put up a fight – and fight they did. The entire game came down to a single turnover in the waning minutes of regulation, and had that turnover been avoided Navy would have looked very good to take the game to overtime or potentially win with a 2-point conversion. That was not to be, though, and Army was able to extend their (long awaited) win streak against Navy to 3 years. Army won the football game, but America won the day.