Sunday December 9, 2012

Much of college football fandom is taking a breath and waiting for next month's Notre Dame-Alabama game, which will determine the BCS champion. If you are one of those fans, you missed the best rivalry game in the nation.

The 113th Army-Navy game was played Saturday in Philadelphia. To me, there is no better rivalry in college football than this one.

"You hear the phrase ‘hate these guys.' That has no place in a real rivalry," Army coach Rich Ellerson said at a press conference during the run-up to the game -- and he's right.

I have been very fortunate to cover two rivalries that are intense and respectful. For more than two decades, I have been writing about the Williams-Amherst football rivalry. Before I came to the Berkshires, I was a member of the Army Radio Network and reported on the rivalry between the academies.

"The reason this rivalry is on a pedestal in my mind is because of the relationship between the two institutions and the ultimate relationship between the teams," Ellerson said at the press conference. "They share a mission and are similar to one another."

Athletes at the service academies are unlike any other athlete at any of their competing schools.

I don't know of any Division I program that requires students to be at breakfast by 6:55 a.m. and start classes at 7:35. That's what the football players we watched on Saturday had to go through.


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When I was broadcasting Army games, football players had to attend class on Saturday mornings when the Cadets were at home. Imagine you're a starting quarterback and you have a quantum physics class three hours before UConn takes the field at Michie Stadium. That used to be the way it was.

For the time the Black Knights and Midshipmen were on the field, both teams did what they could to win. The game ended, the players gathered, and the seniors realize that while they wore black and white jerseys during the game, they're all on the same team.

To some, it's about the patriotism of future Army, Navy and Marine Corps officers on the field. These young men understand when they accept their appointment to their respective academies -- or to the Air Force Academy -- at the end of the day, they're going to serve.

If you take that part of the equation away, the Army-Navy game is truly about sport. These are players playing for the love of their sport, their school and their country. I don't think it gets much better than that.

Nearly 100 percent of the players on the field Saturday do not have professional sports careers in their future. Alabama and Notre Dame players love their sports and their schools, too. For many of those players, however, the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold in the NFL.

That is why the Williams-Amherst rivalry ranks up with Army-Navy in my eyes.

You have young athletes competing at the top of their game for 60 minutes. There will be tears of joy and tears of sadness at the end of the game no matter what the score. But these players are student-athletes playing for the love of the game.

"It's a rivalry that's founded on mutual respect," Army's Ellerson said. "That gives it a chance to elevate the contest and be an example of how rivalries should be done."

Those are words we should all consider.

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.