Published December 10, 2011
Every year, something miraculous happens in December in America -- the Army-Navy football game. It is one of the most fabled and long-standing rivalries in American athletics.
Navy Midshipmen and Army Cadets spend their entire four years of college saying, "Beat Army" or "Beat Navy" dozens of times a day.
In the weeks leading up to the contest both Academies wage mock war against each other – with pranks, commando raids and high jinx. On game day the Armed Forces network broadcasts it around the world. Soldiers will listen in from their posts in the war zones. Sailors will tune in from the high seas.
Not only is the Army-Navy game one of the oldest college football competitions in the nation, in many ways it is one of the best.
It’s not that the football is great, because it’s usually not. The young men who play for Army or Navy weren’t recruited by the top university teams – they’re too small, or too light. They aren’t semi-professional football stars, living, eating and studying apart from their college classmates.
The men who play at West Point or Annapolis major in physics or electrical engineering and spend more time doing homework and marching in drills than at football practice. When they graduate they won’t be drafted by the NFL.
It is the last organized football game most of them will ever play. In a few months time, they will be ensigns standing watch on ships in the Pacific, marine lieutenants flying helicopter reconnaissance missions, and army lieutenants in remote, forward operating bases in Afghanistan.
So why is the Army-Navy game one of the best in college football? Because it is a metaphor for what is best about America. It shows us that we are at our best when we fight ferociously in the game, but afterwards, no matter who wins or who loses, we come together as brothers.
The finest moment of the game comes after the whistle blows. At the end, no fans rush onto the field. Nor do they head for their cars to get ahead of the traffic. They stand at their seats, take off their hats, and put their hands on their hearts. The entire stadium is silent, respectful, alert.
The players didn’t do war dances or whoops of victory, either. Both teams meet at the 50-yard line, shake hands and pat the backs of their opponents. They take off their helmets, tuck them under their arms and walk together to losing team's side.
Last year it was a Navy victory, so both teams sang the West Point to Alma Mater to the entire 4,000 Corps of Cadets. Then they all turned and walked over to the Navy side of the field and sang to the 4,000 Brigade of Midshipmen.
If you looked up at the stadium screens you could see that many of the players had tears in their eyes. If you looked at your neighbors in the stands, they did too. Because what everyone in that stadium witnesses at every Army-Navy Game is the miracle that is America – that after the fiercest of contests we can rise above the victory or the defeat and come together as one nation. Regardless of our religion, family heritage or political affiliation, we are first and foremost, Americans. As much as our differences matter to us, our shared patrimony matters more.
Today the Army Navy game is being played in Washington, D.C. rather than its traditional home in Philadelphia.
All the senior leaders of government will be there. The president and vice president will attend, as will the leaders of Congress from both parties and all ends of the political spectrum.
Let's pray they get more out of today than a good football game. Let's pray that they will take to heart the miracle of the game, and follow the example of the cadets and midshipmen and realize that it is possible to lay down our rivalries and animosities and suspicions, and realize that we’re in this together -- and that what is more important that being a Republican or a Democrat is being an American.
Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's DefCon 3. She is a Distinguished Adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger’s November 1984 "Principles of War Speech" which laid out the Weinberger Doctrine. Be sure to watch "K.T." every Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on FoxNews.com's "DefCon3"-- already one of the Web's most watched national security programs.