Army-Navy game: A rivalry with no rivals

Posted: December 03, 2012

The dogs always go in first. They are thickly muscled through the shoulders, with chests like linebackers.

Black Labs.

Bomb sniffers.

Educated noses.

They will set about their business with no nonsense, no distractions. No petting allowed. And definitely no doggy treats. This is serious stuff, for they are the first line of defense in the protection of the commander in chief, and long hours before Army-Navy kicks off Saturday, the educated noses will have completed their rounds.

And then, at precisely 15 minutes past high noon, in stirring lockstep, there will commence the March In. When finished, the floor of Lincoln Financial Field will be carpeted end to end by our best and brightest, by the Long Gray Line of Army and by the Navy Blue of the Brigade of Midshipmen. It makes an imposing sight, and hawk or dove, you cannot help but be moved.

Then, for the 113th time, there will unfold a rivalry like no other, warrior patriots playing into the December gloaming, knowing that at game's end they will be transformed from football players into a Band of Brothers, tethered to each other by a common cause, and told: All that we want is all that you have.

And this: All will give some, and some will give all.

Consider this moment in the 2004 game. Army, winless, is behind by 29 points. There are 35 seconds remaining. Army is facing 4th and 14. And yet Army rushes to spend its last timeout, trying to squeeze one more down, one more snap, out of the most lost of lost causes. Why?

Because surrender is unthinkable, on the playing field and most definitely on the battlefield. In the poet's words: "I'll lay me down and bleed a while, And then I'll rise and fight again."

Cadets vs. Midshipmen may be lacking in aesthetics from time to time, but never, ever, is there a lack of passion and flame. They live for this time. When it is done, when the last cannon has been fired, each takes off his golden helmet, each stands straight as a bayonet, and each salutes his foe, for each has been told: Cherish your opponent, for he can bring out the best in you.

And then you can, if you choose, blame the cold for that tear in your eye.

Thunder and echoes

Yes, there it is . . . hear it . . . feel it? Time to shake down the thunder, to awaken the long-ago echoes and, if you are a true Golden Domer, time to celebrate lost glory, to call up the Four Horsemen and Rockne, the Gipper, and Touchdown Jesus, and, of course, Rudy, and if all this is just a little too precious and laid on way too thick for you, then gag me with a spoon.

Notre Dame.

Two words that are incendiary, that can empty Paddy's liquid emporium in 27 seconds. And for five more weeks Notre Dame football will be around to inflame the non-Irish populace. Notre Dame, after years of struggle, had the audacity to go undefeated and to do so without any warning at all, and that gaudy 12-0 record has sprung the Irish square into the game for the national championship.

This being Notre Dame, The Twitter lines crackle in blue flame (Sample: "You couldn't go .500 if you played in the SEC.")

The two biggest surprises of this season have come in South Bend and in Happy Valley, and it probably isn't a coincidence that We Are . . . Still Penn State, and Cheer, cheer for old . . . - that both of them have just enough arrogance and air of superiority and entitlement to set teeth itching in other precincts. Envy will do that.

In a time of psychedelic uniforms and the five-receiver spread offense, Notre Dame harks back with its punishing running game and a snarling defense that yielded only nine touchdowns. Total.

The Irish also managed to get themselves in some dicey fixes, but they also managed to get out of those fixes with overtime wins, opponents missing field goals, questionable officiating, and, of course, that old reliable standby, the luck of the Irish.

The linebacker Manti Te'o, who is being pushed for the Heisman, was asked what he told his mates. "They're not going to score," he said. And they didn't.

Sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be.

The Macho Man

He wore spangles and bangles and bright shiny beads, and a spit curl in the middle of his forehead that he called Satan's tail, and he roamed all the dark and dangerous places with a child-of-the-streets cock-of-the-walk strut, and he could throw a five-punch combination that was all blurs of feet and fist and left you blinking tears.

There wasn't a pharmaceutical he hadn't drunk, snorted, chewed, or injected and he wrecked a Ferrari, a Lotus, a Corvette, and a Lamborghini, and walked, laughing, away from them all. And we took side bets on his chances of making it to 30.

Somehow he got to 50, and might still be going but for a drive-by assassin's bullet a few days back. Thus ended the tumultuous, chaotic life of Hector Camacho, self-anointed Macho Man.

There's something about professional fist fighters that I have always found perversely compelling, and Hector Camacho was prominent on that roll call.

Here was a fearless loudmouth who was oddly galvanizing, who got by on wit and quick, who lived the lifestyle of Caligula, and by all rights and reason was fortunate to even be alive, let alone still fighting. And yet he fought for 30 years. Thirty. In that span he won championships in three weight divisions and compiled a record of 79-6-3.

For his last fight, he was already 48. In boxing there is only one certitude: You retire only so you can unretire. It's more addictive than any drug.

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