KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – There was plenty of banter between eight friends Tuesday night at Amvets Post 86.
“We’re kicking your bootie,” Ricky McLoughlin said before raising his bottle of beer.
“It’s a rivalry game and anything can happen in a rivalry game,” said Eddie Gardowski.
The annual football game is the greatest rivalry in sports. It’s also the single game that brings a nation together. Televisions will be tuned solely to Saturday’s game (3 p.m., CBS) at the post that serves veterans from all five branches of the military. The same will go for American Legion and VFW posts throughout the country, as well as many homes.
“At the end, we’re all on the same team,” said Tony Crosby, a Navy veteran. “It really doesn’t matter who wins. We all just want a good game.”
The military rivals first played in Philadelphia in 1890 with Navy winning, 24-0. Navy holds a 60-52-7 lead in the all-time series, but Army’s won three in-a-row to snap Navy’s 14-year winning streak. Navy enters kickoff inside the Lincoln Financial Field ranked 23rd with a 9-2 record. Army is 5-7.
“The one thing that makes this game so special, it’s the only game you’ll watch where the players are willing to die for you,” said Navy’s Jud Hayes.
Navy’s Jerry Smith remembered being in Vietnam for one Army-Navy game. He said the war took an afternoon off so soldiers and sailors could watch football.
“The base shut down,” he said. “No planes took off. Everyone got together and watched the game on TV. Since I was with Navy and Marines, it was pretty one-sided. Everybody gets so hyped-up.”
Gardowski, an Army veteran, left the Middle East in time to be in the stands for an Army-Navy game. He said the pageantry and patriotism of the game was overwhelming.
“They bused us in for the game and paraded us around,” he said. “I just got home from Desert Storm. I was tired of being in the desert and all of a sudden, I was at a football game. The atmosphere was incredible. Navy planes flew overhead pulling banners that said ‘Go Navy. Beat Army.’ The game was fun. When you’re an active soldier, it matters a lot.”
So big, President Donald Trump will participate in the pre-game coin flip for the third consecutive year.
“And it’s the only game on that day,” Gardowski said. “That’s pretty special.”
Unlike other notable rivalries, Army-Navy doesn’t need a catchy nickname. Alabama-Auburn is known as the Iron Bowl. Ohio State-Michigan is known as The Game. Oklahoma-Texas (Red River Rivalry), Florida-Georgia (World’s Largest Cocktail Party) and Utah-BYA (Holy War) are other big-named annual events.
Army-Navy doesn’t need a nickname. Army-Navy says it all.
Navy’s Diane Carter will be one of many who will make the game a central part of a busy day. She will join other members of her post at the annual Wreaths Across America at the Keystone Heights Memorial Gardens at noon, then host an open house at Post 86, followed by the game. The day-long celebration will end with a post-game party.
“People will pat you on the back,” she said. “It’s a big day for a lot of people. It’s the one day everybody is a football fan, not just a Navy fan or Army fan.”
The party is expected to be so big, Gardowski said some veterans will sleep in campers in the parking lot so they won’t have to drive home.