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Thursday, November 30, 2006

game time

So we move now into that truly glorious time of year. No Im not talking about Christmas or Saturnalia or whatever you call this ridiculous holiday designed to force me to spend time around family members I m not that fond of, or buy gifts for folks I don’t particularly like. God ,no not christmas with all the forced cheer and twinkling damn lights and tinsel that gets caught in the vacuum cleaner until sometime in march,Christamas, with mistletoe suspended over the head of some chick with string warts who hasn’t been kissed since Nixon was trying to figure out how to get out of his messy little war, Christmas with all the trimmings that I have grown so not fond of over the years. Nope, Not Christmas, but that wonderful time of year when college football is winding into conference championships and bowl games, college hoops are just starting and pro football is heading down the stretch into the playoffs. A glorious time of year. Keep your deck the hall and fa-la-la. Give me a tumbler of Irelands finest and tv’s set to football and college hoops. My idea of a carol is the Notre dame fight song or the sound of Marylands well known rowdy fans chanting verbal nasties at Duke.

We re off to a good start tonight. The ravens of Baltimore(does it occur to anyone else that Poe would roll in his grave at the idea of being the symbol for a football team?He lived in Baltimore less than two years total and was dead drunk in the Horse You Came in On Saloon for most of that. His greatest ties to Baltimore come from dying in the street drunk and frothing at the mouth) have a chance to clinch the division and slap down the trash talkers from Cincinnati who despite repeatedly losing to us claim that they are the better team. Perhaps but that’s not the message that has been on the scoreboard of late. I am pretty sure that the team with the most points at the end of 60 minutes is the winner. Hopefully the result will the same tonight.The ravens have been much better than expected this year with a teeth rattling defense and once Brian Billick realized he could, in fact, be fired, the offensive side has really come on strong. Although the road through Indy, new England and the rest is a tough one, this team has the potential to go to the big one.That comes later, however. Tonight is fried food, cold beer and good football.

College hoops are off to a great start if you re a terps fan. 8-0 playing some pretty good teams for non conference play.They are finally showing the aggressive defense that has long been a hall mark of Gary Williams coached teams. When asked what sparked the sharp improvement over the span of a year, one of the players simply answered “Two years of going to the NIT.” I think this year the team finally gets it. They play in the ACC, arguably the toughest conference in basketball and if you want to go to the dance you have to be very,very good and play your best game, every game. So far, so good.We play Notre dame on Saturday and the ACC division games loom ahead full of Duke, Wake and Carolina—who looked incredible last night knocking off Ohio State. Hopefully my new friends in Kentucky can knock them down a peg or two on Saturday.We re ranked 19th, the womans team is number one and all is good in the land of the roundball.

Saturday brings us an incredible array of college games. Nebrask-Oklahoma in a revival of a historic rivalry for the Big 12 title game. Rutgers against West Virginia in what should be an offensive extravaganza for the Big East Crown. USC against UCLA with all hopes for justice in college football rest on the Bruins knocking off the hated Trojans(by me anyway. Where the hell do they get off beating Notre Dame like that?), Arkansas attempts to return to glory against Florida in the SEC grudgefest. Maryland doesn’t play having lost the chance to play for the ACC football championship. But we are going to a bowl this year coming in with a wining season for the first time in 3 years.

There’s another game Saturday. The 107th meeting of the midshipman of Annapolis against the Long Grey Line of West Point. Hardly a battle of football titans, neither team is ranked although Navy has been a pretty good team the last few years. This matchup is more than a football game for those playing and the middies and cadets in attendance. This is the game, This is the whole year. Navy is 8 and 3 and going to a bowl game again. The team will feel like they failed should the fail to beat Army. Likewise Army has been woeful again this year but will count the year as a triumph should they knock off Navy. The game is the highlight of these player’s football careers. Indeed the seniors on both sides will likely never don pads again after this. More likely the will be clad in Kevlar and body armor in the streets of Iraq than ever play again.

It always strikes me when I watch these games, that everyone on both sides of the ball, and in the stands as well, each and every one of these young men and women were among the best and brightest of our nations youth. Their achievements earned them the congressional appointment to the service academies. Most likely they would have had scholarships available at the Ivy League Schools, Notre Dame, Stanford, anywhere they wanted to go. Yet, in one of the more dangerous times in our countries history, actively at war, with two of enemies rattling nuclear sabers, well aware that what followed school was not entry level I-bank positions or Silicon valley tech positions but service in a nation at war. Wall Street? More likely the corpse strewn streets of Baquba or Baghdad. They will man cockpits and gun decks, flight lines and gun turrets. For the cool starting pay of about 30 grand a year, they will walk patrols in cities undergoing violent civil war and where much of the populace wishes them harm. They will fight, fly, train and lead troops for at least the next five years. Many of them, if not most, much longer than that. They knew this when they raised their hand as a plebe or new cadet and they gave their oath anyway. Because they believed in their country and wanted to serve hoping to make a difference. From their ranks will come military and political leaders and many of those who will shape the future of this country will be in the stands Saturday cheering their respective school to victory.

This more than a game. Saturday, marines and soldiers in sweaty blood stained uniforms will take time from patrol in exotic locations like fallujah and sadr city, will watch over the armed services network, forgetting the bloody conflict that is their lives to watch the one on the field. US troops stationed on nervous duty along the DMZ in Korea will cheer their team and forget the madman across the border and the threat he offers the world. Pilots will walk from the flight deck to the rec room to cheer the navy blue and gold, a respite of the sorties and missions that must seem endless. On battleships, cruisers, bases and camps around the world the focus will be, for a brief period of time the clash of these teams, warriors on the field headed for a career as warriors in service of their nation.

Annapolis is draped in blue and gold. Tecumseh is painted to his full glory outside Bancroft hall. The brigade and the corp are leaving Annapolis and West Point headed for the friendly confines of the city of Brotherly love. Its time. Army-Navy. I am not one of those who feel that no matter who wins, it’s the game that counts. I hope Navy once again pounds the Army team into the turf of Lincoln Park. This time next year they will young LTs and Ensigns calling each other for air support, ground fire and other inter service battlefield assistance. But today they battle each other in one of the games grandest traditions. As you watch keep in mind the sacrifice these young men and women have made entering into the armed services of their country in a time of war. They had a choice. They chose to serve. That choice, regardless of your feelings on the war, should be honored and respected. It’s a game but so much more than that..
Oh yeah, I almost forgot


Tee it up

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