The game is how the rest of the world gets access to it. This thing that we do.
We choose some portion of our best. The ones that want to be chosen. And we commit them to a different life. One paid out in hard work. Sacrifice. Years away from home, family and loved ones. One where the expectations of safety and fortune are replaced with duty and honor.
If we’re lucky enough to live in times when we appreciate those sorts of things.
The transformation happens out of clear view, behind walls on the shores of the Chesapeake or the Hudson. In ways that the passive viewer might find uncomfortable. There is little tenderness. Little tolerance.
Keep up. Or get out. For what we make here is too important to let the standard slip.
For the world, today, that standard is on display in the only way we can connect what it is we do, behind those walls, with the outside world. Simulated combat, through sport. Football.
What sticks out to the laymen is the discipline. The spirit. The sportsmanship. And the display of good, decent young men and woman, from all walks of life, doing something admirable.
What sticks out to those of us who’ve lived behind the walls is an evaluation of those about to go. And an acknowledgement that the standard, the one passed down for generations of those that chose to go, has held.
Two teams will play average college football for a few hours on a field in Philadelphia today. One will win. One will lose. They will acknowledge each other by honoring their school songs. And then the world will turn its eyes somewhere else for the next 364 days.
But those of us who’ve lived behind the wall know what comes next. A journey of a thousand lifetimes crammed into a few years. Of bad food, cold nights, sad letters and the type of fellowship that can only come from such a life. A life like no other.
For those of us who have already gone, and for those carrying the burden being gone, there’s a fondness in this game. Something more than an alma mater or a tradition. It’s a window into ourselves at a time before we saw it all.
These institutions are designed to create a common experience. One once lived, certifies that all important standard has held. But the bi-product of that experience is a bond. Not just with those we lived it with, but with those that came before and will come after.
Those that lived behind the wall see ourselves in this game. A snapshot of what we once were at an earlier point in the arc of our lives, before it moved through the pages of history. Before we traveled to the corners of the earth to live the life of service and fight the wars our people sent us to fight.
Beyond the stoic evaluation of the standard, the game is an evaluation of ourselves. It’s the zero, zero plot on the Cartesian grid of a life of service. What worlds we’ve seen since we gathered on those fields together. What deeds we’ve done.
Most understand what the Army Navy Game is not; just a football game. Few understand what it truly is. Those about to go, the ones you’ll see on your television today don’t. Not yet. But they will. Within that difference in understanding is a slice of human experience I’m grateful to have. And I hope those watching can grab hold of some part of it today. If only for a few hours.
Go Navy Sir. Beat Army….or whatever your persuasion.
For those about to go.