By Mike Strasser, West Point Public AffairsDecember 10, 2010
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Dec. 10, 2010) -- It was not your typical day at West Point.
Sure, there were classes to attend, meetings scheduled and the normal functions of a regular duty day. But why was there a boat anchored in the middle of the parade field early Dec. 9' And why was the night lit up with a roaring bonfire, while the wind carried the crackle of burnt wood, raucous cheers and music'
Oh, yes. This was Army-Navy Week.
Amid hundreds of "Go Army, Beat Navy" signs and banners posted throughout the post, there were a few favoring Navy, indicative of the small population of Midshipmen and Naval and Marine officers stationed here. Some ambitious night stalkers managed to transport a West Point Sailing Team craft to the middle of the Plain.
They're called spirit missions, because it's supposed to be done covertly but in good taste and humor. It's a longstanding tradition between the two rival academies to exchange spirited pranks in the weeks leading up to the Army-Navy football game this Saturday. West Point cadets executed spirit missions as early as September to get ahead of the Midshipmen.
It's hard to gauge exactly what sort of spirit missions were executed and thwarted this Army-Navy Week. A narrative of hijinks and shenanigans can be sorted on various Facebook pages, some with photos documenting successful spirit missions.
In the afternoon, hundreds gathered at Eisenhower Hall for the last Spirit Luncheon of the 2010 Army Football season. It was the final assembly for the West Point community to rally support for Army before leaving for Philadelphia. The West Point Spirit Band provided the soundtrack for victory, while the Rabble Rousers got Army fans on their feet and cheering.
Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr., U.S. Military Academy superintendent, spoke about how the annual contest brings out the best qualities of West Point to a national audience.
"They play at the highest level of competition, with both head and heart," Huntoon said. "Our athletes are about teamwork, leadership, perseverance, discipline and sportsmanship. And at the end of the game and end of the season, they will all prepare for their professional careers of leading our young men and women in uniform for the U.S. Army."
In a lighter context, the Class of 1973 graduate donned his letterman sweater and explained how the Army mule is a more respectable mascot than the Navy goat. Huntoon assured the crowd this Army team has proven, with a winning record and their first bowl game since 1996, to represent the leaders of character synonymous with West Point.
"America will be watching both here and around the world," Huntoon said. "The 2 million members of our Armed Forces will be looking to this game for inspiration about winning, about competition and about courage. And they will all be proud of our Army football team and our cadets."
While the Army-Navy rivalry is among the fiercest in college football, Huntoon said it is paramount to remember when the players leave the fields of friendly strife, they'll soon become brothers-in-arms.
"Cadet and Midshipmen alike, there is one team ultimately that marches out of that stadium," Huntoon said. "One team that faces and responds to the national call to arms; one team that is leading our formations around the world today in this time of war; and one team that is working in common purpose for uncommon sacrifice. That, of course, is the great story of the game."
Army head coach Rich Ellerson thanked the West Point community for their support throughout the season. The last three weeks were well-spent getting the Black Knights focused and prepared to battle the Midshipmen, Ellerson said.
"These three weeks have given our team the time to identify a challenge and articulate that challenge," Ellerson said. "Do they have the ability to step onto that big stage and play consistently Army Football -- precise, disciplined, great-effort football for 60 minutes' That's the challenge. And you're not going to get there by talking about it.
"That implies we have to prepare differently. Those three weeks allowed us to go into the practice environment and change some things. And it had to come from our players and had to come from our internal leadership, and it did. And it's palpable -- you can see it. It's a team that has raised the bar on itself."
Both Huntoon and Ellerson spoke again that evening, during the traditional Spirit Dinner and Bonfire. After the meal in the Cadet Mess, the Black Knights led the Corps of Cadets outside to Daly Field for a spirit rally. The burning of a large boat is the traditional send-off for the Army team before the annual contest against Navy.
"All season long this has been one team focused on one fight, and that's going to be rewarded this week," Ellerson told the thousands of cadets surrounding the stage.
The Black Knights' captains also took center stage to address the thousands of cadets who will be cheering them at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
"I think we've been saying this for way too long now," Black Knights' captain and senior defensive end Carson Homme said. "We've been saying 'Beat Navy' all week long. We've all been saying 'Beat Navy' way too long. It's time to go out and do it, and that's exactly what we're going to do this Saturday."
The game ball was handed to the captain of the West Point Marathon Team who led his teammates out of West Point for a more-than-170-mile run to Philadelphia.
Immediately after the bonfire was lit, the Black Knights gathered at Battle Monument before embarking on the buses for the trip to Philadelphia to face the Navy Midshipmen at Lincoln Financial Field.
Kickoff for the 111th iteration of the Army-Navy game is slated for 2:40 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on CBS with Verne Lundquist (play by play), Gary Danielson (color analyst) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter) calling the action. CBS will go on-air with full pregame coverage beginning at 2 p.m.