Army-Navy Game: Former players look back on legacy of America's Game
Memories of past Army-Navy games burn bright for former players, no matter how long ago they played in America's Game.
We contacted a handful of academy members. Each can recall the electric feeling he had taking part in one of the game's great rivalries.
Here are some of their favorite memories:
"The buzz is in the air when you are around here," former Army wide receiver Jeremy Trimble said. "As soon as you come in freshman year, you learn about ‘Beat Navy’ and what it means for what we do here. Being fortunate enough to play in four and be here on staff for two, there is nothing like it."
Trimble, who was at Army West Point from 2004-08, remembers the countless letters and videos the team received during the week of the game.
“You are representing something better than yourself," he said. "Getting letters from former graduates and currently serving in army, spirit videos from units around the world. Seeing that and knowing they are rooting for you, it’s an overfill of emotion. So many people can be invested in one game.”
The memories of the game came flooding back to Super Bowl XXI winner and former Navy wide receiver Phil McConkey, too.
“It was a huge event and something that all these years later from my first one, I can still smell the grass and still feel the emotions of what it felt like leading up to and being in that game," he said. "Sights and images that are just emblazed in my memory.”
McConkey arrived at a time when former Navy quarterback George Welsh was the head coach. The Midshipmen had a 7-1-1 record against the Cadets during the Welsh era from 1973-1981, including four straight to start off his career.
The incredible focus Welsh showed throughout the season sticks with McConkey.
“It was the same for every game," he said. "You’re either getting better or worse. I didn’t quite understand what he meant but now it makes all the sense in the world to me. Leading up to the Army game it was about getting better.”
Navy’s dominance over Army continued until after 1983 when Bob Sutton arrived at West Point. Sutton received a promotion from defensive coordinator to head coach in 1991 and prospered in the role with his nine-year tenure, only second to Army legend Earl “Red” Blaik.
Current Army assistant athletic director Gaylord Greene played under Sutton, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. Greene recalls the fundamentals his former coach encouraged that led to Army's success in the game.
“It was simple," Greene said. "We are going to be tough, play with great fundamentals and discipline. If you keep it to the basics, being tough and fundamentally sound, you are going to have opportunity to win the game."
Greene helped orchestrate one of the greatest Army comeback wins in 1992, which sparked the five-game streak in the series for the Cadets. Greene caught a 68-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, the longest touchdown pass ever in an Army-Navy game.
With seconds left on the clock, Patmon Malcom knocked through the game-winning field.
“It was a team that believed," Greene said. "It was a small senior class, no more than 22 of us. It’s an opportunity for your class and team to leave a legacy. Once you have a win in the column, it’s there for eternity.”
Events outside the sports world have impacted the Army-Navy game during its 125 years.
The 1963 game was played two weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. As a nation mourned, the Kennedy family encouraged the teams to play on in memory of JFK, who served in the Navy during World War II and attended the 1962 game.
“I was obviously a little boy when the JFK assassination took place, but I read a lot in what went into deciding to play that game. It was a part of the healing process even though it was so shortly after,” McConkey said.
The 2001 game, played in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, took on additional meaning to academy members.
“For us and Navy, we sign up for that job afterwards - to defend the country in times of war,” Trimble said. “We have been at war for the past 15 years. All of these guys that have signed up now, they still say yes.”
Count Miki Viti among those who said yes. Viti served combat duty in Afghanistan after graduating from West Point in 2008. He later started Legacies Alive nonprofit and launched Mike’s Hike for Heroes in 2014.
Viti trekked 7,100 kilometers across the United States leading up to last year’s Army-Navy game in Baltimore. Each kilometer represented every fallen soldier since 9/11. The journey carried personal significance for Viti during the final stretch as he honored his former teammate 1st Lt. Stephen Chase Prasnicki and Marine Corps 2nd Lt. James Patrick Blecksmith, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 2003.
“It is basically the support for families to realize they aren’t forgotten," Viti said. "That is what their sons gave, and part of it was dedicated to enjoying games like Army-Navy game and bringing people together. For me, it was a terrific place to do that and connect the families.”
The academies will gather Saturday in Philadelphia for the 116th meeting.
"If you are walking down the street, everyone picks a side. You are either Army or you are Navy," Greene said.
Greene, Trimble and Viti will be cheering for Army to snap a 13-game losing streak. They may even have an unlikely supporter in McConkey.
"At some point [the streak] is going to end," he said. "Maybe let them have this one and end this streak and get on with it. But the closer it gets to the game, instincts start to sink in, can’t let this happen this year.
"I have a lot of Army friends. When and if they win, I’ll be the first to shake their hands. Just not this year."