Friday, December 02, 2005

Army-Navy Game, Philadelphia, December 7, 1996

Did I mention that I lived in Philadelphia for ten years? Once thing you can't do in Philadelphia is live there for ten years and not be fully aware of the Army-Navy game every year. As a matter of fact, if you don't know about it, you've been in a coma, are blind, deaf and can't read sign language or braille.

At one point, Philadelphia was within an hour or less of two Air Force bases, one Army base (now closed) and one Naval Station (which by 1996 had been relegated to holding moth balled ships for the Navy, but, when I first moved there, way back when, there were at least two ships in dry dock at all times and the city was crawling with Navy personnel). The Philadelphia Ship Yard was right off the main highway down town. Every year, the water tower was painted blue with gold letters that read: Go Navy!

It probably still is.

The lead up to the Army/Navy game was always exciting with every local bar and pub picking its side (usually Navy), festooning themselves with blue and gold, while "Navy" sweatshirts and t-shirts began to show up en mass on the citizens of the city.

My friends and I were no exception. Of course, back in the day, part of the fun of the game was actually the potential for meeting Army or Navy, cadets or midshipmen, current serving and alumni. Never say that we were not prepared to take advantage of the swelling manhood that arrived in town for the lead up and day of the game.

In 1996, a friend of ours procured tickets for the game at Veterans Stadium. She was also engaged to a guy attending the Naval Academy at Annapolis whose family and numerous friends were driving up in RVs, planning to tailgate pre and post game. Thus, the most we needed to do was show up, look good and cheer for Navy. Not to hard at all. Of course, we had our Navy attire. Sweatshirts, scarves and pins. Fortunately for me, I had an official Navy Pea Coat, procured at the cost of one broken heart and a $200.00 phone bill, because that morning it was cold and rainy.

Everybody met at my friend Debbie's apartment which was the closest to the stadium. Trish 1 (there were two of them) brought the tickets. While we were waiting for the last person to arrive, I was checking the tickets to the seating charts. We were in the nose bleeds. But, the tickets were free, so I really couldn't complain.

We drove down to the Stadium and everywhere we looked was blue and gold: Go Navy! Beat Army!

It was crazy down there. We had to walk around the stadium to find our tailgate party. That took about 20 minutes not including the time to park.

Did I mention it was cold and rainy? Well, the rain had slacked off, but it was still damn cold. Fortunately, our tailgate party had hot cocoa, beer and bratz. What a combo.

Everybody there had their Navy shirt on. Did I mention it was a Navy town? If you were wearing Army, you were getting some serious flack. Not harsh or anything. Nobody wanted to hurt Army supporter feelings (poor babies). But the word, "Army" was only allowed if you were yelling, "Go Navy! Beat Army!"

No idea how these folks had a voice at the end of the game.

We finally went into the stadium for the opening show. Both academies had their plebe class there in their class A uniform. They each marched across the field to their respective sections in either corner of the stadium to the resounding cheers of their supporters. As you would guess, Navy got the loudest reception. Army fired off canon and Navy brought out Bill the Goat (who was not kidnapped or accidentaly poisoned that year). Then the Navy band came out and played several inspiring tunes before going into the National Anthem while squads from both sides came out with the giant American flag. The whole stadium was singing.

When that was done, we all screamed for our favorite team: Go Navy, Beat Army!

Of course, some how, we ended up near the Army section. Everybody knows which end of the stadium the plebes from each academy are going to sit on so people try to buy tickets in those areas depending on their team preference. Then again, it's a Navy town so the Navy folks seem to get preferential seats and the Army ends up at the top of the stadium somewhat. So, there we were, Navy paraphernalia (me in my pea coat), right in the midst of Army.

Oh Boy! It's just a friendly rivalry, right?

The game finally started and it was one of the most exciting games I'd seen in awhile. Of course, part of that was the spectators who were very loud and very much into the game. It was nice because not many folks left their seats which meant that we could go on a hot cocoa or coffee run without an overly long wait in the lines, not to mention bathroom times were cut in half of a normal football game. The cadets were crazy, standing on their feet the entire time cheering like mad. Occassionaly a cedet or midshipman would turn to the crowd and wave their arms, getting the crowd into it even more.

The two Trishes (I know, sounds like the "Heathers" with Christian Slater, huh? It gets better, there were actually three Trish's, but one was recovering from appendecitis and couldn't go with) went to get the cocoa while Deb, Wendy and I went to the restroom. Just as we went in, it started raining again. Not hard, just a straight, soft, steady, freezing cold drizzle. Fortunately for us, our seats were so high up into the nose bleed section that it was right under the sky boxes at about the 50 yard line. Not such bad seats after all. Had we been willing to freeze our behinds off we could have made a nice chunk of money selling our seats to any number of poor slobs who were not leaving the game and were prepared to suffer (which was just about everybody), sleet or no sleet, to watch the game.

Did I mention it was the first year in several years both Navy and Army had winning records?

We came back from getting hot cocoa and the bathroom bread only to find several guys in our seats. They had plastic bags over their jackets (obviously an attempt at make shift rain coat). They were Army, we were Navy but they weren't getting our seats!

"Dude, excuse me, these are our seats."

"They were empty." First buzz cut said without moving.

"Dude, they were empty because we went inside to get cocoa. They're still our seats." Trish was flashing the stubs in their faces. It seems our nose bleed seats under the sky boxes were now premium gold.

Buzz cut and his moron friends kept setting there, not moving, not saying anything but occassionally screaming, "Go Army!" Well, I don't want to bad mouth the army because these two were obviously not part of the Army academy, but we were getting annoyed. Just about then, a big guy in the row ahead of us, whom we had been good naturedly harassing (he was army) and who had been harassing us (the only navy people in the section) since the first quarter, stood up, turned around and in an extremely good imitation of Joe Pesci in a 6 foot 2 inch body with no neck said, "Hey! Yous~! Mow-rons! Get outta da ladies' seats!"

Just then, the entire row (of Army supporters) either turned around or stood up to see what was going on. There we were with our Navy gear and Bill the Goat hot beverage cups in our hands, now the center of all sorts of attention. I was a little embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as the two "mow-rons" who immediately began to apologize and vam-moos from our seats with fellow army supporters glaring them down the aisle.

We filed in, "Thank you" "thanks" "thank you". As we sat down, the rest of the group was setting down and big, no neck guy pumped his fist in the air shouting, "Go Army!" Well, he might of helped us avoid trouble with the "mow-rons" but we couldn't let that pass so we stomped our feet and yelled, "Go Navy!" Our rivalry intact, the world once again righted with Army and Navy taking up polar opposites, we all settled down to watch the game again.

The cold drizzle didn't let up the whole last quarter of the game.

Sadly, Army beat Navy that year in a very tight game, 28-24. We went out to the parking lot and still tailgated, drinking more hot cocoa from our Bill the Goat hot drink holders and eating shrimp, bratz, burgers, mushrooms and a number of other goods off the grills.

The best part was that it was all free.

So, in nostalgia for the old days and old rivalries, when I lived in a Navy town and despite my close proximity to an army base and being a frequent commenter at certain unnamed Army blogs, I just have one thing to say:

Update here

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