The Navy cheerleaders perform during the Army-Navy Gala Friday night in Philadelphia. (Photo by Steve Brooks)

Playing for the 'pure spirit of sport'

Nearly 70,000 fans will be in the stands at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field when Army and Navy square off for the 113th time at 3 p.m. today. The game will be broadcast to millions on CBS and the Dial Global Radio Network, as well as watched by servicemembers deployed all over the world.

It’s as big of a college football game as there is each year, despite the fact there aren’t any BCS implications involved. And Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr., superintendent of the United States Military Academy, has an idea why it’s such a huge event that capture’s the nation's interest.

“The eyes of the nation will be on both football teams, and on the outstanding cadets and midshipmen who will be cheering enthusiastically in the stands,” Huntoon told attendees at the annual Army-Navy Gala Friday night at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. “And why …? The great Army football player, Pete Dawkins, said it well: ‘Perhaps the reason is simply that this particular rivalry represents a standard that we as a nation all respect – honor, tough, determined.’

“We may share with other collegiate teams the values of teamwork and discipline, but we play for the pure spirit of sport, in mutual respect for each other and for a greater national purpose. We play for thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who face danger and hardship around the world, whose sacrifice and courage allows us to gather in places like this.”

The gala consisted of dinner, dancing and entertainment, as well as performances by both the Army and Navy cheerleaders and pep bands. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy – which will go to today’s winner – also was on display outside of the Terrace Ballroom.

Notables in attendance included Huntoon, Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, former Naval Academy quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, as well as former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski.

“We just beam with pride to have this game," Jaworski told the attendees.

Jaworski – noted for breaking down the finer points of a football game – said Army-Navy represents the game at its purist. “What we have (today) is really a love and a passion for the game of football,” he said. “Not one of, (but) the greatest rivalry in America. The greatest. The men playing that game tomorrow, they represent a lot more than the game of football. They represent a lot more than the Xs and Os. They represent what’s great about America. They committed their life to us and this great country. They make our world a peaceful world. For that, I applaud.”

Beasley Reece, who spent nine seasons in the National Football League and now is Philadelphia’s CBS 3’s lead sports anchor, served as master of ceremonies for the gala.

“All the young men who will take to the field – and all the young people who attend those two academies – are as good as it gets,” Reece said.