Dec. 12, 2013
This Saturday, a very special football game will be viewed around the world. Army and Navy (and Marine Corps, too) duty stations will be tuned in to the Army-Navy Football Game, to be played in Philadelphia.
Every Army-Navy game is special, but the coin that will be used in this one has historical significance. It will be a silver dollar that was given to Tom Lynch, the captain of the 1963 Navy squad. Lynch, who rose to the rank of Admiral in the Navy, received the coin from then-Sec. of the Army, Cyrus Vance. It was the coin President Kennedy planned to toss to begin the football classic.
Fifty years ago, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Churches and synagogues opened all over America and the world for special memorial services. Theaters closed and athletic contests were canceled. Even the Army-Navy game was canceled, out of respect for the fallen Commander-in-Chief. But when the grieving Kennedy family heard that the President’s favorite football game would not be played, they publicly appealed to both teams to let the game be played.
CBS Sports has produced a documentary, titled Marching On. My wife, a thirty-year Navy veteran, and I were privileged to attend the premier of this excellent movie at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
The movie shows how Americans reacted to the death of the president, but also how it affected the two service academies. Surviving team members from both academies were on hand to share their memories of the game and the day.
Jack Ford of CBS Sports provided the color commentary. He recalled what America was like in 1963. One of the key sports facts was that there was no Super Bowl then, no BCS for college football. The Army-Navy game was therefore the football game that represented the whole country.
The stands in Philadelphia’s old Municipal Stadium were preternaturally silent, with 102,000 fans hardly daring to stir as the Brigade of Midshipmen marched on, dressed in their Navy blue bridge coats. The Corps of Cadets — that famed “Long Gray Line” — marched on, too, as 102,000 fans seemed not to know how they were supposed to react. There had never been such an event in the nation’s history.
Television had brought that Dallas motorcade into every home, and then the somber and moving funeral procession was viewed on TV by tens of millions. No previous presidential death had so affected so many.
This game, ironically, was being played on December 7, 1963. That date, too, bore an echo of the nation’s past. It was on that “Day of Infamy” in 1941 that every member of the older generation remembered where he or she was when the news of Pearl Harbor came over the radio. Once the game began, however, the tens of thousands roared and stomped. Veteran players said it felt like an earthquake. They had never heard such an outburst of emotion as in those hoarse voices. The games, they said, released all the pent-up feelings of the previous two weeks.
My wife and I applauded the documentary, of course. Every interview with players and coaches, every grainy black and white video clip was outstanding.
There were only two brief sour notes, and I’m sorry to say those notes were sounded by the only two historians in the movie. Douglas Brinkley referred to that supposed hostility of Dallas. This is part of the liberal myth of bad, right-wing Dallas.
Question: assassin Lee Harvey Oswald spent more time in Minsk, in the old USSR, than he ever did in Dallas. Why don’t liberals denounce Minsk?
The other off-base comment came from Robert Dallek, who referred to Oswald as some crazy Communist. As if real Communists would never engage in something so insane as assassination. Actually, Prof. Dallek, real Communists engaged in assassination every day for seventy years. You may consult The Black Book of Communism, the definitive record of the death of a hundred million people at the hands of regular Communists, made all the more believable because it was written by French leftists.
The point was made that the Dallas Cowboys was the team that Navy’s quarterback, the Heisman Trophy-winning Roger Staubach, would eventually join. The Cowboys are called “America’s team.” There was never a time when Dallas was not on America’s side.
That point was eloquently made by the recent memorial service in Dallas, where the Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Historian David McCullough and the Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (D) emphasized their belief that the New Frontier ideals of John F. Kennedy did not die in Dallas.
My wife and I will be joining friends in Annapolis this weekend, cheering the team with fans around the world. We’ll yell “Beat Army,” of course, but we’ll know that in a special way, this is America’s game. With the healing provided by that classic 1963 Army-Navy game, it was all of America that had the chance to go Marching On.