It was another rough December Saturday for Army as Navy hit a pair of late field goals and hung on in the final minute for a 27-21 win at FedEx Field on Dec. 10. Navy has now won 10 straight meetings with West Point, unfathomable for Army fans and a continued dream for the Midshipmen.
I made this trip to Landover, Md., in a single day, driving 477 miles round-trip from New York to FedEx Field (and back) for the 2:30 p.m. game. Of course, part of the Army-Navy experience is the pre-game rituals and ceremonies. Both academy’s student bodies march onto the field before the game, with nearly 4,000 from each side taking the stage as fans make their way into the stadium.
I got to the place around 10 a.m. and parked amidst dozens of chartered Naval Academy buses in the B Lot of FedEx Field. I walked by with my gear, peeking through the coach windows to see the mids asleep in their uniforms, with “Beat Army” posted on the destination boards above the driver.
West Point took the field at 11:24 a.m. Due to President Barack Obama being in attendance, everyone (including the cadets) had to be wanded and go through metal detectors. It took about 30 minutes for me to get into the stadium and through security, which was run by the Secret Service. A bomb-sniffing German Sheppard inspected our gear bags before agents went and unzipped every pocket of everyone’s bags. I did notice that Bill the Goat — the actual goat — was not subject to the metal detector. In fact, there was one guy from the academy tasked with shoving the goat from behind whenever he refused to move. Classic.
Once inside, I setup shop in the Redskins’ field-level media workroom. What a dump. The entire FedEx Field facility is a dreary, dirty, out-dated, ugly place that lacks charm, character and is trimmed with hideous purple, green and orange FedEx-logo colors. I actually could not believe I was in an NFL stadium. The media room was small and cramped, the desks were falling apart and the walls were blank. I snagged a couple hot dogs and Cokes and setup my MacBook Pro for a long afternoon.
Thus began a weekend to forget. I woke up at 5 a.m. and was on the road by 6:12 a.m. for the four-hour ride to the DC area. It was one day after I’d flew back on a layover from Dallas and a week working the Baseball Winter Meetings. Army went on to lose and, the following morning, my girl broke up with me. I pretty much felt like a zombie the remainder of the weekend.
The march-on was nice, though. I worked in some back-lit images and got tight portraits of the cadets in the shade. The Army-Navy game is an especially photogenic atmosphere where you point, shoot and probably come away with something half-decent. Several of my images made Fox Sports’ gallery, including this one below — a pretty girl in uniform is typically a good bet someone will pick it up:
General Raymond Odierno, the 38th Chief of Staff of the US Army, watches the United States Corps of Cadets from West Point march on to the field at FedEx Field. Odierno graduated West Point and went on to lead the team that captured Saddam Hussein in iraq:
Cadets were straight-faced during the march-on (one asked me if he’d get a copy of the photo I’d snapped) but once they left the field, they let loose. I followed a company back into the corridors of FedEx:
Back outside, the Naval Academy took its turn marching on. Here’s a shot from Section 401 showing just about the entire Brigade of Midshipmen on the field around 12:45 pm. You can also see most of the Corps of Cadets is back in their seats on the left side.
Army took the field to warm up before walking back off to the locker room for a pre-game speech. Here, Clayton Keller (44) walks past a line of fellow cadets, who applauded the team as they returned:
The Army mule and Black Knight mascots walked by as cadets prepared to take the field:
Volunteering for West Point has some perks — as one of Army’s official photographers, I was granted Secret Service access along with a handful of other photographers.This meant I could take the field with President Obama for the coin toss at midfield. When Obama arrived, the gates opened and a wave of White House press corps photographers flooded into the stadium to follow their man. I ran out through a tunnel of cheering cadets to the Army sideline before taking a position around the 40 yard-line in anticipation for Obama to walk out.
Finally, he strolled out with Vice President Joe Biden. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the former CIA Director, was also on the field along with a variety of other top military officials.
Unfortunately, a lot of the other photogs ignored the rules and rushed the coin-toss area instead of waiting for the thumbs up to approach. This left me on the outside looking in (see the image on the right, I’m in the blue vest on the left). But, I’m tall with long arms, so I stretched out above the crowd and managed to capture the moment of Obama with both teams’ captains. Biden is seen in the centerm with Panetta on the left and Odierno on the far right:
To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with this image, although it’s not too bad — you can see both the Corps and the Mids, the large screen in the background, a clear shot of O and both team captains, and I suppose the photographers add to it as well. Either way, ESPN.com chose this image as it’s No. 1 picture for Best Photos of the Week.
I got a better shot of Obama walking off the field later on. What a great smile he has:
Here’s Obama walking the Army sideline with Lt. General David H. Huntoon, Jr., the Superintendent of West Point:
On to the game. Both teams ranked among the nation’s leaders in rushing and literally the worst in the nation in passing (Navy being No. 119, Army being dead-last at No. 120). Both schools run the option, and Army was prepared to spread the ball around to speedsters like Raymond Maples and Malcolm Brown, and bruisers like Jared Hassin and Larry Dixon. Here’s Maples on the move:
Junior quarterback Trent Steelman returned and lasted the entire game, leading Army to a 21-21 tie by the fourth quarter before Navy pulled away.
As you can tell, Army and Navy wore special-edition Nike Pro Combat uniforms for this game. I LOVE the Army threads, they are classic, simple and have a nice military edge with the numbers and boots. Word is that Nike wanted to go over the top and head coach Rich Ellerson preferred a more toned-down look. I really, really hope these come back next season as the primary uniform style for Army, even if they are the usual Nike uniforms and not Pro Combat. The undershirt’s stripes mimmic the retro-styled uniforms Army wore in the 40s and again through 2009.
The Academy logo is on the left arm and a military uniform-styled American flag is on the right. The nice “A” logo replaces the Army wordmark on the front, and the great U.S. Army division patches return to the chest, rather than on the sleeve (Steelman here went with the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell in his home state of Kentucky). I love the patches, they add such a unique and fitting touch to the look. The helmets are also more of a matte finish with a thicker black stripe. The boots look pretty close to actual combat boots worn by the Army. Please, keep ’em!
Here’s long-snapper Frank Ceva going nuts after delivering a big hit on a punt, taking some FedEx Field grass with him:
Navy’s Gee Gee Greene does the Heisman pose against Army captain Andrew Rodriguez, who was recognized during the game as the nation’s top football-student scholar with a 4.14 GPA.
Steelman did it himself on this 34-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter:
Holt Zalneraitis reacts after Army picked up a fumble. As you can tell, players wore various division patches rather than one for the whole team. Holt has the 2nd Infantry Division and Kyler Martin (19) has 1st Cav:
Fullback Jared Hassin got some carries early, but Ellerson leaned off him later on after he was stripped in the first half on Army’s second turnover:
Biden wore some Ray Bans for the first half but eventually took ’em off while sitting on the Army side of the field. He later posed with cheerleaders.
Maples on a nice run to the right side:
It’s sad to see Justin Schaaf leave as his consistently provided me with these types of images over the past couple years:
Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor gets swarmed by Army… pictured here I believe are Zach Watts (40), Hayden Pierce (helmet tackler), Geoffery Bacon (right) and I’m not sure who else:
Alexander Teich is Navy’s fullback destined for Navy SEAL training. What a beast this guy is, arms like Canseco
Proctor crossed the goaline here for a touchdown in the first, a shot that made the Newark Star-Ledger:
One of my ideal spots to shoot was the back of the endzone opposite the academy student sections. Here’s Proctor being chased by Watts and Bacon with the Mids in the background:
Same here, Dixon runs up the middle with the Corps in the back:
Maples gets tripped up:
A look into the Army sideline. Eagle-eyed Army fans can spot all-time leading sack champ Josh McNary on the left in black and the man himself, Steve “Hollywood” Anderson on the very far left. 50 is graduating this winter after coaching the USMA Prep team.
It’s easy to forget about making images like this when you’ve got the 400mm lens on the whole night. Here, Steelman sets to snap the ball in front of thousands of cadets:
What’s it like to sit on the Army bench with Rich Ellerson barking orders? Here ya go:
Army had a late push to tie the game, but Steelman was dragged down on a 4th-and-seven. Navy could taste victory:
Unfortunately, I am well acquainted with the post-game celebration routine. After Army droned through it’s alma mater, it was time for Navy to go nuts. I was ready for the wave:
One of my favorite images of the night was Proctor pointing to friends in the crowd:
This shot below ran on CBS Sports on Dec. 15 when it was announced Navy would likely join the Big East in 2013:
Army lined up for its alma mater, a painful reminder to the theme of this game — both teams wore apparel embroidered with the phrase, “Sing Second,” a reference to the winning team singing its alma mater second, after the loser. Matt Villanti (71) has the 1st Armored Division patch (“Old Ironsides,” the unit my former MLB.com co-worker Mike is currently serving with):
Navy seniors pose with the Secretary’s Trophy, trying to show off their logo gloves from Nike:
A telling moment followed, fittingly, with Schaaf, who walked back onto the field and took a final lap around the stadium, soaking in his final moments as a college football player amidst an emptying stadium and the Navy players posing for photos. This is the story of Academy football — those who take the field here, before 80,000 fans and a national CBS television audience, will leave and go on to fight for their country in far-off lands. Schaaf, like the rest of his Army teammates, will graduate West Point and become a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, tasked with leading a team of soldiers in active duty within a year. Navy players will branch out to various ships, bases and some will join the Marines, fighting alongside the same cadets-turned-soldiers they once battled on this field.
As for me, I lived to fight another day, too. A late-night Burger King dinner at an I-95 rest stop in Maryland was the highlight of my trip back to New York, where I arrived around 1 a.m. If you’d like to see even more images from this game, check ’em out here. You can also find a gallery of my images on the Army Athletics website.