OK, enough is enough. If a junior college plays Michigan every year it would be foolish to expect an annual victory over the Wolverines. But once every 13 years doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request. Well, Army doesn’t qualify as a juco, and there’s been no recent comparison between Navy and Michigan. But that not-so-lucky 13 remains a weight tied around Army’s neck, as it will be for at least two more weeks when the two century-long rivals will play So what’s the story? A few possibilities:
Army surely is the leader among the service academies in big-name grads. Navy has had its share of admirable admirals, of course, but try rattling off an alumni list that surpasses MacArthur, Patton, Bradley, Pershing, Eisenhower, Schwarzkopf, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. And don’t forget four astronauts who came through West Point – Frank Borman, Ed White, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.
However, Navy has produced Roger Staubach and David Robinson, both Hall of Famers in their respective sports. If you’re in high school debating which academy you may like to attend and (perhaps) where you’d like to continue your sports career after your service time, Patton played for the Black Knights, was very cool, but, 36 years after retirement, Staubach is still doing commercials.
West Point is right on the Hudson River, with great views and beautiful fall foliage. Annapolis is 30 miles from Washington, so a Middie is more likely to get to squeeze the hands of some big shots in Congress or the White House. What is more career advantageous, the Hudson or the Capitol?
If you’ve been accepted at Navy, you’ve likely proven you don’t get seasick. If choppy waters bother you, what’s the point? But next time you see Saving Private Ryan, take note of all the soldiers throwing up as their landing craft approach the coast of Normandy. Surely not a selling point for Army.
Speaking of movies, it’s usually Army people who are portrayed as somewhere south of crazy. Think about Apocalypse Now. Marlon Brando’s character is a West Point grad who’s gone certifiable. And Robert Duvall plays a colonel who appears to be a well-meaning loon.
And while they’re both excellent surgeons, Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland are somewhere in the neighborhood of nuts in M*A*S*H. What’s the worst a Navy officer has been portrayed? Probably Captain Morton, played by James Cagney, in Mister Roberts. His only problem was that damn palm tree!
It also seems the Navy guys are usually the best looking. Tom Cruise played the girl-scoring Maverick in Top Gun. He returned as a Navy lawyer in A Few Good Men. Then there’s Clark Gable, a Navy sub commander in Run Silent, Run Deep; and Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman. Mark Wahlberg plays Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, whose team was tasked to track down Taliban leader Ahmad Shah.
Americans were rarely portrayed as the bad guys in films depicting World War II, and there were plenty of studs available for the roles. Most of them, however, were Navy. There was Kirk Douglas in In Harm’s Way.. The Battle of Midway was the Allies’ turning point in the war in the Pacific, and the movie that portrayed the Navy’s role, Midway, carried a crew that included Charlton Heston, Glenn Ford, Tom Selleck and Erik Estrada. That was William Holden in The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Other good-looking Navy guys included Steve McQueen, a Flight-Lieutenant in The Great Escape; Cary Grant in Destination Tokyo; and Frank Sinatra in Von Ryan’s Express. All-American John Wayne played Army, Navy, Marine and Civil War officers in his slew of military movies, so call that one a draw.
Conversely, it was Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes and Charles Bronson who manned the parapets (or something like that) in The Dirty Dozen. Don Rickles and Carroll O’Connor get their share of screen time in Kelly’s Heroes. Ernest Borgnine’s character in From Here to Eternity was Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson. Never seen any of those guys on calendars. One possible calender nominee, Russell Crowe, cut a mean figure in Gladiator, but there was never a time when his specific branch of the service was identified. Reasonably certain he wasn’t a paratrooper, though.
Before the end of the Cold War, there were plenty of what-if movies. One such was The Hunt for Red October. The Russian sub commander was Sean Connery; Alec Baldwin was a CIA analyst and professor at the Naval Academy. Rock Hudson played a Navy commander in Ice Station Zebra. Clint Eastwood was a Marine sergeant in Heartbreak Ridge. Many of the James Bond movies portrayed the Russians not playing nice, and three of those Bond guys – Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan – were all poster boys. They all had the rank of Royal Navy Commander. During the height of the Cold War in the early 60s, it was illegal in the Soviet Union to show any of the Bond movies. Guess the Russians didn’t want their repressed population to know how good looking the competition was on the other side of the Berlin Wall.
In more recent films, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett portrayed stud Navy airmen in Pearl Harbor. Denzel Washington was second-in-command on the sub and movie of the same name, Crimson Tide.
The era of the Vietnam War wasn’t a particularly huggy-kissy part of our nation’s history, but what you saw on the evening news each day was American soldiers flame throwing villages. The Navy must have gotten those guys over there, but what else?
The Navy SEALs have been portrayed (justifiably) as gut-busting heroes who would willingly throw themselves head first off a bridge to complete a mission. And it was the SEALs’ all-star team, SEAL Team Six, that took out Osama Bin Laden. That warranted a mention or two.
So there you have it. For the Army football team to finally overcome Navy, it just doesn’t need to improve its roster. The Black Knights need an agent.