When following the Army-Navy game from afar, nobody paid homage to his side's victory better than General Douglas MacArthur in 1944.
MacArthur, an avid college football fan who was Army's team manager as a West Point cadet, had made his World War II island-hopping return to the Philippines on Oct. 20, 1944. Six weeks later he was delighted when Army beat Navy to complete a 9-0 season with a 23-7 victory on Dec. 2 at Municipal Stadium in Baltimore.
MacArthur's telegram to the Black Knights: "The greatest of Army teams. We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success."
Art imitates life, of course, and the legendary television series M*A*S*H dedicated an episode to America's Game with the 4077th hospital unit following the Army-Navy game by radio during the Korean War.
Similar to MacArthur and the fictional M*A*S*H characters, thousands upon thousands of soldiers and sailors resume an American tradition by following as best they can the 113th Army-Navy game on Dec. 8 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
They will gather from the frontlines of Afghanistan, to Grafenwoehr Army Airfield in Germany, to Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, to Pearl Harbor and Scofield Barricks in Hawaii and to the Cadets and Midshipmen in the stands at Lincoln Financial Field.
This will be the 20th year watching Army-Navy from overseas for Col. Rick Steinke (U.S. Army retired), a 1978 West Point graduate. His story is one among many as anticipation builds toward Dec. 8. Steinke attended his first Army-Navy game as a plebe in 1974 and has since then watched Army-Navy from as far away as Afghanistan, Germany, France and Italy.
"Overseas you still have the anticipation, but the excitement is more localized among friends, family and fellow soldiers," Steinke said. "Graduates from both academies will often hang banners, conduct minor wages, or play some degree of pranks on each other, especially in the larger headquarters where both services are located."
Steinke was an artillery and foreign area officer who retired in 2006, but the past six year he has been in Germany as a Department of Defense civilian. He is currently the Director, Event Support Directorate, at the George C. Marshall European Center of Security.
"There is nothing quite like the Army-Navy game in sports," he said. "This is as pure as college sports gets. The Cadets and Midshipmen are all studying, training and preparing to lead our Army and Navy in the defense of our country and allies. In the last 10 years, that has meant a lot of real sacrifices, and in many cases the ultimate sacrifice."
Steinke didn't play football at Army (his hopes to play baseball were ended by a nagging high school football knee injury), but he was a starting quarterback at Big Rapids (Mich.) High, so he watches a football game with a sharper eye than most fans.
Of the games Steinke has viewed overseas, the one best-suited for a MacArthur-like telegram was 1996. Army not only beat Navy 28-24 at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia, the Black Knights claimed the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. He was in Germany serving as a field artillery battalion commander with over 400 soldiers and their families and watched the game Babenhausen with many of them.
"It was one of the sweetest victories I can remember," Steinke said. "The shared camaraderie, common Army heritage and being in the active service of our nation at that time made it a very special occasion."
That 1996 season also was the last year Army captured the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. This season Army and Navy both beat Air Force and thus are playing a winner-take-all game for the C-i-C trophy for the first time since 2005 when Navy ended a four-game Army winning streak with a 42-23 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
A recent memorable Army-Navy game that Steinke followed overseas was in the 2009 season, although not for the result on the field (a 17-13 Navy win at Lincoln Financial Field). He was in Grainau, Germany, and watched with Spanish Navy Commander Jorge Flethes, who was assigned to the NATO school in Oberammergau. Through Flethes, Steinke met another Spanish Navy officer, Ignacio Villanueva. Ignacio's son is former Army wide receiver Alijandro Villaneuva.
As Army football fans know, Villaneuva dreamed of attending West Point. He became an American citizen and played football at Army. Steinke and his wife Susan had become friends with Villanueva's parents and had been on a ski trip together. As Steinke watched the 2009 game with Flethes, the TV camera panned the crowd and stopped to show Villaneuva's parents.
In the spring of 2011, Steinke was in Afghanistan working under General David Rodriguez, whose son Andrew played for Army and won the 2011 Campbell Trophy as the nation's top scholar-athlete.
"While I was departing Afghanistan, Alejandro was coming to Afghanistan to serve as an infantry platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division," Steinke said. "That's a vignette you will not find associated with college sports."
As Army fans also will remember, Villanueva finished his tour and gave the NFL a shot when he returned from Afghanistan in May of 2012. He was in a Chicago Bears mini-camp, trying unsuccessfully to make the team while not in football shape just weeks after leaving Afghanistan's front lines.
Another memorable game was a West Point rite of passage as a parent in 2000. Steinke and his then-9-year-old daughter Erika attended a 30-28 Navy win at Baltimore's PSINet Stadium (now known as M&T Bank Stadium).
"Erika loved the game and all of the military displays, like the Army Black Knights parachuting into the stadium," he said. "She remembers the game to this day, and I can't wait to take our entire family back to another one."
The Army-Navy game for alums also is annual chance to relive their West Point days.
"Nothing compares to the Army-Navy game like being a cadet," Steinke said. "The lead-up to the game, from the beginning of the football season through the final week's preparation and pep rallies, is incomparable when you are at the academy. There is an excitement and buzz that develops, and you know that you will do your part as the 12th Man."
During Steinke's cadet days, Army defeated Air Force three out of four years, but the Black Knights lost to Navy his first three seasons. They finally won his senior year 17-14 in 1977 at JFK Stadium, the ancient Philadelphia facility that is now the site of the parking lot surrounding Lincoln Financial Field.
"The game was never a given either way, and I was standing with two classmates, Chris Littel and Jay Rose," Steinke said. "When the final seconds ticked off, you would have thought we won the national championship. Which for us, we had. Army beat Navy for our first time as cadets, and as seniors, we went nuts hugging, high-fiving, jumping up and down whooping and hollering."
Steinke and his fellow alums may not be as spry as their West Point days, but the anticipation of the game never wanes.
"From the time a plebe enters West Point, he hears the words 'Beat Navy' and it becomes part of his or her culture," he said. "The entire game and the events on the field immediately following the game present a microcosm of the lifelong dedication of West Point graduates to the words 'Duty, Honor, Country.' "
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