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December 4, 2012
Army-Navy: Return to Philly opens the bowl season
PHILADELPHIA -- The college football buzz this week surrounds the setting of the bowl season lineup that begins with two games on Dec. 15 and continues through the BCS national championship on Jan. 7 in Miami.
Try telling Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter that the bowl season begins with the two Dec. 15 games, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise or the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque.
He contends the bowl season actually begins Saturday when his city puts on the its bowl --the 113th Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field, the home field of the Philadelphia Eagles.
"This is Philadelphia's bowl game," Nutter said when Army coach Rich Ellerson and Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo brought their team captains to the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday for the Army-Navy press conference and luncheon.
This will be the 84th time America's Game has been played in Philadelphia dating back to 1899 at Franklin Field, the first year the academies used a neutral site. Last year's contest was hosted by Washington, D.C., and played at the Washington Redskins' FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
"We don't mind sharing the game for a few years, but there is no other place for the Army-Navy Game than Philadelphia," Nutter said. "There is history here. There is passion here for the game here. It's an honor for us to host this game."
That's more than just political-speak from the mayor, even though it's certainly true the game benefits the city greatly with an estimated 50,000 visitors and $35 million economic impact. The coaches and players, eschewing politics, also said they look forward to returning to Philadelphia this year.
Army senior linebacker Nate Combs was in Philadelphia for the 2009 and 2010 games.
"I liked D.C., but I think Philadelphia is the best place for the Army-Navy game," Combs said. "The tradition is in Philadelphia. The energy is here. It's hard to explain, but you just know there is a different energy to the game here in Philadelphia."
Navy's coaches and players also look forward to returning to Philadelphia.
"It's a great atmosphere and a great town for the game," Niumatalolo said. "The city of Philadelphia is very hospitable to us. Lincoln Financial Field is one of the nicest venues to play. Our kids are fortunate to come to a city that has embraced us and to play at a pro setting."
Army junior defensive end Jarrett Mackey only knows Philadelphia as home to the Army-Navy Game. He played as a freshman and sophomore in 2009 and 2010, but he missed last year at the Redskins' stadium with a knee injury suffered in the season opener. A medical hardship granted by the NCAA classifies him as a junior this year for what is his fourth Army-Navy game overall and third on the field.
"I started here as a freshman and it's good to get back to Philadelphia," Mackey said. "It feels like a home game when we come here. You're comfortable here. It feels like playing football in your backyard."
Lincoln Financial Field is the fourth Philadelphia stadium to host the Army-Navy beginning with the 2003 game.
Franklin Field was the host site from the first game in 1899 until 1935. Municipal Stadium, with its 100,000-seat capacity, was the new home in 1936 and was re-named JFK Stadium in 1964. The game remained at JFK until 1979 until Veteran's Stadium hosted from 1980 through 2001. Veteran's and JFK have been demolished and are now parking lots around Lincoln Financial Field.
Ellerson was a fan at Municipal Stadium for the Army-Navy game when his brother played for Army in the 1960, 1961 and 1962 seasons, but he doesn't offer an opinion on favorite among the stadiums.
"There is a big difference being way up there and being on the sideline," Ellerson said, motioning over his shoulder to imaginary Municipal Stadium stands high above him. "I love being in Philadelphia with the history and the tradition. But when you're coaching, all you see is 100 yards of field."
The Army and Navy players, of course, consider this game unlike any other in college football. For Mackey, that belief was reinforced when he was back home in Snellville, Ga., for Thanksgiving and attended the 107th Georgia-Georgia Tech game on Georgia's campus in Athens.
"It was nothing like the Army-Navy game," Mackey said. "There is prestige, rivalry and camaraderie. You can't explain it. You have to be in a uniform to feel it."
More and more Americans are at least watching the game on television if not taking up best-selling author John Feinstein's recommendation to attend the game. Feinstein wrote the 1996 book "A Civil War" and states in the book it's as game every sports fan should see at least once in their life.
The Army-Navy Game's television ratings were up last year to 4 million viewers. Outside of the BCS bowls, Army-Navy's ratings are higher than most of bowl games. The exceptions are when the Cotton, Outback and Capital One bowls match traditional college powers from the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12.
Ellerson considers Philadelphia a good midway point and neutral site between the West Point and Annapolis campus. He has only one complaint with the city.
"I always hate it when we come into town at see the Navy shipyard," he said. "I say, 'Wait a minute. We need an Army post here.' "
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