Blaik Field was pretty much empty by noon yesterday, following an active and upbeat couple of hours of football Media Day. Close to 150 players had left the sun-drenched turf for an air-conditioned lunch upstairs in the Kimsey Athletic Center.
The half-dozen TV crews had packed their bags and carried portable cameras to their vans, which were parked next to Michie on the Lusk Reservoir side of the stadium.
Essentially all that remained were 40,000 empty seats. Empty, but of course not empty of history. Not empty of success. Certainly not empty of tradition.
The slightest of breezes touched the greatness, gold lettering along the face of the upper deck.
National Champions, it reads, 1944-45-46.
Heisman Trophy, it reads, 1945 Blanchard…1946 Davis…1958 Dawkins …
Outland Trophy…Joe Steffy
The 2010 Army team may not win a national championship this year, and it may not have a Heisman candidate, but it has something the program hasn't had in a while: a realistic shot at a winning season and a bowl appearance.
Yesterday's interview sessions didn't so much take place on a field of dreams as much as they did on a field of optimism.
I believe this is the year that we have success and go to a bowl.
- CB , Antuan Aaron
"I believe this is the year that we have success and go to a bowl,'' junior corner Antuan Aaron said convincingly. "It's not only the coaches who are saying, "We need success, we need success.' We have players stepping up now keeping each other in line. The goal, the purpose we're here is to win.
"A lot of people say that winning isn't everything? This year,'' he said with a smile, "winning is everything. And especially from the heartbreak last year of one game.''
That of course was in reference to the 17-16 home defeat to Tulane, a loss that kept the Black Knights from finishing 6-6 and a possible bowl invite.
"They don't want that feeling again. This is the year that everything changes for Army. It has to be.''
Pausing, the affable 21-year-old added, "I'd like to have two rings on these fingers before I leave.''
There are enough veterans on this team, as well as enough talent, to make that possible.
The offense now has a quarterback who has run coach Rich Ellerson's triple option in sophomore quarterback Trent Steelman. He and senior slotback Patrick Mealy come off a year in which they combined to rush for more than 1,300 yards.
With a little help from the Air Force - fullback transferJared Hassin looks like the real deal - and an offense line with four returning starters, this unit could provide an even stronger defense with a little more rest between drives.
The defense has eight starters back, and that doesn't count senior Rich King, who missed all of last season with a concussion and who reported to yesterday's opening day of practice as a starter at corner.
"I can't even explain how anxious I am,'' said the Houston native. "As far as I'm concerned I think we'll be a top 10 defense. With all the talent we have we should definitely be able to make it to a bowl game.''
He had no arguments from the Plebes, who were coming off a five-week "bonding experience" through Beast Barracks with the upperclassmen with all the yelling, running and wandering through the woods with compass and map.
For talented freshman and Florida native Shelby Jackson, the time for winning is now.
The last time Army won more games then it lost, Jackson was five. But now he's 6-2, 270 and has a season at the USMAPS behind him.
"What I saw last year was an overnight change. Army has stepped up greatly. And I feel like these next few seasons are going to be the greatest seasons in Army football history.''
Told to look up toward the press box, Jackson broke into a smile when he was reminded of those national championships.
"Well,'' he said, "let's say then that we'll have some of the best teams in modern history.''
Today, for the players in the black uniforms and gold numbers, anything seemed possible and the optimism is genuine.