Just about everyone has lost something due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For too many, it’s been a loved one. For many, it’s been all the little things that make life interesting.
Among the latter’s long list have been a torrent of traditions. For the Naval Academy alone it includes Plebe Parents Weekend (and, many would argue, a real Plebe Summer), 2/C Parents Weekend, weekend liberty, home football games – which entails everything from the famous tailgating scene to the Brigade walking to the stadium to the dramatic Brigade march-on to Plebes doing pushups to mark each point scored.
Swept up in this torrent was the elimination of another time-honored tradition but for quite different reasons. For many years, the statue of what has been called Tecumseh (though it’s really supposed to be a likeness of Chief Tamanend) has been lavishly painted to help mark important occasions – football games, parents’ weekends, commissioning week and the like.
But in the spirit of racial sensitivity, Tecumseh will no longer don “war paint.” Apparently, that will happen on a nondescript base of an ornamental cannon. Obviously, it won’t have the same dramatic effect.
I spoke with a friend who works on such issues and they agreed that this was the right move by the Academy. I had to agree and it probably wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much, but as I was pondering it, along came news that the Army-Navy game would not be played in Philadelphia, instead moving to West Point for the first time since World War II.
The move was inevitable, I guess. Philadelphia has been trying to limit large gatherings and COVID cases have been surging across the country. It was just a matter of time.
I am, however, an optimist at heart and I love big moments, so I had in my mind a picture in early December of the first mass gathering on the East Coast taking place at Lincoln Financial Field, complete with flyovers and march-ons, a presidential coin toss, Air Force One, a halftime prisoner exchange, and, of course, Navy singing second at the end.
Instead, the game will take place – likely without fans or nearly as much fanfare – on the banks of the Hudson.
As much self-pity as I had – I really was hoping the game would be the signal of a true return to normalcy, I was particularly hurting for the Plebes and Firsties. For the former, it was to be their first taste of one of the most hallowed and cherished traditions. For the latter, it was to be one of the biggest moments in the Parade of Lasts.
Of all the things we’ve learned about COVID-19, perhaps the most oft-repeated lesson is that it doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t care that we’re tired of wearing masks. It doesn’t care that some of these Plebes have dreamed of marching on to the field of an Army-Navy game for years. It doesn’t care about traditions.
Of course, everyone will move ahead, that’s what we do. The Class of 2020’s motto continues to ring true – “We will find a way or we will make one.”
And as 2020 continues its painful slide into history, I am left wondering what traditions will survive and what new traditions may rise from its wreckage. After all, the beloved Herndon Climb actually grew out of a tragedy. We can only hope that the current Brigade and leadership can managed to create something positive out of the ashes of the pandemic.