Earning that star

I love the Army-Navy game. Who doesn’t?

Unparalleled in tradition and pageantry, it’s truly America’s Game. I love that it’s practically the only sporting event happening that day and that TV usually goes out of its way to provide a glimpse into the world of the Cadets and Midshipmen.

Of course, one of the highlights is the opening video for the broadcast. While they are all good (most are great), this one will always … always … cause me to choke up.

I get misty early on, but when that mom says, “you gotta let ’em go” … forget it.

To the outside world, when they think “Beat Army,” they think of that game. But those of us on the inside learn early on that “Go Navy, Beat Army!” is a way of life.

The Mids are urged to Earn That Star. That makes sense to those of us on the inside. But most of those not connected to either academy are unaware of the Star Series – the athletic events where the winner earns the coveted “star” and bragging rights for the rest of the year.

And for those keeping score – and we all should be keeping score – it’s been a banner year for the Midshipmen.

As I write this, there have been 17 Star Series events. It started back in September when Navy won a golf playoff and Army won a volleyball match. Most recently, Navy won wrestling. In between, it’s been almost all Navy. In fact, Navy is 15-2 in the series this year (including the football victory, of course), which makes for some pretty impressive bragging rights. It also means that those earning a varsity let will get a coveted star to add to their varsity sweater. Literally, they earned that star.

Since we Navy families are always looking for something to lord over our West Point counterparts, feel free to mention that Navy has won the Star Series several years in a row and clearly this year looks no different.

When you attend enough Navy sporting events, you begin to spot the difference between literally any other contest and when Army is the opponent. I watched my son play three years of Sprint Football and the team always played hard whether it was Penn or Post or Chestnut Hill College. But when it was Army, the game moved a little faster and the hits came a lot harder.

In most football games, you have to fight for every yard. When it’s Army-Navy, you have to fight for every inch.

You can see it on the sidelines, too. During many games, you’ll see players having casual conversations, maybe looking into the stands or sharing a laugh. Not when it’s Army-Navy. All eyes are on the field, the coaches, and the teammates. Every play induces a reaction – cheers for a gain or a stop, exhortations if things didn’t go their way. You can feel the electricity in the stands.

In 2018 when Navy beat Army for the Sprint title, the joy was boundless. Yes, winning a championship was great, but the fact that they beat their rivals for the title, especially after losing the Star Game earlier in the season, was beyond a cherry on the sundae. Losing the title to Army the next season was a difficult pill to swallow but it was made slightly easier knowing they had Earned That Star earlier in the season.

I recall talking to one USNA grad after the team he once played on finally beat Army for the first time in four years. He was relieved.

“I’m so happy for the seniors,” he said. “You gotta get at least one star before you leave. You don’t want to walk away without one.”

Here’s hoping a Mid has to do that any time soon.

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