The first college football game I ever watched was the 1960 Army Navy contest. A running back named Joe Bellino caught my attention and I cheered enthusiastically for Navy during that contest. A few days later Bellino would also win the Heisman Trophy.
My father watched the game with me and rooted for the opposing team. He served in World War II as a gunnery sergeant and was Army through and through. This was likely the first of many disagreements he and I would have over the years. Most, like the Army Navy rivalry, were minor obstacles we could overcome. A few we never got past.
By the time I started driving, the Army Navy rivalry had lost much of its national importance. The Viet Nam War didn’t help, as thousands of American sons were killed in a meaningless fight. With the draft still in effect, nearly every family was touched by the casualty list. The nation became deeply divided as every conceivable political position was fractured. That wound hasn’t healed yet.
The power of television ushered in an era where college and professional football became identifiable distinctions of a person’s allegiance; another way to distance oneself from those different in some way. A species programmed to separate themselves from each other found one more category. In addition to race, religion, sex, national origin, we now had team preference.
As the decades passed, Americans have become not only more divided but less willing to have real discussions about differences. No one is willing to listen to an opposing view point much less consider it valid.
Our politicians scare us instead of telling us the truth, forcing us into more concrete positions. We think the very future of our species is dependent on voting a certain way.
We no longer even bother to talk; we just scream slogans at each other. The idea of settling disputes has become almost quaint. We consider damaging the opponent to be more important than fighting with honor, respecting others’ views and telling the truth. Watching the other side wail is better than winning the day fairly. This attitude permeates every facet of our lives and has taken over our workday, leisure time, and sports allegiances. Almost.
About five years ago I stumbled on the telecast of the Army Navy game once again and discovered this battle hasn’t degraded. These two football teams, representing the best America has to offer, fought harder against each other than any group I’d recently seen. For the sake of team, honor, and right, they battled fiercely.
After each contest the teams gather and reverently sing each others’ Alma Mater and loudly, enthusiastically salute their opponent. The loser sings first, sadly, and with trembling lips, but still classy and proud of their effort.
Then the winners sing. No excuses, no trash talking, no crotch grabbing or flag planting or twitter gotcha. Just what seems like a million voices, as one, singly badly but happily.
Two teams of opposing people, fighting with maximum effort to vanquish the other. At the end, a show of total respect for the other team. After all we are all really the same and are after the identical prize. All that effort just to sing second.
Seems so simple. Why is it so hard?