On Saturday, I sat down to watch the Army-Navy gridiron grudge match and I felt something I hadn’t felt in the three decades since watching the game.
Amid all of the pride, pageantry and patriotism that comes along with the annual football game, I felt shame and disappointment. Not for any player or coach, but really in myself.
From the time I was a child, my father sat down and made sure that was one game we watched every year. My dad is a Vietnam War veteran who was actually stationed at Fort Hood during the late 1960s.
I vaguely remember a Navy game-winning field goal when I was about 7 years old and doing some research when Kurt Heiss’ game-winning kick for Army in 1994 brought back that memory for me years later.
As I got to college and studied journalism at the University of Texas, I became a bit of a football snob and stopped paying as much attention to non-BCS schools.
In my haste to attend Big 12 Championship Games, watch Vince Young and Colt McCoy at the Heisman ceremony and cover Rick Barnes and Gale Goestenkors’ basketball teams, I gave the Army-Navy game some passing interest.
And in my haste to get some experience in the Victoria and Killeen markets, I continued to overlook the rivalry game.
But on Saturday it hit me.
I come in every day, watch games, track down sources, all for stories and videos about sports. I talk to co-workers who do the same thing while covering city councils, area school districts or Fort Hood itself.
Heaven knows there are other journalists in this my office who cover subjects that are more important in the grand scheme of things, but I dedicated my professional life to journalism and I don’t forget how important the First Amendment is to this country.
It took a football game to make me realize the reason I am free to do my job.
The reason Americans are free to read the sports and news pages in publications like mine is hard-working men and women in the armed forces doing their jobs.
I can go about freely and identify myself as a media member without fear of kidnapping, torture or murder.
With that perspective, I was able to remember and appreciate the efforts of players like Angel Santiago and Terry Baggett. For the same reason, I was able to sit back and appreciate the game for what it was, a game.
So many times I will watch a football game that I have no rooting interest in and analyze that Team A lost because Team B had a better pass rush or Team C took advantage of its opponents’ turnovers.
But on Saturday, I looked on and wondered as the men who in a few months will be in combat went out on a snowy afternoon and played the greatest game in the world.
Throw in years of tradition in a rivalry, and the good, old-fashioned hate that comes with it really made my day.
I just hope the next time I begin taking my life in the U.S. for granted someone will roll a tape of the Army-Navy game to remind me of the joy of sports and America.