Visit provokes memories
Last Saturday while Toledo, Northern Illinois and Marshall were making football history for the Mid-American Conference with big football upsets, Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch’s alma mater, Eastern Michigan, was looking bad for the MAC and making me happy.
Back in mid-August you may have read in my opinion column that Pitt might stumble at Toledo’s Glass Bowl against the Rockets.
While the day will stick in my memory because I happened by sheer chance to be right about that, I will remember it more for a dream fulfilled. September 20, 2003, is the day I finally got to see a game at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
As a baby boomer whose dad served on a landing craft in the Pacific in World War II, I have always rooted for Navy on that day of college football days – the Army/Navy game.
Freed long ago from the elitist notion that if a team is not in the Division I top 25 every year they are not worth watching, I have clung tenaciously to my enjoyment of the annual late fall battle of real student-athletes meeting real student-athletes.
And, while I am sure I will enjoy seeing a game at West Point some day should the opportunity present itself, it really was and has been that Navy-Marine Corps stadium I longed to visit (even though they do not play the Army/Navy game there).
But enough of Army/Navy. The game I was able to fit into my schedule was Eastern Michigan/Navy. I was anxious to see two local kids play for the midshipmen — Mickey Yokitis (wide receiver, North Hills High School) and Ben Matthews (linebacker, Mt. Lebanon High School).
Both played well with Yokitis suffering the frustration of having a 36-yard touchdown pass called back because another player in Navy’s double wing offense didn’t line up properly with respect to the line of scrimmage.
Still, it was a good day for Yokitis and his teammates as Navy prevailed, expanding an 11-0 half time lead to a 39-7 victory. This Navy team doesn’t have speed and quickness, but they are tough and resolute. They took advantage of five Eastern Michigan turnovers and just kept coming in the first half despite not having the athletes the Eagles do. More than one observer was heard saying they thought Eastern Michigan quit when Navy scored on their first possession of the second half to take a 17-0 lead.
Be that as it may I was there for the sheer enjoyment of soaking up the atmosphere. I was not working. I was strictly a fan for what seemed like the first time in ages. It was fun. It was neat to see the multi-million dollar renovation to the stadium which now boasts eight new luxury boxes in one end zone. Former Navy quarterback Roger Staubach rents one of the boxes through his very successful commercial real estate firm.
Seeing Staubach’s box took me back 40 years to 1963 when he and the Middies gave Pitt its only loss of the season.
Seeing the entire brigade of 4,000 midshipmen march onto the field prior to kick off and hearing the National Anthem was impressive.
Seeing the entire Navy team run to the portion of the field where the brigade was standing after the game to join in a glorious rendition of the Navy Alma Mater was spine-tingling.
Reflecting that some of these young men will become Marine Corps officers and may be killed in places like Afghanistan and Iraq in the future was sobering.
And frankly it didn’t matter that it wasn’t Oklahoma vs. Miami. It didn’t matter that it was mostly pride and not a chance at a BCS Bowl that was on the line.
What mattered was the battle on the field.
What mattered more were the names of the battles fought around the globe by similar young men — Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, Pearl Harbor and Midway to name a few.
Those names are inscribed in big, bold letters across the facade of the newly decorated stadium.
And the men who fought those fights were all there last Saturday.
You couldn’t touch them, but you could feel them in your spirit.
And it made me happy that it wasn’t so good for the MAC in Navy-Marine Corps Stadium that day.