Sunday, November 9, 2014

Glory Hallelujah! Army beat UConn!

That was a great, great game.  Easily the best, most exciting Army Football game I've attended in years.

I wound up going with some of the guys in my office.  I told them before the game that I wasn't super-hopeful on Army's behalf.  Army has lost several winnable games this season because of mistakes and flat-out bad defense late in games.  Earlier in the year the game against UConn looked winnable--UConn also has a first-year head coach, and they have also struggled to reach a 2-6 leading up to last night's game--but after Army's losses at Wake Forest, Yale, and especially Kent State, I wasn't feeling it.

I caught the train into the City.  It was full to bursting with
UConn fans, but the atmosphere was colegial and fun.
Reichenbach Hall
We decided to meet at Reichenbach Hall at 12:30 for some beer and bratwurst before the game.  Meeting early gave us enough time to grab lunch and beer while also catching the cadet march-on and parachute demonstration.  I told my collegues, "We can't miss the guys jumping into the stadium.  That's liable to be the best part of the game!"  I wound up having a grapefruit hefeweizen and a very nice dunkelweiss, we found out that our youngest collegue is getting married, and everybody had a Hell of a good time.  If the game had been an absolute blow-out in the opposite direction, I'd still have come away with fond memories of the day.

Reichenback Hall is at 5 West 37th Street.  We walked from there to Grand Central, caught the 4 express train to Yankee Stadium, and got to the stadium about 2:30.  That was a little earlier than expected, but the Corps of Cadets was already on hand, and both teams were on the field warming up.  We grabbed some more beer--Goose Island IPA this time--headed to our seats, and settled in for maybe a ten minute wait before pre-game activities got going.

Our seats were right on the 50.  They weren't cheap,
but they were great seats.
Holy crap!  Beer at Yankee Stadium is $12 on draft!

It's funny, too, because Army doesn't sell beer at Michie Stadium, so this was easily the drunkest I've ever seen Army Football fans en masse.  By the end of the game, the area behind the our section was chock-full of drunk grey-beards in utter bliss.  It was a great atmosphere.

Pre-game warm-ups
One of my classmates jumped in with the game ball... 
...and stuck the landing like a champ!
I'm not sure how much of the Corps came to the game.  Fourth Regiment marched on, and there were cadets in the stands during the march-on, so at a glance, I'm guessing that there were two regiments total.  But that's only a guess.  It didn't look like there were two thousand cadets in the stands, but what do I know?  It's not like I took a head-count.  One of the guys sitting in front of me has a son in the Class of '17, and he told me that West Point also sent cadets (including his son) to support the Army-Navy Cup down in Philly, so I can't imagine that we had all that many cadets at Yankee Stadium.  Anyway, I'll bet the Academy itself was a ghost town this weekend.

We had good weather, and the cadets wore Dress Grey.  I've seen a bunch of football games this season, but this was the very first time we've seen the Corps in Dress Grey all season.  They looked good, if cold.  Still, this was the kind of trip I would have loved as a cadet, and I was happy for the cadets that got to come.  

Sadly, not even the Firsties were allowed to drink the $12 beers.

The Corps during the parachute demonstration.  Fourth Reg. was on the field
at this point, so... this is maybe half the Corps?
If you get good seats, Yankee Stadium is a great place to watch a football game.  This game was supposed to be a "home" game for Army, but in reality, I think the stadium was about 50/50 Army/UConn fans.  More a "neutral site" game, really.  UConn's crowd was loud.  They didn't always have a lot to cheer about, but whenever the Huskies scored, the place rocked.

I should say, too, that attendance was better than I thought it would be.  Yankee Stadium seats just under 51,000 fans.  The lower sections were pretty much filled, but the upper sections were totally empty.  By comparison, Michie Stadium only holds 38,000 fans, and I doubt strongly that this game would have sold out.   The game at Yankee Stadium had an announced attendance of 27,500.  I suppose that's about on the order of what an actual home game would have seated, but it's not breaking any records.

My sense from talking to people in and around the City before the game was that New Yorkers would love to support Army football, but y'know, it's New York.  They're not going to support a loser.  Still, if you're a college football fan living in NYC, your choices are limited.  You can root for Rutgers, UConn, or Army, and I'm telling you right now, no New Yorker is going to root for a college located in New Jersey.  It's never gonna happen.  

Army Football is in a great spot to build a regional following, but they need to play better.  To that end, these Yankee Stadium games are important, and the fact that this game was awesome can only help.  Army needs better outreach to the upscale denizens of Manhattan, and they need to put a winning team on the field, but I think New Yorkers would get behind the Black Knights in a big way if given half a chance.

The game itself was about on par with what we've seen from Army all season long.  UConn got the ball first, but Army got a stop and then moved the ball well in the early going.  UConn's team was visibly bigger, but Army ran more pitches to the outside than they have in recent games, and those were working all night long.  Army's first drive stalled at around the 5, but back-up QB AJ Shurr came in as the holder during the field goal try, ran a beautiful fake field goal, and got the first down.

What a play!  

UConn has size, and they kept the Fullback Dive bottled up, but they don't have nearly the speed that Army has, and Army consistently got outside all game long.  We saw lots of toss-sweeps and option pitches, and both had good success.  Army went up 14-0 before fumbling to give UConn the chance to close within seven right before half.

The lost fumbles have just killed Army this season.

Army QB Angel Santiago punches it in late in the fourth quarter.
Army went up 28-14.
Army got the ball in the second half, and again the offense played well.  I kept telling myself that UConn was gonna come back, but by the time Army was up 28-14, I'd begun to believe.

But then UConn got the ball, marched right down the field, and scored to again bring the game to within seven.  That drive was maddening.  UConn's quarterback couldn't find anywhere to throw, but Army's pass rush also wasn't getting home, leading to a series of extended broken plays.  As the rush worked to get to the quarterback, the middle of the field kept openning up, giving the quarterback freedom to tuck the ball and run.  After a pair of these plays, I got the feeling that UConn started designing quaterback draws, and they kept working.  Army's defense was gassed, and as we have seen many times this season, they don't hold up well against bigger guys over the course of four quarters of football.

Needless to say, when UConn recovered the onside kick, everyone in the stadium was standing and screaming.  I screamed myself hoarse, and then we got the interception, and the stadium erupted in euphoria.


We walked around the inner ring of the stadium and out onto the street.  I said goodbye to my collegues, caught the train back to 125th Street, walked across the platform, and got directly on the train for home.  It was a long ride home, but it seemed to pass in a blur made more palatable by the sight of all those sad UConn fans whose hearts had just been broken.

Army is now 3-6.  This week they play at Western Kentucky, and then we have Fordham at home.  That's the last game to which I have tickets, but it should be a good one.   Fordham is an FCS school, but they've played excellent football this season and have only one loss.  On top of that, I went to Fordham for my MBA, so the game has some meaning for me personally.

I think we can eek out one more win, and I am cautiously optimistic about Navy.  My head tells me that we still need at least one more year to rebuild, but after last night my heart wants to believe.

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