It’s an early Southwest Airlines flight on Saturday morning, and I touch down in BWI shortly after sunrise with a full docket of football ahead. With a Navy game scheduled for 3:30 in the afternoon followed closely by an 8pm night game at Maryland, it’s a tenuously tight window to catch two. Energized by the doubleheader prospect ahead, I jump into a rental car and dash southeast towards Annapolis into the orange morning light.
I get into town easily, then wind around the historic state capitol building on the narrow, brick lined streets of Annapolis. The labyrinth of one way streets and tight quarters confounds my GPS, and I rattle my way through cobbled side streets the old fashioned way (cursing and hissing) before slipping into a spot in front of the iconic Chick and Ruths Delly. I pull up a counter stool in the colorful, cramped, diner that’s been dishing out classic fare since 1965. Opting for a simple corned beef and hash breakfast, it’s a delightfully greasy affair that would be equally welcome at 3AM after bouncing through the numerous pubs in town. Washing the formidable meal down with a “regular” sized chocolate malt, I peer over an adjacent table of tourists attempting to conquer the “Colossal” sized shake the deli is noted for – a 6lb. bucket of pancreas busting ice cream delight.
From there, I poke my way towards the United States Naval Academy where a guard stops me at the gate to check ID before waving me through the white concrete walls surrounding campus. Like my West Point trip earlier this year, the grounds of the USNA campus are immaculate. Perfectly manicured lawns are abutted with naval paraphernalia, as dozens of imposing black cannons and massive anchors flank the walkways or sit perched on building patios.
In the middle of the quad, in front of the impressive Academy Chapel, the Herndon Monument, aka “Mount Herndon” juts out of the turf – a scale replica of the Washington Monument. Its on top of this imposing 21 foot granite obelisk where the “plebes no more” tradition takes place at the USNA. One of the most revered traditions in the school, a cap or “cover” is placed on top of the monument at the end of spring semester. With the entire structure caked in a thick coat of slick lard, the plebe (freshman) class, must then work together to climb the monument and retrieve the cap. An accomplishment which signifies their progression as officers into the U.S. Navy.
Wandering deeper into campus, I pass by the landmark “Tecumseh” statue, decked out for game day in Hulk attire, bathed in a fresh coat of green and purple paint. Behind it lies Bancroft Hall, the largest college dormitory in the world, housing all 4,500 midshipmen under one roof. Passing through the rotunda, and the “Commander in Chief” trophy which has been housed here for quite a few consecutive years, I pay my respects to Memorial Hall. A solemn tribute to USNA graduates that have given the ultimate sacrifice to their country in military operations, the names of the fallen are inscribed into the walls according to their respective class year.
In an adjacent nook, a diorama of Captain John Ripley details his heroic exploits detonating a strategic bridge during the Vietnam War. Reading like a real life action hero movie, the true story of “Ripley Under the Bridge” is near incredulous, the very definition of a man with “cajones”. For over three hours under enemy fire, he singlehandedly dangled underneath the Dong Ha bridge to place over 500lbs of explosives that ultimately annihilated it, thwarting the advance of an estimated 20,000 enemy troops. Do yourself a favor and read more about it HERE.
Finishing up on campus, I hike over to Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, located about a mile and a half West of the Academy grounds. Shaded by soaring concrete grandstands as the late afternoon sun starts to dip, the lots are full of blue and yellow tents, many of them posted with signs for various classes and affiliations. Men and women clutch beers huddling within, while kids toss footballs between cars and alternate turns sliding down the grassy slope on the south side of the stadium. With tickets already secured from my college football cohort Bob, I pass through the entrance gates early, not wanting to miss a second of the Midshipmen pre game march on.
A quick survey of the confines of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and I notice something rather unique. In lieu of retired player numbers, the facades of the press box are lettered with the names of global naval conflicts – Peleliu, Tarawa, Pearl Harbor and Guadalcanal, to name a few – a sobering reminder of the broader mission that awaits the players on the gridiron. Soon, the Midshipmen march on to the field grouped in neat square formations as the PA announcer calls out the respective companies. Donned in traditional white caps and long black wool coats the cadets are well prepared for the chilly afternoon, their numbers spread evenly taking up the entire field . Beneath the caps, a few of the middies sport wispy mustaches, a funny look if you ask me, but permitted under Naval Uniform Regulations 2201.1 so long as it does not “exceed 1/2” in length or extend beyond the corners of the mouth”.
On the field, the Midshipmen make short work of Georgia Southern. They trounce the Eagles behind the strength of their traditional triple option rushing attack. Navy amasses 394 yards of rushing against only 71 yards of passing on the day, methodically grinding out five yards at a clip as the ball is pitched from one runner to the next. The Eagles, for their part, move the ball well. They put up nearly the same rushing and passing yardage as the Naval Academy, but the Southern squad is hamstrung by turnovers, coughing the ball up three times on key drives. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the star on the day, piling up 277 yards on the ground and tossing a handful of completions during his rare passing opportunities. In the end, the Middies run away with a 52-19 victory, a convincing blowout win over the Sun Belt conference leading Georgia Southern Eagles.
Special thanks to my friend and USNA graduate Armando giving me the lowdown on all the history, tradition, and important landmarks to check out on campus. Maybe one day we can meet up for a game in Annapolis and I can get the full tour!
Special thanks to my friend, and fellow intrepid college football voyager, Bob for the tickets to the game and continued support throughout the season. I look forward to our paths crossing again next year!
Full Clickthrough Gallery Below: