December 1, 2005 -- La Canada Valley Sun


By Anita Susan Brenner

This Saturday, Dec. 3, the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy will meet for their 105th football game. The game will be played at Lincoln Field, in Philadelphia, Penn. It will be televised.

I have had the great, good fortune to go to a few Army-Navy games. No other college rivalry game can compare. Not UCLA versus USC. Not even "Big Game" (Cal against Stanford.) Certainly not the "Holy War" (Boston College versus Notre Dame.)

The game has great importance. During World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower recounted his days as a starting half back and linebacker for the Army Black Knights, saying, "I believe that football ... tends to instill into men! The feeling that victory comes through hard -- almost slavish -- work, team play, self-confidence and an enthusiasm that amounts to dedication." Admiral William F. " Bull" Halsey, weighed 155 pounds when he played for Navy. Halsey later described himself as "the worst fullback who ever went to the Naval Academy."

Imagine yourself back in the days before Sept. 11th.

It is the last week of the college football season. It is midnight. The Brigade of Midshipmen gather outside Bancroft Hall at the Naval Academy for a rally. The Superintendent, an Admiral, comes out to join them. The Mids carry the Supe on their shoulders. The crowd surges past the decorated statue of Tecumseh, past the iron statue of a vicious goat, and out the gate into the cobblestoned Old Town of Annapolis.

The next day, cheerleaders from West Point and Annapolis fill the hallways of the Pentagon, where they serenade the admirals and generals with their service academy fight songs.

One year, the Naval Academy mascot, a live goat named "Bill," goes missing. He is returned, part of a rumored exchange for the West Point Brigade Commander, who had been captured on a blind date gone amuck.

I learned a few of these facts when our son, Andrew, was a plebe. Not that Andrew told me any of this. He did not. I heard it all from the moms at the Parent Club meetings.

It was 1998. Andrew left for the Naval Academy. His childhood friend, Todd, left for West Point. They had been hatching their career plans since third grade, so it was no surprise when they made what is considered to be a traditional Army-Navy Football bet -- they bet their bathrobes.

Many things happened during their first Army-Navy week.

In the midnight hours, a few days before the game, the plebes in Andrew's company managed to carry a small car up four flights of stairs to their company area. At roll call, the next morning, they answered, "28 plebes and a car, all accounted for, Sir!"

A small squadron of Piper Cubs flew from Annapolis to West Point in formation. They strafed the Supe's official residence with 20,000 rolls of toilet paper, allegedly from Bancroft Hall, the world's largest dormitory, home to 4,000 Midshipmen.

Meanwhile, back at the home front, West Point bumper stickers began to appear, not just on our cars, but on our house, on the trees in front of our house and on our mailbox. I retaliated by making endless calls to Todd's parents' voice mail. Instead of leaving a message, I played recordings of Navy Blue and Gold.

The game itself is broadcast to our troops worldwide. Before the game, all the Midshipmen and Cadets, 4,000 from each academy, march onto the field and stand in formation. After the Star Spangled Banner, there are fly-overs. Guys parachute out of planes. Cannons go off with every touchdown. The plebes do push-ups on the sidelines. Many people stand for the entire game. Sometimes, the President of the United States attends, sitting with Navy for one half and Army for the other.

Unfortunately, in December of 1998, Navy lost to Army, 34-30.

Todd proudly wore his official United States Naval Academy bathrobe for the remainder of his first year at West Point. Undoubtedly, it got him out of push-ups. And it gave him bragging rights for the rest of his life. To this day, Todd's folks like to remind us, "Remember the time Andrew lost the bet and Todd got the bathrobe?"

It's always rough when your team loses. Andrew often said, "Some days you've got to live chile dog to chile dog," which was his way of saying, "One day at a time."

This weekend, there is more at stake than a game. But for me, it's about the memories. There's 525,600 minutes in a year. All moments so dear.

Go Navy!

Anita Susan Brenner is a La Cañada resident. She is an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner. Her son, 2nd Lt. Andrew J. Torres, USMC, (1980-2004), and his good friend, 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, US Army (1980-2003), continue to inspire her.

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copyright December 1, 2005

Anita Brenner, Los Angeles Times La Canada Valley Sun