- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — The commander in chief watched over a different kind of ground war and aerial attack yesterday as he witnessed one of the greatest rivalries in sports: the 105th annual Army-Navy football game.

Even before he arrived at Lincoln Financial Field, President Bush announced his presence with authority. On its approach, Air Force One swooped low over the football field, dipping one wing in an aerial wave to the fans high in the bleachers.

The president visited both locker rooms before the game, but not to give a fiery speech. Instead, he thanked each team’s players for their service to their country.

“I’m proud that you decided to serve the great United States of America,” Mr. Bush told the Army team. “We need your character, we need your class. God bless you. … I’m proud of you. Go get ‘em.”

In the Navy locker room, the president could see three jerseys hanging over the doorway commemorating former players Ron Winchester, J.P. Blecksmith and Scott Zellem, who were killed in Iraq. Near the end of the game, which Navy won in a 42-13 blowout, Navy players held up the three jerseys on the field. Players from both teams wore patches to honor their fellow servicemen.

Asked on the field before the game who he thought would win, Mr. Bush said: “The United States of America.”

Mr. Bush oversaw the coin toss, using a coin flown in from the Iraqi city of Fallujah. He then took a seat in the bleachers on the Army side of the field, where thousands of cadets stood throughout the game.

With great fanfare, the president left the Army bleachers, accompanied by Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy. They walked to midfield, flanked by hundreds of cadets and midshipmen, as Navy fans good-naturedly jeered Gen. Lennox.

At the center of the field, Mr. Bush was met by Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, and then escorted to the bleachers.

Among those traveling with the president were his brother Marvin; Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi; Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat; Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a graduate of the Naval Academy; Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.; and senior White House adviser Karl Rove.

Mr. Bush’s attendance didn’t help Army, even though Army is 8-5-2 in games the president has attended.

Both teams have had their ups and downs. In 2002, the storied rivalry saw two 1-9 teams battling for bragging rights. In 2001, Navy went 0-10.

But this year, Navy is 8-2 and moving toward its second bowl bid in two years under coach Paul Johnson. Yesterday’s victory gave the Midshipmen nine wins for the first time since Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach led them to a 9-1 record in 1963.

Next year’s game will be even bigger. The series is now tied 49-49 with seven ties.

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