- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Navy defensive end Jabaree Tuani’s impression of his team’s rivalry with Army was solidified on his first snap against the Black Knights in 2008.

Army ran a sweep to the far side. Tuani was occupied on the near side — in more ways than he expected.

“The ball gets stopped on the other side of the field, and I’m running over to the play and the offensive tackle is running over there, too,” Tuani said. “He turns around and looks at me and takes a swing at me. He actually throws a punch during the game. It shows you how much this game really means to each team. I know it wasn’t anything personal toward me. I just know he wanted it that bad.”

Tuani probably won’t go to that extreme Dec. 10 when the Midshipmen (4-7) meet Army (3-8) at FedEx Field.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo’s first Army-Navy game was in 1995 as a Mids assistant. He experienced the Brigham Young-Hawaii rivalry as a player and as an assistant and figured the service academy series couldn’t be much different.

Then, as the team bus pulled into Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, he looked out the window and saw Army’s corps of cadets in their gray uniforms and Navy’s brigade of midshipmen in their black uniforms prepared to walk onto the field.

“It just sends chills down your spine. It’s kind of like a civil war or something,” Niumatalolo said. “Like seeing this mass of people in the same uniforms coming out, you realize it’s different. There’s a different air to it. You could cut the intensity with a knife, it was so thick.”

Even for players, there’s no way to entirely prepare for the initial impression of the series. Even though the Army game looms as the most important game of the season in Annapolis, the sensation of stepping into a packed pro stadium is impossible to replicate in advance.

“I was blown away,” Mids fullback Alexander Teich said. “I remember I walked in there and guys tell you ‘It’s the Army-Navy game’ and you’re like ‘Yeah, OK.’ The first time you come out that tunnel, you can feel the passion in the crowd. You know it’s on national television. Your heart is just pumping. Your adrenaline is pumping. It’s the neatest experience I’ve ever had.”

No word on Steelman

It remains uncertain whether Army quarterback Trent Steelman will be available against the Mids. The junior’s 32-game starting streak was snapped Oct. 29, and he missed three contests with a high ankle sprain. He returned Nov. 19 against Temple, only to suffer a right knee injury after two snaps.

Steelman has 583 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing this season. He is listed as a co-starter on the Black Knights’ depth chart with freshman Angel Santiago, who has played in four games and started Army’s Nov. 12 loss to Rutgers at Yankee Stadium.