ANNAPOLIS — Football coaches are fastidious sorts, quick to offer a reminder of details great and small.
The major subtext of Navy's home date with Air Force on Saturday didn't require any discussion.
A 14-6 setback to the Falcons almost a year ago set up Navy's loss of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy after a seven-year grasp on the prize for service academy supremacy. The trophy no longer resides in Bancroft Hall, is no longer placed in the Midshipmen's locker room before big games.
And Navy (2-1) is eager to no longer feel an unaccustomed misery.
"It's been 365 days of disgust," senior wide receiver Doug Furman said. "Even the bowl when I felt horrible and just felt this sick feeling in my stomach, there's nothing like losing it, especially when the trophy's not here at our house. We prepared like they're the No. 1 team in the country. We have a lot of respect for them, but I just can't wait to get that trophy back."
The sting of last year's loss to the Falcons (2-1) stems in part from how foreign such a stumble had become in Annapolis. Navy rattled off 15 consecutive victories over service academies — a streak spanning the 2002 and 2009 defeats of Army — as part of its impressive resurgence as a program.
Forget that Air Force had won 19 of 21 games in the series before Navy's streak. The run of mostly close victories was and remains a vital point of pride for a program that graduated four straight classes who never endured a loss to another academy.
"The whole brotherhood expects you to keep that trophy, and it's like we were letting down the past seven years that have graduated when you give it up," quarterback Kriss Proctor said. "So it's our responsibility to get it back."
The Mids will be at nearly full strength as well. Players bruised and beat up in September aren't concerned about injuries that don't require immediate surgery. It is, after all, Air Force week.
Right guard John Dowd will play with a broken thumb, his right hand slipped into an altered boxing glove and then heavily taped into a de facto club. Linebacker Jarred Shannon missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, a precautionary decision by coaches to ensure the senior didn't miss his last game against the Falcons.
And after a bye week to simmer over a close loss to South Carolina and ponder the date with Air Force, Navy is especially eager to face the Falcons.
"It's time," coach Ken Niumatalolo said Wednesday. "It can't come soon enough for us."
Deep down, the Mids believed that since last Oct. 2. The days slipped past, one after another after another, and the meeting with Air Force — and the chance to start reclaiming the coveted trophy — was never far from mind.
It was in the minds of this year's senior class from the moment last year's bowl game ended. It is a priority listed on the wall in the Mids' locker room. It was an unstated influence during spring practice, summer workouts and preseason camp.
All to move past an experience no one at Navy cares to relive.
"There's no way you can prepare for something like that," fullback Alexander Teich said. "You can't tell somebody what it's going to feel like. Once you've lived it, you know. That's kind of a good thing about a lot of guys on this team. There's a lot of guys that were in that locker room that day that felt that pain, so they know what it feels like to lose that game. It eats at us. It's been eating at all of us for a while."
For almost one year, actually. Three short hours will determine whether it lingers longer.
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