Philadelphia — They sense the rebirth of patriotism in the country, embrace the tradition of the rivalry and understand the added significance of this game.
Now they just want to play football.
The 102nd meeting between Army and Navy today at Veterans Stadium comes at a time when the United States is fighting a war. But for 60 minutes, the players will try to focus on winning the most important game of their lives.
"It's our Super Bowl, the biggest game that we play in," Navy linebacker and team captain Jake Bowen said. "It's something that you look forward to from Day One that you're inducted into the Naval Academy that you've got to beat Army."
Navy hasn't beaten anyone else the last two years. The Midshipmen (0-9) avoided a winless season last year by beating Army 30-28. Army (2-8) has only defeated Houston and Tulane this season.
The 2-17 combined record of the two teams is the second worst in series history. But the records never matter when the two service academies meet. The game often is decided in the fourth quarter, if not the final minutes.
"I don't think we need to be evenly matched to have a good game," Army coach Todd Berry said. "You look back through time and sometimes Army will have a great record and Navy wouldn't or vice versa, and the game was still a close game."
In 1991, Navy was 0-10 before closing with a 24-3 victory over Army, which entered 5-5. Perhaps the best game in the rivalry was in 1948 when Navy came in 0-8 and Army was 8-0. The game ended in a 21-21 tie.
Army has won 10 of the last 15 games. But Navy has won the last two years.
"We're going to give them a great football game, one way or the other," Navy coach Rick Lantz said. "I don't look for this to be a 51-0 game. The fans are going to want so bad for everybody to play well, see big plays on defense for both teams. No, excuse me, I forgot I'm a head coach now. I've got to worry about the offense, too."
Lantz, the interim coach, was promoted after Charlie Weatherbie was fired on Oct. 28. The former defensive coordinator realizes the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 added new meaning to the game.
"I don't know how the game could be more important to us, but it is more important to the fans," he said. "People look a little differently now at the military, police and firefighters."
People have always looked at the Army-Navy game in a special way, even before the tragic events at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"It's always the most-watched game in college football every year because I think it's more than about the game," Berry said. "It's not about the teams' records and it's not about the star players that are out there. The reason why it's the most-watched game is because of what it represents."
Army is a 112-point favorite today despite a better record. The Cadets have the edge at the skill positions with running back C.J. Young, quarterback Chad Jenkins and tight end Clint Dodson, an NFL prospect.
Navy relies heavily on senior quarterback Brian Madden, the team's leading rusher.