Army ends two-year skid, sinks Navy 25-0 in flag football
Since 1990, teams of Marines and sailors have squared off against soldiers in December football battles on Okinawa of a different sort – flag football.
Dec. 4th's 27th renewal of the rivalry game was played for the first time on Camp Shields, after a 26-year run at nearby Torii Station. Army won for the second time in four years, but shut out Navy for the first time in the rivalry’s history, 25-0.
“Love it,” Army coach Lawrence Occomy said after quarterback Capt. Alton McDuffie threw three touchdown passes to power the Knights to victory.
“It feels great,” said McDuffie, 31, a 2008 West Point graduate who hails from Tampa, Fla. “You have to credit the team. They did a wonderful job, all the soldiers who dedicated their time, heart and soul to the team. They could have been out doing something else.”
Army increased its lead in the series to 19-8. Navy had won the previous two encounters and four of the last five before Sunday’s one-sided verdict.
But like its service-academy counterpart in the United States, the game is about on-field rivalry, but service comradeship off it, said one of the dignitaries in attendance Sunday.
“The mission is always first,” Fleet Activities Okinawa executive officer Cmdr. Thomas Taylor said. “But it’s an opportunity to engage in a nice rivalry, let off a little steam, earn some bragging rights and we turn around and do it again next year.”
Army-Navy games featuring West Point vs. Annapolis date back almost to the roots of the sport itself. The first of the 116 rivalry games was played in 1890. This year’s game is Dec. 10 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.
It’s the last of the three in-season Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy games and in recent years has marked the end of the college football regular season. Instant replay made its American TV debut in the 1963 game.
The Okinawa flag series began in November 1990 to coincide with the stateside rivalry game. Similar games sprang up later at Yongsan Garrison in Korea and alternately between Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Camp Zama in Japan. Army leads the series overall 42-17.
Sunday’s activities at Shields featured plenty of pomp, food for sale, contests for travel vouchers from Delta Air Lines and the usual pre-game pageantry.
There was even a visit, courtesy of Navy MWR, by two former NFL stars – Dre’ Bly, a cornerback who played primarily for the Detroit Lions, and receiver Eddie Kennison, best known for his years with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Bly and Kennison spent much of the pregame working out about 20 youths, boys and girls, running them through the various football drills.
“This is fantastic,” said Kennison, the son of a retired Army master sergeant. “Why not come here? With all these people serving our country, it’s really pleasant to come spend some time with them.”
One of the youngsters tutored by Kennison and Bly said he was grateful for the experience.
“It was fun,” said Nicholas Cooper, 13, adding that he learned to “keep working hard and look at your goals.”
The game itself proved one-sided, as McDuffie tossed TD passes to Schareff Champlain and Anthony Tran in the first quarter and Kyle Peres booted two second-quarter field goals.
Navy tried to rally, but hurt itself by throwing five interceptions in the game. McDuffie passed 3 yards to James Wells for a touchdown that capped the scoring with 29.9 seconds left.
The soldiers appeared most excited after accepting the Commanders’ Trophy when they realized it was their first win by shutout in the series’ history. “The defense protected the goose egg; that’s really hard to do,” McDuffie said.
Some 750 fans attended the contest, joined by dignitaries from each command in the central VIP section, including Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, III Marine Expeditionary Force commanding officer.
“It’s a slice of home,” said Nicholson, a former Naval Academy instructor. “All across the country, Army-Navy in December is a key event in the holiday season. There’s a lot of people here without a stake in the game, but it’s a piece of home for them.”