There are few sporting contests in which one can argue that much of the sports world stops upon the commencement of the event, but the Army-Navy annual football game surely is on the short list of the nation’s most captivating events.
The 121st edition of the Army-Navy football rivalry will kick off this Saturday at Michie Stadium in West Point, and our latest edition of The A Lot of Sports Talk Podcast features an interview with Randy Roberts, an author as well as the Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University, talking about the history of the rivalry and some of the great players and people who suited up on the football field and in the battlefields of war afterward. Our discussion includes an in-depth conversation about 1944, the year Army won its first of three consecutive national championships, and how the rivalry game that year lifted morale in the United States while in the throes of World War II and inspired the book Roberts wrote in 2011, A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation. Some of the stories about the people and events of that year, from the commencement speech at Army taking place on the same day as the Normandy Invasion (June 6, 1944) to some of the former football players who were at and around the shores of Omaha Beach, are truly awe-inspiring and emotional to listen to, and we thank Roberts for going into it in great detail in our interview.
This year’s game was moved from its regular home in Philadelphia to West Point because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, and our discussion hits on other times the Army-Navy game has taken place during events that have overshadowed sports in America, including in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The rivalry game was scheduled to take place just eight days after that tragedy, and while many people in the country pushed back on resuming sports so soon afterward, we hear from Roberts about how First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was the driving force in making sure the game was played and assured that that would have the former president’s blessing. It was our pleasure to cover the Army-Navy rivalry in person in both 2017 and 2019, and as much as we respected and adored the legacy of the game and the people who went on to serve our country on the front lines afterward, this conversation still served as an eye-opening experience for me, and I’m sure it will be the same for you as well.
After our interview, we close by saying a few words about longtime sports reporter and friend Mike Shalin, who passed away last week from brain cancer. Mike was the consummate professional for over 40 years and was one of the most well-respected people in sports journalism, and I was so fortunate to have crossed his path in 2012 and call him a good friend ever since. Mike was always quick with a joke, but even quicker with bringing you into his circle and making you comfortable in the press room, and every time I saw him covering events in the New England area was a day I cherished. He made me feel as if I knew him for decades after just meeting him for the first time, and he is someone who mentored me in journalism without he or I realizing it throughout our friendship. Mike, I love you, and I will miss you. Requiescat in pace, Big Mike.
Along with hoping that you enjoy the podcast, we are encouraging those of you who are serious about educating oneself and making a tangible difference in the fight against social injustice — but struggling to find a starting point — to click this link, an anti-racism resource guide for white people. Please enjoy the podcast, and leave us any and all comments that you have. Click here to go to the A Lot of Sports Talk podcast page on Apple Podcasts, or click here to find the podcast on Google Play Music. From there, you can download this show as well as subscribe to our podcast page and receive new episodes on your device the second it is posted. You can also open iTunes, and in the Podcasts section, type in “The ‘A Lot of Sports Talk’ Podcast” in the search window to find our shows.
Interview Order: Intro (0:00 – 7:15); Prof. Randy W. Roberts (7:17 – 43:10); Wrap-up (43:17 – 49:06)