As the college football landscape shifts toward super conferences that have washed away century-old rivalries, two schools at the bedrock of the sport's foundation remain as rigid about their continued alliance as their respective student bodies who will march into FedEx Field in Landover a week from Saturday.
Army and Navy, which will play for the 112th time, believe that their annual game will survive regardless of whether the Midshipmen move into the Big East Conference in the future. Unlike other rivalries that have recently ended, including Texas-Texas A&M, Army-Navy will continue ad infinitum.
At least that's the plan of Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk.
Gladchuk said during Wednesday's pre-game luncheon at the Army-Navy Country Club that his discussions with Big East officials included making sure the league knew that he had no plans of dropping the Black Knights from the football schedule.
Navy has been mentioned as a likely candidate to join the Big East strictly for football.
"We worked long and hard at the Naval Academy as an independent to put together some very important components of what comprises the character of Navy football, and one of those tenets is that Army-Navy rivalry," Gladchuk said. "That's a hands-off relationship that will continue under any circumstances. That can't be compromised, that won't be compromised."
First-year Army athletic Boo Corrigan, who worked for three years at Navy before going to Notre Dame and Duke concedes that college football "is certainly an ever-changing world," but doesn't foresee the day that the annual end-of-season football game between the country's two oldest service academies won't be a part of it.
"When you go to an Army-Navy game, and you see the march-ons and you feel what that's about, and you see the competition for 60 minutes and how that is, and after that you've got the alma maters and you see how those men are interacting with each other, I think that's what separates what this game is from other games," Corrigan said.
Navy senior co-captain Alexander Teich grew up in Texas surrounded by fans of the Longhorns and Aggies, who played for the last time after 118 years on Nov. 24 because of Texas A&M's anticipated move to the Southeastern Conference. Teich said it would be "un-American" for the Midshipmen to stop playing Army.
"I think it would be a tragedy if this game ever ended," Teich said.
Teich said that a lot of his friends back home "are heartbroken" over the fact that the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry has ended. Teich and others believe that the Army-Navy rivalry, however one-sided it has been with the Midshipmen winning nine straight years and 11 of the last 12, is different than others.
It is also different than the rivlaries the two schools have with Air Force.
"Sometimes when you watch a Texas-Texas A&M game or another big rivalry game, those guys are in each other's faces, you would never see that in a game like this," Teich said. "They've got their Brotherhood. We've got our Brotherhood. But we're all kind of molded from the same kind of character, we're taught the same kind of lessons, we all make sacrifices that 18-year olds don't normally make."
Said Army senior captain Andrew Rodriguez, "It is much different, because everyone in the game is going to serving in some sort of military branch. It's kind of like a sibling rivalry, you'll compete against each other but then you'll be able to talk to them about it because you'll be working together the next few years. That kind of makes it a little bit different."
When Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo first heard about the possibilities of the Midshipmen joining the Big East, one of his biggest concerns was continuing the game against Army. (Air Force, which Navy has played since 1961 and continuously since 1972, is also being mentioned prominently as a candidate for the Big East's Western Division.)
"That's a major part of who we are," Niumatalolo said Wednesday. "I know our administration will fight tooth and nail to keep it."
Note: Gladchuk said that the Big East "has gone dark" in its discussions with Navy about joining the Big East, but said that the Midshipmen are still being considered one of the league's primary targets for expansion. Gladchuk said that he believes the league is in the midst of solidifying "West Coast partners" for Boise State before making any official announcement.