Army and Navy vets will reprise their rivalry in arena football exhibition Saturday
Ricky Dobbs didn't expect to get another opportunity to play rival Army, but the former Navy quarterback will do so when he plays in a veterans game Saturday in Philadelphia. (Hunter Martin, Getty Images / December 11, 2010)
But he needed a few seconds to organize his thoughts.
“Its just special,” Dobbs finally said in a telephone call Wednesday. “It's hard to put into words, but we have so much respect for our military academy brothers. But we want to beat them bad, too. There's a ton of pride on the field when Navy plays Army.”
After Dobbs graduated in 2011, he never expected to compete in the historic rivalry again. But Saturday night in Philadelphia, he'll do just that.
As part of its military appreciation night, the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League will hold a full-contact exhibition pitting Navy veterans against Army veterans after the Soul's 6:05p.m. game against the Iowa Barnstormers.
It's a part of an effort by Soul ownership to help improve veterans' employment rates. Marty Judge, a minority owner of the team and CEO of The Judge Group staffing firm, has put together a job fair for veterans with more than 35 employers that will take place before Philadelphia's game.
The goal is to improve upon the 20.4percent unemployment rate of veterans ages 18-24 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 9.9 percent unemployment rate for all veterans who served since September 2001. The job fair will include “speed interviewing,” so veterans can meet as many employers as possible.
“It just doesn't seem right to me. I have had some success only because those people fought for our freedom,” Judge said. “I knew that we had the resources to make a change.”
The idea for the Army-Navy veteran game, which will be played at Wells Fargo Center and use Arena Football League rules, originated when Judge couldn't sleep one night this past August.
He flipped on a television and watched a news story discussing the difficulties veterans had finding jobs. Judge figured his staffing firm could help employers get in touch with veterans, and vice versa.
But he also knew he had the perfect entity to spread awareness and publicize the event. Judge considers the Army-Navy game the best rivalry in college football, and he knows the matchup evokes passion from both sides.
So he approached Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski, the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, with his idea of creating a veterans game. The two began contacting employers for the job fair as well as players and coaches for the game.
The event has picked up steam since August, and Judge said the plan is to play the veterans game each year.
“Other than fighting for our country, I know the military academies take plenty of pride in football,” said Judge, who noted that the Soul is hoping to sell out its 16,000-seat venue for the event and expecting at least 12,000 fans. “It all seemed to fit.”
While the event promotes a universal cause, the game still will be competitive, Dobbs said.
Each team consists of dozens of veterans or active-duty officers from either the U.S. Army or Navy. Though many of the players attended military academies, it is not a requirement.
The Navy side includes former Midshipmen players such as Dobbs, who went 3-0 against the Black Knights, and Andy Person, who went 0-4 against Army during his time at Navy.
“It's our first time competing against Army since we left the service academy,” said Dobbs, who is now serving on the destroyer USS Oscar Austin in Virginia. “For some of us, we want to continue our success, but for others, they'll be clawing and fighting for their first win.”
Unlike in 2009 and 2010, when Dobbs led Navy to convincing victories over the Black Knights, his team might be at a disadvantage. Most of the Army players live in the Philadelphia area and have been able to practice together several times.