In a number of our recent recaps, writers have echoed a common refrain: The students are finally back! After those sometimes eerily quiet winter break games where you could count, if not on one hand at least by hand, the number of people in the stands, it's finally time to get back to the raucous environments we all love about Our Game.
On Saturday, I was anticipating what might have been an extreme version of this experience when Army visited Navy for a women's/men's hoops doubleheader. I don't need to tell you that the Army-Navy rivalry is longstanding and significant to both academies. (After each school's fight song, no matter the sport, the time of year or even who that day's opponent actually is, the chant "Beat Army!" or "Beat Navy!" is added.) There were celebrities in the house befitting an important game. I spotted Reggie Miller (on the call for CBS), and I saw Gen. Martin Dempsey, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, handing out what I think were "challenge coins" to the Army cheerleading squad. Perhaps most relevant to me, though, was this: I knew that, in all likelihood, all midshipmen (i.e., all students at the Naval Academy) would be required to attend this game. Think about it: the biggest student section possible! It essentially overtook three corners of the lower bowl in Alumni Hall and at least two-thirds of the upper bowl.
As I arrived for the women's game, I saw the mids filing in as well. The women's game was great -- close all the way, well-played and hard-fought by both teams. I couldn't help but notice how many of the midshipmen, male and female, in the section next to me spent most of the game reading, staring at their cellphones and, yes, sleeping. They mostly stirred for the "Tees for Threes" promotions and to snap photos with the visiting Army cheerleaders. (Side note: I don't blame them for this. If I were forced to attend football games, I'd probably do the same!) However, the final few minutes of the game, which saw back-and-forth action and a home team win, demonstrated that loud noise was possible.
You might ask whether this was part of a larger pattern of less interest in women's basketball. The mids' indifference to the men's game that followed, however, strongly suggested that whatever the strength of that general trend, it wasn't playing much of a role here. The Navy men's team didn't give their classmates much to cheer about, it's true, and Army put on an amazing display of 3-point shooting in the first half that made things seem pretty out of reach for the Midshipmen. As I wondered if Navy could get back in the game, thinking about the incredible upsets I've been reading about on TMM recently, I noticed that it didn't seem to occur to anyone to try to harness the potential energy of the crowd.
It's a reminder to all of us who sometimes lament our schools' less-than-full student sections: It's about being loud and invested. Unless the game is really dramatic, all the students you can jam into a building won't help overcome that other common refrain: whatever and ever, amen.
ARMY 75, at NAVY 62 01/14/2012
ARMY 8-10 (1-2) -- E. Ellis 5-11 6-6 19; J. Simmons 5-14 5-7 18; M. Lenox 1-3 2-3 4; J. Herbeck 5-7 0-0 15; M. Williams 1-1 4-4 7; M. Washington 1-1 1-2 3; A. Stire 2-2 0-0 4; J. Pancoe 1-1 0-0 3; J. Springer 0-2 0-0 0; J. Johnson 1-1 0-0 2; W. Thornton 0-0 0-0 0; S. Billerman 0-0 0-0 0; P. Harris 0-0 0-0 0; C. Gramling 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-43 18-22 75. NAVY 3-14 (0-3) -- J. Avila 8-14 3-5 21; J. Sugars 4-10 8-12 17; J. Brickman 2-4 2-4 8; I. Roberts 4-8 3-5 11; W. Smith 0-3 0-0 0; B. Venturini 0-4 0-0 0; D. Jackson 1-2 0-0 2; J. Loupos 0-0 0-0 0; T. Connolly 0-0 0-0 0; B. Wyatt 1-1 0-0 3; C. Montgomery 0-1 0-0 0; J. Smoot 0-0 0-0 0; K. Alter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-47 16-26 62.
Three-point goals: ARMY 13-23 (J. Simmons 3-9; J. Pancoe 1-1; E. Ellis 3-5; J. Herbeck 5-7; M. Williams 1-1), NAVY 6-23 (J. Sugars 1-5; J. Avila 2-5; B. Wyatt 1-1; J. Brickman 2-4; C. Montgomery 0-1; W. Smith 0-3; D. Jackson 0-1; B. Venturini 0-3); Rebounds: ARMY 24 (E. Ellis 9), NAVY 28 (J. Avila 14); Assists: ARMY 18 (M. Washington 9), NAVY 14 (J. Brickman 6); Total Fouls -- ARMY 21, NAVY 22; Fouled Out: ARMY-None; NAVY-D. Jackson.