By TERRY LYONS
PHILADELPHIA – There’s a lot to be learned in the lobbies of hotels across America. Check-in, check-out … then check it out.
On Friday, December 13th, upon check-in at a Center City Philadelphia hotel, the first person met was retired Brigadier General Pete Dawkins who also happens to be a spry 81-year old former Heisman Trophy winner for the United States Military Academy. Dawkins played as star halfback for Army from 1956-58. He later studied as a Rhodes Scholar and served as an officer until his retirement in 1983.
A little later in the day, as dozens of radio stations from all around the USA gathered at the Philadelphia Convention Center for an impressive “Radio Row” of sound put forth by Army-Navy Game presenting sponsor USAA (Financial Services group), former Navy QB Roger Staubach joined up with Dawkins and talked Army-Navy Game history before a Black Tie (semi-formal) Gala.
Staubach, of course, is better known for his two Super Bowl winning stint with the Dallas Cowboys than for his days at the United States Naval Academy (1961-64) when he, too, won the Heisman.
A day later, in the lobby of a Philadelphia Airport Hotel, just a 10-minute drive from Lincoln Financial Field, the site of today’s 120th playing of the Army-Navy Game, a family of four readied for the short trip to the game.
“Are you drinking coffee,” asked the mother to her son, maybe 12 years old?
“Yes, he said, “it will help me with my ADHD,” he said matter of factly as he poured another cup of steaming hot coffee for his little brother. They were each dressed in NAVY blue.
“So, you’re NAVY fans,” asked a hotel guest?
“Yes sir,” they replied, explaining various family connections far too complicated for a family tree chart. “But, next year, my cousin will be going to ARMY. He runs track and is the best in all of New York.”
“And, I’m all ARMY,” said the Mom, proudly.
At 9am, on a damp, misty, overcast morning, they were off to the “Linc,” six full hours before the game would air on CBS-TV. Their young faces beaming with joy and anticipation for one of the great sporting events in our land, an event far more “Americana” than college football or any other sporting event could even imagine.
Upon entering the stadium, at 10am, the parking lots and streets were packed. Two members of the Joint Chiefs were on their way to ESPN’s College Game Day set and the media check-in line was opening amidst full level, dog-sniffing security protocol. The setting screamed “big time” event, yet the faces of the coffee clutching youngsters remained locked in a wandering mind.
A glance up to the stands saw faces not much different, not much older than that 12-year old, all beaming with the same glorious anticipation of a child. Yet, the faces in the stands at the Linc, were topped by white Midshipmen’s hats. They seemed so young.
The strong, abled, well-conditioned bodies – both young men and women – were wearing dress uniforms, Army in gray cloaks and Navy in stunning, dark blue. They taunted their opponents, swearing like sailors, joking with friends and later marching and singing their academy fight songs.
One couldn’t help but think, these brave youngsters represent us so well and today, they were enjoying a day off with a Christmas/Holiday break and a reward of time-off for finishing a semester at two of the toughest schools in the land. They were in their glory, win or lose.
However, thoughts continued to a darker side.
Even in times of relative peace, the chances of these brave young men and women being with us for a decade or more are slimmer than your average, bright 18-20 year old. You just can’t help but think some of these kids, younger than my own daughter working through her junior year in college, might not make it, whether it be a horrific result from the dangers of training or a future military assignment in a world so troubled with terror and unrest.
Dark thoughts were tucked aside. There was a football game to be played and it was a good day. There was pomp and ceremony and coin-flips and even a “swearing in” ceremony in the Navy end zone. The event, run with the precision you’d fully expect from the Army-Navy and a well-oiled event marketing machine via sponsor USAA, is a bucket list MUST SEE for any sports fan.
Navy won and Army lost by a one-sided, Malcolm Perry-led 31-7 score.
Philadelphia shined brightly as the afternoon marched into night, sun breaking through the overcast skies complete with a gorgeous sunset in this highly under-rated town of sports fans and hard-working people.
Thoughts ran to 81-year old Pete Dawkins and a 77-year old Roger Staubach.
Eyes misty, thoughts turning yet again, hoping all the brave kids in the stands, dressed in Navy blue and Army gray, and all the kids on the field – fit and ready to defend the USA and the option offense – all make it to celebrate their 81st and 77th birthdays, like Pete and Roger – Army-Navy’s version of The Who – and the most famous and decorated representatives of the United States Military and Naval Academies.
Here Now, The Notes and our weekly MLB Diamond Dust: Major League Baseball will begin testing for opioids and cocaine this spring, while marijuana has been removed from the list of drugs of abuse. … Players who test positive will be assigned to a treatment plan, and only those who fail to cooperate with that prescribed plan will be subject to disciplinary actions. … Those were the most significant changes to the drug prevention and treatment program announced Thursday by MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association. … “The opioid epidemic in our country is an issue of significant concern to Major League Baseball,” MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem said in a statement. “It is our hope that this agreement — which is based on principles of prevention, treatment, awareness and education — will help protect the health and safety of our Players.” … The opioid crisis touched the sport directly last season, when Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died after ingesting a toxic mix of alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone. … “Players are overwhelmingly in favor of expanding our drug-testing regimen to include opioids, and want to take a leadership role in helping to resolve this national epidemic,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said. … Players and team personnel will also be required to attend drug education programs during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
The rise in home runs in 2019 wasn’t because of a juiced ball, but rather due, in part, to inconsistent seam height on the baseball combined with “player behavior,” according to preliminary results of a study commissioned by Major League Baseball. … The early findings of the 27-page report were released Wednesday. The authors were a committee of professors charged with looking into the record number of home runs — 6,776 — in the past season. … The committee concluded that ball manufacturer Rawlings hadn’t made any purposeful changes to the ball to increase offense. The report found the baseball’s performance was because of variability in the production process and not because of anything intentionally done by MLB or manufacturer Rawlings. … Instead, the report determined that the carry of the ball led to 60 percent of the increase in home runs while launch conditions were the rest of the reason. The carry is affected by seam heights, in part, and the committee found “large ball-to-ball variation in those quantities,” according to the report.
Findings from MLB’s investigation into the Houston Astros’ alleged cheating are now scheduled to be released after the new year, but before the 2020 season begins in late March, The Athletic reported. … The Astros are embroiled in the scandal that stemmed from evidence the team stole signs electronically during the 2017 season. While sign stealing is commonplace, the use of electronics to do so, like cameras from center field toward the opposing catcher, is forbidden by rule. … The completed report is now expected to including MLB’s findings on possible violations in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons and will require the review of over 70,000 emails.
Major League Baseball made it official this week, announcing that the 2020 first-year player draft will take place in Omaha, Neb., site of the NCAA Men’s College World Series. … The first round of the three-day draft will be moved from June 8 to June 10 and will not conflict with any NCAA games for the first time. The College World Series will start June 13. … Since 2009, the MLB draft has taken place at the MLB Network headquarters in Secaucus, N.J. The 2019 draft took place during NCAA Tournament regional finals, with some players learning they had been drafted while they were playing in a key game. … All 2020 College World Series participating teams will be invited to take part in MLB Draft festivities. … “The College World Series is a world-class championship experience for student-athletes, coaches and fans,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a release. “Major League Baseball’s decision to move the Draft to Omaha shines an additional spotlight on NCAA college baseball and the opportunity for our baseball student-athletes who may play professionally to pursue their dreams.” … Rounds 2-10 of the draft will take place on June 11, while the conclusion of selections, through Round 40, will take place June 12. The 2020 MLB Draft will be held on site at Omaha’s Holland Performing Arts Center.
Digital Sports Desk posts a once-a-week Sunday Notes column, entitled: “While We’re Young Ideas.” It’s a throwback of sorts to the days when sportswriting and the baseball beat were the best jobs in the entire sports industry, maybe the entire world. One of those sportswriters was named Dick Young and he wrote “Young Ideas” with a “Diamond Dust” section for notes and quotes. … We welcome feedback and suggestions (psst, they call ’em pitches) for mentions within “While We’re Young Ideas” or Digital Sports Desk. Please follow and encourage (at least) another person or two to plug into (@DigSportsDesk) (@WhileYoungIdeas) and (@terrylyons).