To a previous generation of Americans, it was Pearl Harbor that was “a date shall live in infamy”. To today’s generation, surely this day is the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Since then our nation has embarked on a costly and deadly war on terror, survived a terrible market crash and recently went through a bitter and rancorous election. Occurring simultaneously with our nation’s and Army’s struggles the last 15 years was the struggles of the Army football team, who after an uplifting win over archrival Navy in 2001 fell short against the Midshipmen an unthinkable 14 times in a row. While many’s “flashbulb” memories of traumatic events like 9/11 linger long after the fact, the Black Knight’s’ annual game became a recurring nightmare, with the previously prestigious matchup becoming all too predictable. And in 2016 things got worse before they could get better.
September 11th in now Patriot Day in America-a day of remembrance of an event thankfully decreasingly remembered with each passing year. But for Army, the 2016 rendition of this holiday proved traumatic once more when Cadet Brandon Jackson was killed in a car crash. Surely now beating Navy was not just a goal to be meekly attempted and then shrugged off with a “maybe next year” after another inevitable failure. No; now for the Black Knights it was a goal of urgent duty for their fallen comrade. Surely the Midshipmen’s streak would end eventually, but now for Army that eventually had a certain time and date.
The 117th meeting between the two academies was perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing game, with both teams having trouble holding onto the ball. The Black Knights had an early lead, but a rather beat-up Navy came roaring back to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. Perhaps a previous Army team would take the hint and admit defeat. This one surely wouldn’t and didn’t. The team methodically marched 80 yards down the field until junior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw burst nine yards to the end zone. The soon to be proud Army defense forced a three and out, and the offense milked off the rest of the clock until the clock read all zeroes. The Black Knights had finally awoken from a 15-year nightmare to find itself living a wonderful dream. “Go Army, beat Navy” was no longer a feeble wish-it was a bold deceleration of victory after the fact.
There are those who insist we must never forget the tragic events of our country’s history such as 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the Civil War. And surely the lessons learned from mistakes leading up these events are valuable. But Army proved that when tragedy or failure strikes a country, a team, or an individual-which it surely will at some point-eventually a coming to grips with the event is in order. Some peaceful means of catharsis must be found. For a team, it could be an inspired win. For a country, it could be a renewed commitment to founding principles, such as America’s commitment to industry and productivity after the second world war. And for an individual, it could be a commitment to family or faith after a death or personal tragedy. Sometimes a nightmare can indeed linger for months, or even years. But if Army can find triumph and fulfillment after a 14 year period of powerlessness and certain failure, surely, too, can America conquer its demons-as it always has before.