PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Tradition. Rivalry. Patriotism.
The Army-Navy game has it all. But this year, the game represents much more. The terrorist attacks added new significance to the 102nd meeting between the two service academies.
When the game kicks off Saturday at Veterans Stadium, the U.S. still will be fighting its war on terrorism. The players on the field aren't just linebackers and running backs playing another football game. They are young soldiers who soon could be fighting for their country.
"I think because of what happened, people will look at it and say, 'Hey, these guys will be (overseas) next year, doing what we're seeing on television,' and they respect that, which is good," Army linebacker Brian Zickefoose said. "They are encouraging both teams, so it's going to be a great atmosphere."
Players and coaches realize the nation is distracted by war, fearful of terror. But they want to provide another distraction, if only for a few hours.
"Football is a great stress relief," Navy linebacker and team captain Jake Bowen said. "While there are things going on of greater global significance, sports is still important. It's a way to unite people."
The tragedy affected Bowen a little more than some of his teammates. His cousin works in the Pentagon and his fiancee's family lives nearby. None of them were injured in the Sept. 11 attack.
"It truly is an emotional experience when you do pass by the Pentagon and see the big hole there," Bowen said. "It's kind of like disbelief, but at the same time, it kind of renews your desire to serve your country."
Since the attacks, Americans have rediscovered a sense of patriotism. People are proudly displaying flags, wearing red-white-and-blue hats and shirts, doing whatever they can to show support for the country.
They also are cheering Army and Navy in opposing stadiums, at hotels, on buses, wherever they see them.
"I've been very appreciative of the people that have waited at hotels, and when we've been traveling on the road that have stood out there in lines, waiting for the team to arrive so they can cheer when we got off the buses," Army coach Todd Berry said. "The reception that we've received whenever we've gone on the road, cheering loudly for our team when we came on the field, is because of what these young people represent."
All 67,000 tickets for the game have been sold. Security at the Vet will be tight, as it has been for the Phillies and Eagles since Sept. 11.
Top military leaders and politicians will attend the game, and President Bush is considering it.
"I think people in the country are looking at it differently," Navy coach Rick Lantz said. "There may be more fire and there may be more electricity and there may be all of those things in the stands.
"All of them will care who wins, but it's not going be that viciousness. They're just going to be excited and they're going to be looking for a great football game. And that's what we're going to give them. We're going to give them a great football game, one way or the other."
The theme for the game and the entire weekend, including activities at the First Union Center and the Convention Center, will center on the role of the Army and Navy in the war on terrorism.
"I don't want my kids to grow up in fear of terrorists," Army tight end Clint Dodson said.
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