My dad was a WWII Navy pilot. Among other assignments, for some period of the war, he was a Navigator on flying boats (Patrol Bomber US Navy designation Y — PBYs) and later (Patrol Bomber US Navy designation M — PBMs) out of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The mission included locating German U-boats, search and rescue, and convoy escort.
After the war, he took a job selling engineering products to manufacturers in Buffalo, New York. Eventually, he relocated to Ithaca, New York, to sell products for Morse Chain Company throughout Upstate New York. This is where my parents raised a family of four sons, of which I am the youngest.
In my recollection, my father had little interest in television. When he’d catch me and my brothers watching TV, he’d say, “Turn off the boob tube and go get some exercise!” I can’t imagine what he’d think of the screen time struggles people complain about today. The one exception to his disinterest in television was the annual Army Navy football game, now dubbed America’s Game.
Given my dad’s general lack of interest in TV, we didn’t have cable. Every year, some contingent of us (his four sons) was ordered to the roof to rotate the antenna, to tune in whichever of the three broadcast networks was covering the game. At the time, this was serious business. As my brothers and I have reminisced over the years, though, it’s become more like a scene from the Keystone Kops, with my father yelling commands out the living room window to a relay man, who carried the vital info up the peak to the rotate man, who was demanding various tools from the tool man.
Several iterations were usually required and when all of us had achieved the necessary level of frustration, the TV was finally tuned in. Nobody ever fell of the roof, but there was more than one close call. In our defense, a rooftop in Upstate New York in late November or early December is not a hospitable environment.
One of the outcomes of all that antenna rotation was that my television programming was altered for the next twelve months. Regardless of what network we had tuned to, you could watch channels from two of the three broadcast networks, at best, but never all three. So, it was a crap shoot what I could watch. Maybe Batman and Adam-12, but not Dragnet, or possibly Hogan’s Heroes, but it was a little staticky.
Annually, my dad would watch “The Game” with great attention while displaying animated reactions to good and bad plays. No other television programming, that I know of, held his interest or evoked such reactions from him. If Navy won, it was a good day, and Dad could bask in the glory of the victory. He seemed to walk a little taller and generally enjoy all that life was giving him for a few days. If Navy lost, he would take his lumps and move on. There was always next year, and that would probably be the next time he sat down to watch the TV. My father passed on April 6, 1993, at the age of 71.
I don’t regularly watch college football games, but this year, I saw that America’s Game would be broadcast on Saturday December 11th. On Saturday morning, I texted my brothers to ask if they had an urge to go up on their roofs and rotate their antennas. I didn’t need to finish the thought before we were reminiscing over group text about our dad’s annual ritual. One of my brothers pointed out game day, December 11, 2021, would have been our father’s 100th birthday. Suddenly, the whole thing took on new meaning. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor my father than to sit down to watch “The Game” and root like a madman for Navy.
Well, what a game! Navy was the underdog entering the game with a 3-8 record, compared to Army at 8-3. My dad would have loved this game, not just because Navy won, but because of the way both teams played. Though both teams had effective offenses. Neither defense would allow the opposing offense to sustain much of a drive. As it has been since 1890, the game was a prideful grudge match with bragging rights on the line. In the end, Navy was able to seal Army’s fate with a serendipitous sequence of events like I’ve never seen.
In the 4th quarter, Army stopped Navy’s 3rd down attempt on Navy’s 34-yard line. Navy was up 14 to 13 with 13:34 left in the game. It was 4th down and 4 yards to go. Navy needed to punt the ball away to Army and count on their defense to shut down Army and get the ball back.
Diego Fagot, Senior Midshipman linebacker, was the short man on the punt. The short man stands between the punter and the offensive line. His job is to survey the defense pre-snap and call for offensive shifts or adjustments to mitigate the defense’s ability to block a punt. Fagot called for a shift, but the long snapper thought he heard fake, so on the snap count, he snapped the ball to Fagot. Not expecting to get the snap, the ball hit him in the facemask. Fagot gathered the ball, avoided a tackle, and scampered four yards for the 1st down.
After the game, Fagot said, “I didn’t know it was coming … I just reacted and I played football.” The not fake-fake punt allowed Navy to end their drive with a 43-yard field goal, with 6:10 remaining in the game. Up 17 to 13, Navy was able to prevent Army from scoring again, winning the game.
I yelled. I screamed. I talked to Dad. I cried a little. There was a flurry of group text conversation with my brothers. Most of all, I walked a little taller.
My father’s 100th birthday was a good day.