Tactical

Two players reflect on the impact of the Army Navy Game

BOSTON – Every player who donned pads and cleats for the historic Army Navy Game over the past 123 matchups has their own memories from that time.

Military Times sat down with two standout players, one each from the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Military Academy at West Point, ahead of the 124th meeting of the two teams for a few questions.

Keenan Reynolds was in the class of 2016 and played quarterback during his four years on the Navy team. Reynolds racked up an NCAA Division I record 88 career touchdowns and set an FBS record 4,559 rushing yards at quarterback. Reynolds played professional football after being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. He continues to serve as a Navy Reserve lieutenant.

Alex Moore, West Point class of 2003, played on the offensive line all four years as a cadet and served as co-captain of the team during his senior year. Moore branched armor after graduation and deployed to Iraq in 2004 and again from 2007-08. Moore, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve continues to serve, now as a brigade executive officer under Army Material Command.

Both Reynolds and Moore work at Palantir Technologies, a software company that specializes in big data analytics and currently runs multiple cyber and artificial intelligence-related contracts for the Army.

*Editor’s Note: The below Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What’s your earliest memory of the Army Navy Game?

Reynolds: I remember the Army Navy Game it was like 2006. The first time I watched one was my senior year in high school, 2011. I hadn’t gone on any of my visits. But at that point, Navy offered me, I thought I’d be a fool not to go. It was on CBS at a Longhorn Steakhouse. I was a little late to the game, but I immediately picked up this is such a unique atmosphere and if I can be a part of it, I should be a part of it for sure.

Moore: I remember being seven, eight or nine and not really knowing the game. My uncle was in the Army, retired colonel Special Forces. My grandfather, his stepdad, was in the Navy in World War II. Whenever one team would score, they’d call the other one and hang up right away. A little rivalry and neither of them went to the academies. First real memory I have is watching it in 1995, watching them go back and forth on that one and the Corps of Cadets.

I was looking at all three of the academies, had offers from Air Force and Army but the military liaison at Navy said, maybe you’re not a Division I football player. That was it for Navy. It came down to do I want to fly or be on the ground with troops? And I wanted to be on the ground infantry or armor.

Q: What’s your favorite memory of the game?

Reynolds: Obviously winning, beating Army all four years was amazing, hard to pick one. One thing that’s sticking out to me right now is as a plebe rolling up to the stadium you get there a few hours early and typically the stadium is completely empty you have people in the parking lot maybe tailgating. I can never forget rolling up to the Lincoln Financial Stadium and seeing the stadium 60-70% full and I was confused, I was like wait why are the gates opened that early wondering why are there so many people in the stands? If they were there, they wanted to see the march on. How important this game was really hit me. It’s obviously important as soon as you step on campus, it’s Beat Army! But until you get to game week, get to practice and pull up to the game on Saturday, there’s nothing like it. It’s forever ingrained in my memory the exact view. I’ll never forget seeing the stadium how it was and realizing how important this game was to a whole lot of people all over the world who were watching. That’s a sense of pride you can’t shake off and it’s just an incredible experience to be a part of.

Moore: It had to be 2001 after 9/11, we beat Navy that year and it was my first year starting. The one memory that stands out from that is I actually broke my collar bone in that game as well. I didn’t realize it, I thought it was just a stinger. But I finally had done enough to fake the docs out to go back into the game and once they cleared me, I remember running on, but I knocked over a 3-star general that was on the sidelines. I probably yelled back ‘sorry’ or didn’t say anything. But thinking back on that anywhere else and I’d probably been chewed out, kicked out, probably be in jail or something.

Q: Navy joined the American Athletic Conference in 2015, Army will join next year after having been independent for many years. What does being in the same conference mean for the teams and this rivalry?

Moore: Seeing the changing landscape of college football, I think it was a necessary move they had to make. They have some great leadership at the Academy with Mike Buddie and Coach (Jeff) Monken and Mike Buddie. I know they didn’t take that decision lightly. Ultimately on that one, they made the right decision. For the significance of Army-Navy, I don’t think it’s going to diminish one bit. You still have the pomp and pageantry of this game. And if they both have the chance to play in that championship and play again, that’s success for both programs right there. We may be a couple years away from that, but that would be something great, two Army Navy games back to back, a lot of fun, a lot of bragging rights and a lot of hard hitting.

Reynolds: It’s definitely been a really great opportunity. We’ve competed in that conference, we’ve had our up years and down years, we played in the conference championship game in our second year. It helps with recruiting; you’re playing very high profile teams. You’re on national TV. The chance to play Army Navy twice? That would be the most incredible two weeks of college football ever. That would be unprecedented. As you move into this 12-team college football championship AAC is right in the thick of things, have a good year, win a conference championship and who knows? You could have an Army or a Navy competing again for a national championship. That’s again a totally unprecedented type of situation that you haven’t seen since the 50s or the 60s. I think it just opens doors and opportunities for both teams.

Q: After many years of debate, NCAA athletes can now profit from Name, Image and Likeness rights. The Army and Marine Corps have recently sponsored some NCAA athletes to promote the services. But academy students are considered government employees and not allowed to do this. Thoughts?

Reynolds: I think if you asked 100 people you might get a 50/50 mix. Being part of the Army or Navy at the academies you’re an active duty servicemember and you fall under those same rules. When you go to a place like Army or Navy, you’re accepting the fact that won’t come. And you’re okay with that. You make that decision, you’re okay with accepting what comes with it. That’s the way it was when we were playing, you got the same check as a cadet or a Midshipman. I think that’s okay. I think that’s how it should be.

Moore: Every player knows what they’re signing up for when they come there. Even though there is a controversy around that everybody at the academies, no one person is better than another person, you’re all part of a brotherhood or a sisterhood going there. What one gets, all gets, you get the same paycheck, same food, same living conditions. That’s a good way to be because it sets you up well for service after you graduate.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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