Rally Serves Notice Army Football is Back
By Kevin Gleason
WEST POINT — The day began with an Army football backup named SeanWestphal helping lead teammates onto the Michie Stadium turf carrying the Americanflag high above his head. The flag had flown above the World Trade Center sitethe week leading to Saturday, the nine-year anniversary of 9/11. Now it wasinside a football stadium with 30,000 people cheering and a 21-year-old senior fromFlorida running the most exciting play of his college football career.”Yes sir, I just felt it would be an honor to carry it,” Westphalexplained afterward. “It’s the greatest country in the world. I thought it would bea way to represent my team and my country.”Westphal didn’t play as a freshman and missed his sophomore season becauseof knee injures. He played a little at linebacker and on special teams as ajunior, and got some minutes in last week’s opener at Eastern Michigan. He wouldget a little run on Saturday against Hawaii.But he probably will never experience a similar college football momentthan bursting onto the field with that flag. Westphal was representing thefootball team, the corps, the Academy, and in his mind, the United States ofAmerica.He ran onto the field with something other than a flag and a uniform hewas eager to dirty. He brought impenetrable belief that Army would take asizable step in its growth by beating high-powered Hawaii. And he believed this,swear to God, as Army looked completely overmatched down 21-0 just 18½ minutesinto the game.This wasn’t Hawaii benefiting from a couple turnovers or stealing a fluky touchdown. This was Hawaii doing exactly as it pleased, largely with apassing game that made Army look a couple steps slow and several meeting hoursshort of preparedness.”I had no doubt in the world we would win,” said Westphal, told justbefore the game that his request to carry the flag had been granted. “I knew we weregoing to win.”There always has been a unique sense of belief here at the Academy. Butthat belief system suffered cracks during many of the 14 years since Army’slast winning season in 1996. Such are the effects of perpetual losing, whetherfelt inside the locker room or inside the fan base.Second-year coach Rich Ellerson brought the proper pedigree for Academyfootball success. So when he helped the Black Knights win five games last season,its most since that 10-2 breakthrough in 1996, many more folks than SeanWestphal started to believe in big things for Army football.But boy was Ellerson and Army testing the fans’ faith with a total of zerofirst downs and a 21-0 deficit through 19 minutes. Then it happened, at firstsubtly, then with sledgehammer-on-pavement fury, Army made it all the way back.It finally put together a decent drive, got into the end zone and intohalftime at 21-7. Got the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 68 yards fora touchdown. Got the fumble recovery when Hawaii botched the ensuingkickoff. Got another TD off the turnover and here we were, 21-21, only midway throughthe third quarter.This was the way fans had remembered Army football. Not done until thefinal second ticked off, no matter the opponent, the deficit, the feeling. Thiswas the kind of magical game that kept Army fans coming back through all theyears of disappointment, of bad hires and unprepared players amounting to someof the most God-awful losses.But the way Army came back on Saturday — seemingly finished barely aquarter into it, a backup quarterback named Max Jenkins admirably filling in forinjured starter Trent Steelman — undoubtedly sent a surge of sweet nostalgiathrough its fan base. Army football, measured by blood and guts, was back.There was no Hollywood ending, not this time. Hawaii finished the game theway it had started. Quarterback Bryant Moniz played pitch-and-catch with open receivers and moved Hawaii 58 yards in 17 seconds to set up a 31-yardfield goal with just 7.3 ticks on the clock. Hawaii won 31-28.”We weren’t surprised when we came back,” Army linebacker StephenAnderson said.Someone asked Anderson, the team captain, how he would pick up his team.”Grab your brother’s shoulder, look him in the eye and tell him everything isgoing to be OK,” he said.Not a bad choice of words, especially on this day, when it began withanother linebacker carrying a special American flag.