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A View From the Booth

Aug. 28, 2010

By Bob Socci

Sure, I trust there are seats as good (yours, perhaps?) but I can't imagine there's a better one in the house. And, to think, for 13 years I've been lucky enough to occupy it.

Most Saturdays, it offers a view from high above Annapolis. There, near midfield of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, I can cast one eye toward the Chesapeake and the other on the State House.

Once, before a game against TCU in 2000, I even looked a pilot in the eye. No kidding. I can still picture him buzzing the press box, banking hard to the right and disappearing beyond the stadium's north end.

The plane became a blur. The memory remains vivid.

From my padded perch, I've routinely broken out into goose bumps. Among other things, watching nearly 4,000 midshipmen march onto the field in living color - in white on warmer days, in blue when those days get shorter - will do that to you.

So will listening to the national anthem, sung more beautifully than you've ever heard before. As will the sound of an entire stadium, concluding Blue and Gold with two words and three syllables that resonate all the way to West Point.

But nothing causes chills more than what takes place in between; the games themselves. Sometimes, in some ways, it's like a religious awakening. How else to explain bearing witness to the miracle of Navy-Temple, 2008?

Okay, so maybe I'm getting a little carried away. It's just that another season, as seen from that chair, is about to begin. It starts a week from Monday, Labor Day. Ironic, really, because it's hardly work - sitting with friends, talking about a game I love, for a team that stirs tremendous passion.

At the end of my first season - can it really be 13 years ago? - an old pro told me that calling Navy football was the best job in the business. Tony Roberts knew what he was talking about that day in the Meadowlands.

Not only was he the voice of Notre Dame at the time, assigned to the national radio broadcast of Army-Navy at Giants Stadium, Tony was once the voice of the Mids.



Recalling his words, I can't help but believe that, as good as Tony had it, I've got it even better. For starters, seven straight years now, I've hitched a ride on a Navy bandwagon that's carried the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy into the postseason.

And crowded though our radio booth may be - especially when there's a plate of cookies on the counter - I've done it sharing space with dear friends. I sit on the right, Omar Nelson's in the middle, and John Feinstein's on the left. Almost always, John is on the left.

All that time, propping us up - even when our mikes are down - are statistician and all-around great guy Pete Van Poppel and producer Frank Diventi. Frank's better known as "Father Diventi." He and Pete have only been following Navy football for a quarter-century or so.

For home games, we're joined by a midshipman. Presumably, he's a spotter to identify players. Usually, he becomes a babysitter, trying to teach us "adults" how to act like grownups.

You see, during the four or five hours we're together, there's plenty of spirited debating, colorful commentary and a lot of laughter. And then there's what we say over the airwaves.

Inside the booth, I try to paint the play-by-play picture, while Omar and John provide the analysis. And, fortunately, Pete Medhurst, the fourth member of our on-air crew, reports from the relative sanity of the sideline.

Our running joke is that our Saturdays are like a popular sitcom. Put it this way, Cosmo Kramer and George Costanza would feel right at home in "The Booth."

Mostly, we have a great time because we're so fortunate to be associated with such a wonderful product. I mean that seriously, and in all sincerity.

No program is perfect. But Navy football is as good as it gets.

Yesterday alone, I read about one school getting stripped of a championship, a second becoming ensnarled in a mess surrounding off-campus housing of players, and a third expanding its probe into academic misconduct.

The day before, I spoke at length with one of the Mids' standouts who discussed his post-graduate options as a systems engineering major. He's thinking about grad school - he mentioned MIT as a possibility - potentially to prepare him to someday design weaponry or vessels. Eventually, he'd like to serve in federal law enforcement.

You know what I mean? Young people like him separate the Midshipmen from most of their counterparts.

Telling their stories helps to make my role especially rewarding. That much was true in the dark days early this decade - the days of three wins in 33 games. Back then, with little success on Saturdays, the Navy Radio Network was left to stress Academy excellence off the field.

Pomp and circumstance. Very rarely a celebration.

But since 2003, the performance of the players has been as compelling as their personal stories. Covering the Mids now entails much more - from analysis of games and personnel, the "inside football" stuff, to biographical sketches of student-athletes who win consistently while fulfilling their remarkable commitment to the country.

In the coming months, that's exactly what I hope to accomplish in this space. Call it a blog, if you will. I'll try to lend insight before and after each game, while sharing notes, quotes and anecdotes.

I also intend to save you a seat next to ours in the booth, hoping you'll experience in some small way what we do - every week, from the opening kickoff in Baltimore to, hopefully, the final whistle in San Diego.

Some days, that will mean hardcore football talk. Other days, it might simply involve light chatter, like catching up with former Midshipmen.

In other words, it's like a show about nothing. And, at the same time, everything.

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