Dec. 28, 2011
By Bob Socci
For much of the last month there was a void left unfilled.
Eight years in a row, like every other fan of Navy football, I was accustomed to getting a Holiday gift wrapped up inside a grid of white lines measuring 53 yards wide by 100 yards long. It was an annual Christmas bonus; otherwise known as a bowl game.
Fortunate enough to hitch round-trip rides off Midshipmen success, my all-expense-paid packages included frequent flights to California and Texas. Less occasionally -- as in once apiece in that eight-year while -- Charlotte or the District of Columbia served as late-December’s destination.
One and all were end-of-the-season rewards for the year-long efforts of players and coaches. Hotel halls were decked in Blue and Gold. Merry gentlemen -- and ladies too, of course -- spread Yuletide cheer from San Diego’s Gaslamp to Houston’s Galleria.
Making a list, one needn’t check twice to ensure another Navy postseason berth was included. Frankly, by the last few years, they so commonly occurred as to be practically taken for granted; almost as much as a mail-order fruitcake showing up on the doorstep. The difference being, as you know, the flavor of a bowl game is actually worth savoring.
Admittedly, the Ho, ho, ho! with which I greeted each December and its accompanying bowl game was in danger of becoming a Ho, ho-hum. Foolish as that seems.
Then 2011 came along and interrupted a postseason streak remarkable by anyone’s standards, but truly amazing by those of a service academy.
A bunch of somebody elses are getting to enjoy what the Mids have made a Holiday tradition. Five wins this past fall left Navy one shy of another date in D.C.
Adding insult to the absence of Midshipmen is the presence of Air Force in this year’s Military Bowl. As I write, the Falcons are taking on Toledo in Navy’s stead.
The Mids’ season ended -- albeit joyously and victoriously -- against Army a few weeks ago in Landover; so close and yet so far from RFK Stadium.
Thus, an emptiness unfelt since 2002 ushered in this Holiday Season. As a radio announcer without a football game to call for another nine months, I filed my spotter charts away and sought less creative ways to avoid the rush (and crush) of shopping.
At first, I sat back to channel surf for something to satisfy my craving for the missing 13th game. But in my various attempts at imitating a sedentary rock upon the seat of our couch, I was left to resemble the lyrics to a Rolling Stones hit: I couldn’t get no satisfaction.
Not even the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl could whet my appetite, what with Ohio’s last-second triumph over Utah State. I just couldn’t get past the blue turf of Boise, which makes for unwatchable viewing in high-definition.
I sampled an FCS semifinal from the Fargodome, only to confront conflicting emotions. Visiting Georgia Southern was led by ex-Navy assistant and all-around good guy Jeff Monken. Then again, home-standing North Dakota State’s athletic director Gene Taylor is also an AAGG, as well as a former Naval Academy administrator.
You could argue, regardless of the outcome, I couldn’t lose. But it sure felt like I couldn’t win. Eventually, the Bison won in a big way. Thankfully, there won’t be any conflict of rooting interest when NDSU meets Sam Houston State in the championship. Problem is, that won’t be until next year, on Jan. 7.
Unable to find what I was looking for in a live telecast, I learned that my cable-TV provider was running a special trial-offer for Showtime. Perfectly timed, it was, I thought, just what I needed.
For weeks I had thoroughly enjoyed the so-called webisodes associated with the CBS Sports documentary A Game of Honor, which was scheduled to debut on Showtime last Wednesday, Dec. 21. That morning I added Showtime to the lineup of channels I rarely have time to watch.
In this case, though, I was determined to make time. From 10 o’clock to midnight, my scheduled was wiped clean and my DVR set to record.
Early in the evening, I spoke briefly with the film’s narrator, actor Gary Sinise, whose involvement with A Game of Honor you’ll be able read about in an upcoming post to this blog. I hung up the phone extremely anxious for the next four hours to fly by.
I couldn’t wait to see and hear how the months of behind-the-scenes video and intimate interviews captured around Annapolis and West Point would look and sound on a two-hour journey inside the Army-Navy rivalry.
Total truth be told, I was also more than a bit curious to know which calls from our 2011 broadcasts would make the final cut. I was told a few highlights might be mixed into the audio track.
Bless my lovely wife, Monique. She had her own ideas of how to fill up a bowl-less December. Though her doctor predicted our second child would arrive a week later, Mo planned on a speedier delivery. As in any day.
Well, no sooner did I say “goodbye” to Mr. Sinise than I discovered whose calendar was right on target. It was yet another reason never to doubt my darling wife.
Instead of a late Wednesday in front of the television, she and I were at a hospital in downtown Boston, waiting to meet our player to be named sooner rather than later. At 2:34 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 22, Maria Graciela Socci joined her brother Gio, older by 18 months, on our family roster.
Suffice to say -- and needless to say, if you know what I mean -- I am no longer looking for ways or games to fill any vacuum in time. I may not be practicing pronunciations for an unfamiliar bowl opponent this year, but at least I’m becoming more proficient at changing diapers. Repetition truly is the mother of learning for this father.
As for A Game of Honor, I’ve seen different parts of it, at different times. It takes a two-hour block to watch it from start through finish in a single sitting. Right now, in my state, any two free hours in the day are best spent with my eyes shut, in pursuit of lost sleep.
That said, I love what I’ve caught so far. And not only am I excited to see it in its entirety for myself, I look forward to someday watching it again with my kids. Already I can tell, it’s a film every American son or daughter, sports fan or not, would do well to see.
It’s also a reminder that, true fulfillment from one’s relationship with a service academy is independent of bowl eligibility. The real reward -- or bonus, if you will -- of calling Navy football is simply that; whether you get to do it 12 or 13 times in a given fall.
But don’t get me wrong. The more I do, the better. And the more I’ll appreciate it when the next bowl streak begins.
That’s why I’m marking our family’s 2012 calendar right now.
This time next year, I fully expect to be in San Francisco, with the Midshipmen at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.