Coaching in this college rivalry has its privileges

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010

In at least a couple of ways, Ken Niumatalolo is an interloper on the Army-Navy rivalry like the rest of us.

The Midshipmen's coach grew up in Hawaii, some 5,000 miles from a game usually played in Philadelphia, in the biting cold of December. He was never an enlisted man, either, though some of the parents of kids he played with at Honolulu's Radford High School were stationed at nearby Hickam Air Force Base.

But for all but three of the past 15 years, first as an assistant and the past three years as head coach, Niumatalolo has had the privilege of being part of Army-Navy, of everything the most hallowed annual game in college football is about.

Two days before the 111th renewal of the rivalry, the Naval Academy coach actually uses the word "privileged" to describe what it's like to be in that locker room each year.

"It never changes," Niumatalolo said. "When you see them after the game and as they take off their pads for the last time, your mind quickly reflects to recruiting them and their first year as a plebe and all the ups and downs that they had.

"You're just appreciative of them because of all they've gone through. You know this is it for them. They'll be in harm's way. It's really an emotional time in the locker room after the game because it's such an emotional time. You have so much love and respect for them."

"They'll be in harm's way." Think about that.

We devote many newspaper pages and television shows and radio programs complaining that another malcontent millionaire walked off with Daniel Snyder's checkbook this week, as if it's never happened before.

We hotly debate whether Cam Newton should be paid, assuming every talented college player is paid anyway.

We're enraged by whom the BCS robbed and, if we're from College Park, we complain about how Maryland was sent to run-down RFK for its postseason game while the North Carolina State team it beat in the regular season gets to bask in the sun of Orlando's Champs Sports Bowl.

Do you know what the young men from Navy and Army publicly complained about this week?

Nothing. It's the same thing they complained about last week and the week before that, when they actually could have elicited some real sympathy. The 24 seniors on the Navy football team received their deployment orders on Dec. 1, most of which contained the one locale their family and friends were bracing for: Afghanistan.

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