Sister Mary and Sister Marie were walking hurriedly toward John F. Kennedy Stadium, their heads bowed in prayer. "We're saying our Hail Marys for the Navy," Sister Mary said fervently.
The Almighty is on Navy's side?
"Oh, no," she said. "I'm sure there are others praying just as hard for Army."
Army did not have a prayer today. Navy evened the series at 37 wins each, easily.
In days gone by, it was considered de rigeur for the Commander in Chief to attend this game and present the Commander in Chief's trophy to the winner. The White House said that President Carter, an old Navy man, had not been able to find time on his schedule. Understandable enough.
It is said, that the Vietnam war cast a pall over this game, took some life out ot it. Today, a pall was cast by events in Iran.
In a moment of silence for the hostages, a crowd of 77,052 stood.
Jennifer Lister, 9, of Washington, stood quietly with her mother, Sarah, the Army general counsel, and her mother's friend, Kathleen Carpenter, a deputy assistant secretary of defense.
"It's hard to be caught up in a game when you buried a young Marine this week, and there are 50 hostages in Iran, and no one knows whether their release will be the end of the begining," said Carpenter. "I sense that it's subdued. I noticed it on the train coming up (a special run from Washington). You know when people celebrate New Year's eve and it hasn't been a good year? It's not in the fore-front of your mind but it's there."
Sarah Lister has noticed a change in the attitude of the country toward the military too, "I think the military's aware of the change. The mood of the country is much more warlike than the military. The military is more sensible."
Lister is not the first woman general counsel of the Army but she is, as Jennifer pointed out, "The first momma."
Jennifer picked Army to win, 38-20.
Her older sister, Penny, an avid Navy fan, picked the Mids, 28-7. Last year, she stayed home and baked blue and gold cupcakes in honor of her heroes and sat and ate them by the TV.
Their mother was diplomatically noncommittal about her pick. She was, after all, once the Navy deputy general counsel. She would say only that she "roots for the underdog, like most lawyers."
These war games are for real.
"Napalm the "rab," said the sign hanging from the upper deck on the Army side of the field.
"That's because we call the Middies crabs; we claim they walk sideways," said Capt. Wally Kaine, who works in West Points Office of Admissions.
"Nuke Army," read the rubber ball shot out of the "anti-whoop" missile aboard the USS Whoop Whomper, one of the ships in the armada of Navy floats brought to the game.
The Naval Academy held a contest and each of the 36 companies submitted a project. The Whoop Whomper took five weeks to build, explained its commanding office, Paul Stanton. It finished second in the judging, earning a place in the parade.
"The Army did not bring any floats," said Stanton, "only a real tank. They may just use it on us."
Did the Army get Navy's goat?
"No way," said the goat's keeper, Harrison Little. "Army kidnapped one this year," he said, "the wrong one. They got the back-up goat."
The back-up is named Billy the 22nd and, Little said, "when Billy the 21st dies, he'll be promoted."
Little has been looking after Billy the 21st for five years.
"He can be nasty when he wants to be," said Little. "He'll butt you if you turn your back on him. A lot of people don't understand him."
It was two hours before kickoff and the TV types were lined up on the 50-yard line as ABC announcer Bill Fleming presented the 1979 Chevrolet Most Valuable Player trophy to Charles White, the flashy tailback from USC.
A cynic in the crowd remarked that it would be the only time a real football player would set foot on the field all day.
There were three takes. Each time, White graciously accepted his award. But when a Cadet standing nearby said, "Hey Charles, want to put an Army uniform on?" White not-so-graciously declined. "It wouldn't do me a bit of good," he said.