As workers busily painted the game's 100th anniversary logo on the field several stories below, Army tight end Shaun Castillo stood at a lectern Tuesday in the Veterans Stadium press club and talked about the meaning of Army vs. Navy.
The senior spoke of the tradition surrounding the storied rivalry, and then, looking down at the field through a plate-glass window, he uttered the most telling statement of all:
"Let's just hope the stands don't fall this year."
Castillo was referring to an incident during last year's game, when a railing collapsed, sending several fans to area hospitals. The condition of the 28-year-old stadium, along with the recent completion of FedEx Field in Landover and PSINet Stadium in Baltimore, has prompted speculation the game's days in Philadelphia appear to be numbered. The current contract expires in 2002.
"Given the opportunities presented by the three other stadiums [including Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.], it would be difficult to consider Philadelphia," said Navy Athletic Director Jack Lengyel. "If they build a new stadium, they certainly will be one of the players in consideration."
But Philadelphia's plans to build an $800 million dual-stadium complex hit a major snag last week when Mayor Ed Rendell said unexpectedly harsh opposition by residents around the proposed complex site has caused a delay. Now, it appears any new stadium would not open until 2003 at the earliest.
"Each year that we delay, we put this game in Philadelphia in peril," Rendell told the Associated Press. "We don't have to have a new stadium built, but unless we get a new contract for a new stadium, I think we might lose this game."
Under the current 12-year contract, signed in 1990, the teams had the option to move the site three times. They exercised that option by moving it to Giants Stadium in both 1993 and 1997 and will do so again next year, when the game is moved to Baltimore's PSINet Stadium.
Once the contract expires, officials from both schools have talked about making the event more of a home-and-home series, with Army's home games played at Giants Stadium and Navy's in Baltimore or Washington, though Lengyel says the choice of venues remains a "collaborative effort" between the two schools.
"I would personally like to play it in our home-field site when it's our game and their home-field site when it's their game," said Navy Coach Charlie Weatherbie. "That, to me, would give it a little bit more home-and-home type feeling instead of neutral site all the time. I just think the neutral site should move. It shouldn't always be in the North. It needs to be where the weather is decent every once in a while."
That opinion, however, isn't shared by the traditionalists, who say the game would lose some of its aura should it be moved out of Philadelphia on a more permanent basis.
Said Navy co-captain Jamie Doffermyre: "I think its good to always have a certain spot you can come back to. We could play on a parking lot. To tell you the truth, it just wouldn't matter."
* Game: Army vs. Navy.
* What: 100th meeting between Army (3-7) and Navy (4-7).
* When: Noon, Saturday, Dec. 4.
* Where: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia.
* TV: WUSA-9, WJZ-13.
* Radio: WMAL-630, WJFK-1300, WNAV-1430.