That Army and Navy enter their season-ending game today at noon at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., with a combined two wins means very little to 14 people in particular who will be attending the game. Those are the representatives of the 14 sites, including FedEx Field, that have expressed an interest in hosting the game once its current contract runs out following next year's game in Philadelphia.
To them, apparently, it hardly matters that Army (1-10) and Navy (1-10) have won a combined seven games over the past three years.
"A lot of people who watch the Army-Navy game don't watch another football game all year because of what it stands for," Navy Coach Paul Johnson said. "That's because of the student-athletes on the field, and what these guys are going to do for their country when they finish, so it's a special game and I think it always will be."
It is important for the representatives to see the rivalry first-hand because so much of its special charm occurs before the kickoff, from the time the entire student bodies march into the stadium to the captains adding "sir" after they call heads or tails on the coin toss.
The deadline for formal applications to host the game is Jan. 15. The athletic directors from both schools then will make their recommendation to the commandants, who are expected to make the final decision by mid-March.
Philadelphia, which has hosted the game 76 times, will have a representative at today's game, as will Baltimore, East Rutherford, N.J., and Miami, among others.
Future games could feature many of the same players who will be on the field today. Thirty-three of the 48 players on Navy's two-deep depth chart are expected back next year. Army starts seven sophomores on offense and has used five different quarterbacks this year, all of whom are freshmen or sophomores.
Freshman Carlton Jones leads the Black Knights with 575 yards rushing and sophomore Ardell Daniels, who rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown against Navy last year, also could be back next year after he missed this season because of academics.
But the game matters most to the seniors on each team.
"The last game is the one you'll remember most," Navy defensive tackle Andy Zetts said. "No matter how many wins you had in your career, or if you went to a Super Bowl, you never forget walking off the field for the last time. It would erase a lot of the pain and a lot of the heartache we've had over the losses if we could win our last game."
As the identical records indicate, the teams are evenly matched. Army's offensive linemen average 6 feet 3, 279 pounds; Navy's average 6-4, 278. The linebackers average 6-0, 214 for Army and 6-0, 217 for Navy.
The defensive backs average 5-11, 189 and 5-11, 186, respectively.
That Army does not have overpowering, 300-pound offensive linemen is good news for Navy's starting defensive tackles, seniors Joey Owmby and Zetts. The Midshipmen lost their three heaviest defensive tackles -- senior Josh Brindel (280 pounds) and juniors Kevin Schwind (285) and Nate Chase (284) -- to season-ending injuries.
Of the six defensive tackles on the depth chart today, one began the year as a defensive end, one as a linebacker and one on the junior varsity.
At 6-2, 260, Zetts is Navy's heaviest defensive starter, and the wear on his body has started to show. He will play today at half-strength because of a shoulder injury, and just a few weeks ago, he was wearing a neck brace during practice because of nerve damage.
"He couldn't even turned around and look at me because of that brace," defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. "He's played through a lot of pain; he's been banged up pretty much all year. But when we lost Brindel and Schwind, we needed someone to step up, and he has."
Navy's seniors will leave the field today knowing their careers did not go as planned. Zetts, for one, believes his may be the last class to do so.
"I want people to know this program is going in the right direction," he said. "At the beginning of the season, I didn't want to accept that this would be a rebuilding year because it was my last year here. . . . But to everyone who's wondering what's going on with the program, I tell them it's about to get better. Good things are going to happen, and this weekend will be the start of it."