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Beleaguered Army program and fans can't catch a break

Military pomp takes precedence, but the team isn't living up to its past.

JANE McMANUS
Published September 28, 2003

WEST POINT, N.Y. - To witness a game at Michie Stadium, Army's homefield, is to see football as secondary to military tradition and importance. Uniformed cadets march onto the field for the presentation of colors, and many graduates serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the program has won three national titles and produced two Heisman Trophy winners, which is why a 28-0 loss to South Florida on Saturday was so much more painful.

"We didn't come here to lose," said Tommy Ryan, an Osceola graduate. "This place definitely opens your eyes, so we see past football. But at the same time we're the same age as every other player in football, so we still have the same hunger."

Ryan, a sophomore defensive tackle, was recruited by South Florida but ended up at the U.S. Military Academy based on his goals and limited ability to pay for school should he lose a football scholarship.

"I wanted to defend my country, and I wanted to play football," he said. "And this is the place to do it."

But not for long in Conference USA. Army (0-4, 0-2) plans to leave the conference after the 2005 season.

"We were not probably as prepared as what we needed to be to be successful in a lot of different facets," coach Todd Berry said. "(We're) thankful to the conference, it exposed some of our weaknesses."

The athletic department chose to leave in part for increased flexibility and plans to include Top25 teams in its first independent schedule, but the move - after five years in the conference - was considered defeatist by some.

"You almost cry," 1947 Army Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis said when his alma mater announced it was leaving Conference USA. "One of these days it will come back. Hopefully in my lifetime."

Though the national championships were won in the 1940s, as recently as '96 the team went 10-2 with wins over Navy and Air Force and an appearance in the Independence Bowl. A downturn in the late '90s heralded Berry's arrival in 2000 but, after winning five games, his future is unclear.

ESPN's College Gameday set up an outdoor studio on Patton Field before the game. West Point was chosen to honor the nation's military, and the positive attention was a relief to the beleaguered program.

But Army couldn't catch a break. A pregame lightning storm forced the hosts to find shelter and the network to finish the broadcast from its Bristol, Conn., campus.

Like ESPN, Army's team has had to duck and cover.

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