They could do the same at Navy, which has won a national title, boasts two Heisman winners in Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach, and has 19 players and three coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Instead, the facades at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium boast different achievements – battles and campaigns like Midway and Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Yes, things are slightly different at a place like Ohio State than they are at Navy, where the players will graduate and then become officers on active duty. While just about everyone the Buckeyes recruit expects to be playing on Sundays when they’re done at OSU, the players at Navy will be protecting our country once their time on the gridiron is over.
Yet that doesn’t mean Navy will be intimidated. The Midshipmen have won 20 games against BCS opposition, including wins over Stanford and three against Notre Dame, over the past decade. In the last five years, Navy has played three teams ranked in the AP top 25 and gone 1-2, with the losses coming by a combined seven points.
One of those, as Ohio State fans know, was five years ago when the Mids dropped a 31-27 decision in Ohio Stadium. Down 15 points with seven minutes to go, Navy scored two quick touchdowns only to fall short of tying the game on a two-point conversion that was returned for a score by Brian Rolle.
Looking back, Rolle has fond memories of that game, and they don’t all have to do with his 100-yard dash up the east sideline in the Horseshoe.
“I thank God I had the opportunity to play against the Naval Academy because it showed me how it is to fight tooth and nail every second of the game until the clock hits double zero,” Rolle told BuckeyeSports.com.
And when Saturday’s game kicks off, more than the tens of thousands of fans in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium and Buckeye Nation will be watching. TVs around the world will be tuned to the Armed Forces Network to watch the game, and active duty personnel just about everywhere will be wondering if the Midshipmen can stage the upset.
On top of that, the entire brigade of Midshipmen will make the short trip from Annapolis to the Charm City, excited to see if their classmates and brothers will be able to take down mighty Ohio State.
“A lot of the general morale of the school revolves around how the football team is doing,” Lt. Jared Shullick, an academy alumnus, told BSB.
If you’re a freshman at the Naval Academy, you better know your Navy football.
“Football is actually very important to the average student, especially the plebes,” said Lt. Grayson Young, a Naval Academy graduate who is on active duty in Spain. “During Plebe Year, each mid is required to know a set of rates every day. Rates are pieces of knowledge about the school or the Navy that must be committed to memory and usually change every so often.
“In addition to Navy facts, current news and the daily menu, plebes are required to answer questions about football games and all sorts of info about the team, and are quizzed on this data by the upperclassmen on a regular basis. You don't want to get caught without knowing this info when asked.”
In addition, Shullick – who attended the Naval Academy from 2004-08 and is on active duty in Nevada – said the freshmen will make bets with upperclassmen each week depending on the outcome of the football game.
“So much of the school’s morale revolves around the game,” he said. “You talk about it all week and you make dumb bets with your upperclassmen. If you’re a freshman, you have to bet on Navy, so you know who you are playing. If you’re playing Ohio State, you probably don’t want to wager a bunch of stuff, but if you’re playing a team where you think you might win, you’ll bet, like, ‘Hey man, let me listen to music Friday night if Navy wins,’ but if not you’ll do some stupid task like be a bathroom valet for an evening.”
The entire brigade attends every home game, marching into the stadium at each, while road games are also popular trips that are paid for by alumni donations. None, of course, tops the trip to an NFL stadium on the East Coast each year for the rivalry game against Army that is attended by top brass in each branch of the military as well as the sitting president.
Both Shullick and Young were undefeated against Army in their careers, while Shullick was in the front row in South Bend in 2007 when Navy beat Notre Dame for the first time in 44 years.
And because of the ties between the players and the rest of the student body, such wins as those resonate through the brigade.
“It’s not like some obscure football player you’ve heard about in the news,” Shullick said. “It could be your roommate out there playing, and the guys have to go through the same military training we have to do. Each guy on the football team is another dude like you. They’re a real person.
“You put Navy on your uniform instead of Ohio State or Notre Dame or something like that, it’s not just a dude that went to that college. It’s all the guys who are in the Navy, too. We’re represented.”
That feeling reaches through the entire Navy, not just those who went to school in Annapolis.
“Even my buddies that didn’t go to the Naval Academy – the guy across the room went to Michigan but he’s still a Navy fan,” Shullick said. “That’s what is nice about it.”
The Ohio State Connection
Inside the Woody Hayes facility, the wall right across hall from the team meeting room is covered with hundreds of scarlet Block “O” placards.
Each one lists someone who has ties to the Ohio State football program throughout its history and also served in the armed forces, all the way through Craig Cataline, who spent four years in the Navy before playing special teams for the Buckeyes the past two seasons.
“I’m just proud,” he said. “I’m glad I could be part of both organizations. They’re both going to serve me well in the future, I know that. Both have given me the opportunity to meet and befriend people that I may not have had the chance to otherwise.”
Then there’s the Naval connection brought on by the legendary Woody Hayes. A member of the Navy during World War II, Lieutenant Commander Hayes exuded a military ethos in everything he did.
A noted military historian who was equally as comfortable discussing history and foreign affairs at Ohio State’s Faculty Club as he was drawing up plays on a blackboard, Hayes brought many of the things he learned in the military to the athletics department at OSU.
“A lot of the traditions and customs that we had in the football facility actually came – I didn’t know this at the time, but when I was in the Navy several years later, it was familiar to me because I had practiced a lot of that stuff at Ohio State,” said former OSU wideout Mike Lanese, who lettered from 1982-85 then earned a Rhodes Scholarship before spending four years on active duty in the Navy.
“Earle Bruce, who was my coach, he wasn’t in the military but he coached for Woody, so Earle got a lot of that stuff too. It could be something as simple as no hats in the building – you don’t wear a hat when you’re in the building. A lot of those things came right out of Navy training.”
Greg Lashutka, who lettered from at OSU from 1963-65 and later served as mayor of Columbus after a stint in the Navy, said that Hayes would gather his team each week in the days before the game and deliver a history lesson on military tactics, all the while drawing comparisons to how the Buckeyes were planning to attack the upcoming opponent. Some of Hayes’ plays were even named after famous generals – a potent ground attack, for example, carried the name of George Patton.
Lashutka specifically remembered one instance Hayes’ put his military tactics to use. The 1964 Buckeyes opened the season 2-0 and were ranked fourth in the nation when they had an early-season clash with No. 2 Illinois in Champaign. The Fighting Illini were led by star linebacker Dick Butkus, who had said publicly that he preferred attacks that came right at him and challenged him at the linebacker spot.
Hearing that, Hayes put together a game plan that attacked the star linebacker’s weakness, and Ohio State rolled to a 26-0 victory.
“They were predicted to win, and we went in there and beat them badly by using deception and counters all the time,” Lashutka said. “We did the fakes, and Woody used the military analogies to say why he thought that might be effective, and sure enough, it was. The Old Man was clearly a person who believed in history, believed in military history and believed in that discipline that came from being in the military to apply to his players and coaches.”
The ties continued throughout the years. When coaching from 2001-10, Jim Tressel never hesitated to invite military members to practice and even had the Buckeyes wear helmets with a camouflage pattern during throughout one spring practice session. The son of a Naval veteran, Tressel went overseas one offseason to meet with the troops as part of the annual coaches’ tour.
Urban Meyer has also continued to use military themes since taking over as Ohio State’s head coach. Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL who authored the “Lone Survivor” book about his military experiences that led to a popular movie of the same name, spoke to the team after one spring practice, and the leadership training the Buckeyes now go through each offseason borrows heavily from the handbook used by the SEALs.
Ohio State has a proud military tradition, and when the ball goes in the air tomorrow, many will see it as more than just a game.
“It’s my favorite team playing my second favorite team,” Lanese said.