Coast Guard-Merchant Marine matchup will be about more than just football
New London — There will be Division III football Saturday at Cadet Memorial Field. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy vs. the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. On Veterans Day. With ESPN cameras rolling on the grounds.
All of those things, duty, honor, country, will make it about more than just football when the teams meet beginning at noon in a game set to be livestreamed on ESPN3.
Coast Guard football coach Bill George, in his 19th season, was asked to take a crack at explaining what it's like to come to work every day on the banks of the Thames River. The Coast Guard Academy is classified as one of five federal service academies, as is Merchant Marine.
"All of us coaches, 20 years ago you come in and it's nothing but football," George said at Wednesday's weekly team football luncheon. "But then there are these people (the players) who have goals to become officers; it becomes bigger.
"... If Vince Lombardi and Abraham Lincoln crawled out of their graves, they'd come to this place. This is a place of honor. Everything can else be found elsewhere except the honor ... in a society where honor is fading. You wouldn't trade this for anything."
The game with Merchant Marine is contested each season for the Secretaries' Cup, oftentimes with the nation's Secretary of Homeland Security representing the Coast Guard and the Secretary of Transportation siding with Merchant Marine. (Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta have both spent time watching games from the Coast Guard press box.)
It is the 46th meeting between the schools, which matched up for the first time in 1949. It is the first time the game will be played to close the season since 2005, with both teams a part of the inaugural New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference football season. Coast Guard is 3-6 overall, 1-5 in the league, while Merchant Marine is 4-4, 3-3.
"I think it's a real blessing and an honor to have this opportunity," said Coast Guard senior captain Ryan Robertson of attending the academy, which requires a five-year committment as a Coast Guard officer following graduation. "We don't take it for granted."
"I always knew I wanted to be in the military," fellow senior co-captain Cody Bain said. "In my family, we respect the men and women in the armed services. A lot of times Coast Guard isn't exactly put in the spotlight. This is an awesome opportunity to shed some light."
Many Coast Guard football players have family military history. Starting center Hudson Dunaway's dad, Dan, played on the offensive line at Navy, for instance. Defensive tackle Tommy Jones also has an intersting story regarding his family and the Army. His grandfather, Richard Reno, served in the Army as an interpreter of enemy messages during the Vietnam War.
"He passed away before I was born. My mom (Sandra) was born in Okinawa (Japan) when he was stationed there," Jones said. "... I asked questions about it after joining the military. The military is not really talked about in my family; I guess it's a generation removed. I've been so fortunate to have been given the chance to give back and be part of a humanitarian service, give back and serve the people of this country."
It's something George has never failed to appreciate, even while it's his job to find a way to stop Merchant Marine's triple-option offense Saturday and to get the Bears offense rolling.
"The No. 1 thing is they give up a lot for the country," George said. "They leave their families and go to Iraq for 13 months. I think that's the biggest appreciation. I don't know how they can do it. These are people whose families are dedicated to the country, too."
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