By Jon Wertheim
September 09, 2011

It was a calm Tuesday morning. Summer had just about seeped into fall. The financial markets were relatively stable. The United States, as it had been for the better part of nearly three decades, was at peace. Then, at 8:46 a.m., a hijacked plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, followed less than 20 minutes later by another hijacked airliner that plowed into the South Tower. A third plane smacked into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth was headed for either the White House or the Capitol. After passengers subdued the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93, it crashed in a Pennsylvania field. By the end of the day, nearly 3,000 Americans were dead.

With that, one historical era had ended and another had begun. Sunday will mark the 10th anniversary of the "Post-9/11" universe. For all Americans, the attacks of 10 years ago were a watershed moment, but for some -- for the men and women of the country's armed forces -- they were determinative, defining the course of their future.

For the cadets and midshipmen at West Point and Annapolis, the prospect of fighting in a war had suddenly turned from theoretical to very real. For the academies' football teams, the events of September 11, and their aftermath, made for one of the more remarkable seasons in college football history, as well as for a dramatically memorable Army-Navy game. Players from both teams endured experiences that they would carry with them to Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond. This is their story.

Chad Jenkins, Army QB

"9/11, for not only an Army football player but for an American was a complete shocker and a life-altering event. You realize the magnitude of it but you just don't realize how it's going to change your life, especially for someone that's at a service academy or somebody that was currently even in the military at that time."

Vaughn Kelley, Navy CB

"I was going to class and as I walked through the halls I saw one of the planes hit the second tower on a TV. Everybody froze. I didn't know what I was watching. I thought it was a movie. It got more real and real. Navy cancelled classes and everyone got on their phones to make sure their families were OK. There was a rumor, maybe not on paper but one we heard, that [Annapolis would] be next for attack. [Later in the week], we'd see planes overhead in practice and we all thought they were going to hit us. We'd freeze and stare at the planes."

Babatunde Akingbemi, Navy DT

"That's a day I'll never forget. I was on my way back from class and I saw a lot of people, a lot more noise than usual. It seemed like everyone was running. I didn't realize what was going on. Practice was cancelled that day. Everything was just shut down."

For some players, the sudden prospect of being a soldier bleached the relevance from football; the notion of playing "games" just didn't seem right. For some, it was a welcome diversion, a relief from the stress. For still others, it was preparation for what might follow after graduation.

Glenn Schatz, Navy DE

"Beforehand, the Academy was just a thing that you did. A lot of the silly rules and military regulations that you had to follow -- you're like OK great, I'm doing this and I'm going to go off and be a pilot or a surface warfare officer and basically you knew that all you'd do after graduation was go off and train. But all of a sudden a lot of the guys that wanted to be in the Marine Corps, they all of a sudden had a real enemy they were going to have to go after. So I think after 9/11, there was a little bit more sense of mission [at the Academy]. A lot of the military classes I think people took a little more seriously after that. It was different because most of the guys that were there when I was there, they signed up in a time of peace and exited in a time of war. I taught at the Academy for three years recently, and every midshipman that was there when I taught there basically signed up during a time of war. It was a different mentality."

It was a rough season for both teams. When Navy lost to Notre Dame 34-16, it marked the 50th straight game the two academies had lost to the Fighting Irish. Through November of that season, the Cadets and Midshipmen had played a combined 19 games and won just two. Both teams, however, found a measure of consolation in the reception that greeted them at opposing stadiums.

Jake Bowen, Navy LB

"In previous years ... you'd get off the bus and people would be booing you. They'd say 'Sink Navy' or some fans would be rude; they'd throw beer cans at you. But everybody that season had the utmost respect for the Navy team. I remember getting off the bus at Notre Dame stadium and -- we didn't do anything, we just got off the bus -- and all of their fans just started clapping."

Todd Berry, Army coach

"My first year at Army [in 2000], I remember going into some stadiums and being booed as the players came out on the field. After 9/11, we had that first weekend off as most of the country did obviously, and then we were playing UAB [on Sept. 22]. And we showed up down there and had all kinds of things from a call-in bomb scare that night [at the team hotel] to someone pulling the fire alarm and us having to evacuate. There were a lot of nerves and anxieties. We took the field the next day and all of a sudden we got a standing ovation. It hit me. It's a little bit of a sad commentary from a societal standpoint, when these young people are giving up so much for our country to protect and defend the values that we hold, that it takes an event like 9/11 for us to fully appreciate what they are doing and why we have to have academies."

Chad Jenkins

"I don't even think during that season that it hit us as to what it meant to run out onto the field with the American flag, representing, not only our team and West Point, but really representing the country of the United States."

Despite the teams' underwhelming records -- the Cadets were 2-8, the Midshipmen 0-9 -- the annual Army-Navy clash was freighted with extra significance. The game drew 69,708 fans to Veterans Stadium, the largest crowd ever to see a football game at the venue. CBS sent its No. 1 NFL broadcast team of Dick Enberg and Dan Dierdorf to call the game. President George W. Bush addressed both teams before kickoff, attended the coin flip and spent the first half on the Navy sideline and the second half on the Army sideline.

Dick Enberg, CBS broadcaster

"We went to West Point and Annapolis and talked to the kids. And the game seemed significant but insignificant. They talked about their career as military men. You looked in [their] eyes and it was clear that, after the football, they were playing a really difficult game. But the quality, the level of every kid, it made you so proud, knowing this is the kind of quality we still breed in America. There are times when you do a story and you feel like you need to run off to the restroom and wash your hands. There, we carried a glow from the start of the week until after the game. People say I get emotional, that I cry at the sight of a red hat. But ..."

Marlon Terrell, Navy, FB

"We had to do this thing as plebes called 'square the corners.' Every time you square a corner, you do a left or right face and say, 'Beat Army, sir!' All through the school year that's all you hear: Freshman, not just the football players, saying it over and over again."

Todd Berry

"'Yes, sir,' 'No, sir,' 'Sir, I do not understand' -- those are the three correct responses for a freshman to give an upperclassmen or an officer while they're in basic training at the Academy. They soon find out that there is a fourth. If one of those three responses is not adequate in their mind, they'll just say 'Beat Navy, sir!' and it gets them out of everything. Pretty soon that's all you hear around post, is 'Beat Navy, beat Navy, beat Navy.'"

DeJuan Cromer II, Navy SS

"It was my last game and being a football junkie, I love to football death. But,there comes a time when you have to do different things. Supporting the country is greater than playing football. CBS chose to do a commercial with me. They were showing me in the chapel, with my sword, pacing back and forth. There was definitely a lot more media attention. Things were still kind of on edge. Practices were intense, plus we got wind that president Bush would be there [in the locker room] so everyone was excited."

Dick Enberg

"There was nervousness before the game. They may try to fly a plane into the stadium. The president is there. Everyone is a sitting duck in this environment. Who knew?"

Alex Moore, Army RG

"I remember the president coming into the locker room. That was something larger than life for us to be able to hear the commander-in-chief and have him come in and speak to us and just, not really giving us words of encouragement but talking about 9/11 and talking about the greater sense of purpose that we had to fulfill upon graduating. I remember a lot of noise, but I didn't even hear the jets fly over. I remember the noise of the crowd. On the sidelines there were three- and four-star generals. You got a good sense of purpose, that what we were doing was bigger than that one game."

Ed Malinowski, Navy QB

"Right on my desk here I have a picture of that moment when I'm handing [the president] the game ball. I actually walked out in the hallway at Veterans Stadium and -- I forget who it was that told me, I think it was Scott Strasemier, the [sports information director] -- who said, 'You're going to meet the president here in a second.' Thirty seconds later he comes strolling down the hallway surrounded by secret service agents. I introduced myself. He said, 'Where you from, Ed?' and I said, 'I'm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.' He said, 'Ah, Pittsburgh. Good town.' And that was pretty much our conversation. Once he got in the locker room it was a little bit more formal. He thanked us for our service and what we were doing."

Chad Jenkins

"General Schwarzkopf came into our locker room prior to the game. He talked about the Army football team getting ready to go out and go to battle against Navy. And basically what he said was that the Army, when it goes to battle, it doesn't lose, and he didn't expect us to lose that day. [For me, that] was the beginning of the warrior spirit, which you have to have when you take that commissioning oath the day you graduate. That was very profound to me."

Dan Peters, Navy RG

"George Bush came into the locker room and gave a pregame speech. It was very comforting to see him. I couldn't fathom what he was going through. Then [Senator] John McCain, a Navy grad, came in to give a speech. He gets up in locker room and gives us a rousing speech. I can still see him standing there, red as can be and fired up talking about the game and how much it means to him. It was very powerful to me to see a war telling me how proud he was of me. You could see the huge scar on his face from [when he had been wounded in] combat. He was so pissed off that he was shaking. Honestly, it was the most exciting moment of my life -- other than my marriage and having kids. That's an image I'll remember the rest of my life."

Three minutes into the game, Army running back Ardell Daniels sprinted for a 60-yard touchdown. Two possessions later, the Black Knights scored on a 42-yard pass. They led 16-3 at halftime. Army opened the second half with another big play, a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Navy scored late in the game to keep the score respectable, but Army won 26-17, taking the lead in the rivalry, 49-46-7. (Navy has since won the last nine games.) For the first time since 1883, when the Midshipmen had played only one game, Navy finished a season without a victory or a tie. In the trenches, the game was devoid of trash talk. Heckling in the stands -- usually intense --was tempered as well. After the game both teams stood at attention for the playing of the alma maters of both schools. As midshipman Bryan Abell put it to The New York Times: "We're rivals on the field, but we're brothers in service."

Dick Enberg

"The game result wasn't that important. And the way [both teams stand for each other's alma maters], whether they win or lose, it's so right. There's such a goodness about that experience that you don't always feel in collegiate athletics. There have been a lot of privileges in my 50-plus years of broadcasting. But that rates very highly. You hesitate to put it way up there because of the conditions under which you did it; otherwise we wouldn't have been at the game. But it was a forgettable game and an unforgettable experience."

Mark Riegel, Army OL

"I felt like we were playing for what was right about America."

Dustin Plumadore, Army C, co-captain

"Some [players] couldn't quite get it together after the game. [We were] very distracted, wondering where we would be in a year, thinking, How bad is this war going to be? Which of us will still be around?"

After graduation in the spring of 2002, the seniors from the 2001 Army-Navy game began their military service. They were stationed all over the world, on the tip of the spear and in offices at various command centers and headquarters. Time and again -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arabian Gulf -- they served with teammates and alongside the players they had played against in the Army-Navy games. Some earned Purple Hearts, including Army guard Alex Moore who earned two. Brian Stann, a Navy linebacker, Marine and now a top light heavyweight in UFC, was awarded a Silver Star, the third-highest honor for valor in combat.

Nolan Gordon, Army C

"I remember [realizing once after my unit had been in] combat -- while I was on the ground and helicopters were circling above -- that it could have been one of those Navy guys across the line of scrimmage in that 2001 game who was flying one of them."

Chad Jenkins

"My first deployment, I ran into [former right guard] Al Moore. That was outside of Fallujah, in between Fallujah and Ramadi. Good ol' Al. An Army football player, they're going to carry that fire [that they had as a player] with them. The intensity he had as a platoon leader was just as high if not higher than when we played together. He set up [watch] with his platoon to let my light infantry platoon pass through what was kind of a dangerous area. I can remember hearing his voice over our radio."

Alex Moore

"In 2004 I had the opportunity to block one more time for Chad Jenkins, although in a different context. Anytime I was able to work with another football player I knew I had nothing to worry about."

Two Navy players from the 2001 Army-Navy game were killed in action, as was a former player who had graduated the year before.

Lt. Brendan Looney played football and lacrosse at Navy from 2000-04. He began his naval career in intelligence before transferring to the SEAL division. During his fourth tour of duty, he was killed when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan on Sept. 21. 2010. Looney's roommate at Navy, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, USMC, had been killed in 2007. They are now buried side-by-side at Arlington National Cemetery.

A strong-armed back-up quarterback, J.P. Blecksmith graduated from Annapolis in 2002 and was deployed to Iraq. On Nov. 11, 2004 -- Veteran's Day -- Blecksmith was killed in Iraq's Al Anbar Province by small arms fire while leading his platoon as it cleared surrounding buildings of enemy fighters. He was 24.

On Sept. 4, 2004, Ron Winchester, who played offensive tackle at Navy from 1998-2000, was killed by a booby-trapped explosive device in the Al Anbar province in western Iraq. Winchester was a member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment based in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Dan Peters

"I was fortunate enough to have been close to all three of those guys. Each was a real part of my life. I'll never forget them; no one else should either. I knew Brendan before I went to the academy. We went to the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) together in Newport [R.I.]. He was there because he was a recruited athlete. I was there because I had served two years in the Navy -- [as] a sailor on submarines -- and had been selected to attend the academy. Instantly, we became real good friends. He was so easy to get along with. He'd never had exposure to the whole military thing, but I watched him grow from a quiet kid into a real leader. He was one of those guys who'd never get tired. He could run forever."

Travis Peace, Navy OG

"I've found it uneasy and uncomfortable talking about guys who are not with us anymore. I've never really explained the relationships I had with these guys with my immediate family, or even my wife, because it's too hard to really put into words. Brendan Looney was in my company my junior and senior year. I spent a lot of time with him. That dude was cool, calm and collected. SEALS was the perfect fit for that guy."

Dan Peters

"J.P. always wanted to be a Marine. He was from California, this unbelievable athlete, 6-4, 230 pounds, and he could throw a football like a rocket. He had offers from all the big West Coast schools. Navy was running an option offense, not a lot of use for a guy who would throw a ball 70 yards. J.P. knew he wasn't going to the NFL. Coming here, he knew he probably wouldn't even play quarterback. And he didn't. He switched positions a bunch of times. Everyone was like, Navy? Are you crazy, man? He didn't care. He wanted to come to Navy because he wanted to go into the Marine Corps, be an officer, lead men on the ground. And he was one of those guys you want to follow because you know he'd do the right thing. He died on Veteran's Day. Just a great American."

Travis Peace

"J.P. was in my class, and I remember the first time I met him thinking, 'Why the hell is this guy not playing QB for a BCS school?' After practice, he would show off his arm and chuck a ball 70 yards just for fun. He had the God-given ability to play QB for a football program much more esteemed than Navy. But he wanted to be a Marine, and went to the Academy for that chance."

Dan Peters

"Ron was a senior when I was a freshman. We lived in the same company, right across the hall. As a plebe, you can get [dumped] on a lot. It's rough and demanding. Ron was a big, bad senior, but -- he probably would have gotten in trouble if other people knew this -- he'd take me in his room when [upperclassmen] came around to harass a plebe. He'd say, 'Hide in here. They're not gonna mess with you.' That's who he was. He cared about everyone. On the field, he beat the crap out of you. I'd line up against him in practice and I was just basically a tackling dummy. He'd knock me down. Then he'd pick me up. We'd walk back to our rooms and he'd say, 'How's everyone treating you? Everything OK?'

"When he died, I was working at Navy as a strength coach for the football team, before I entered flight school. That's when I felt like, 'This is a no-crap war and people are dying. This is reality.' But he wanted to be a Marine. He died doing what he loved."

Travis Peace

"Winnie [Ron Winchester] was like a big brother to me. There were a few guys from his class [2001] who took the guys from my class ['03] under their wing and looked out for us. They treated us like teammates and friends. Winnie was always the class clown of the O-line. He talked with a thick New York accent and had the bravado and confidence to back it up. He was the stereotypical 'nasty' O-lineman on the field: talking trash, shoving, starting skirmishes, the whole nine yards. Only off the field he was a real funny, likeable dude who everyone respected. He had a very giving nature behind his personality. He absolutely loved the Marine Corps, and would have gone to the Academy just for the chance to be an officer in the Marines even if it meant he couldn't play football."

Dan Peters

"After Ron and J.P. died, a buddy and I decided to get a bracelet with their names [inscribed] and the dates of their deaths. So I walk around with bracelets for three friends who were killed in combat. I've flown more than 1,000 hours wearing those bracelets. When people say, 'What are those names?' I love it. It gives me a chance to tell their stories. It's hard to see people you know -- friends, teammates, classmates -- get killed. But they were doing what they thought was right. They were doing what they loved."

Travis Peace

"I'm not worthy of writing a biography on these guys, but hopefully you get an idea of the types of people they were. Thinking back, it's just so damn tragic that guys of this caliber are taken from us. It's a shame my wife, and most of my buddy's wives, will never get a chance to meet these guys, because they'll never know how lucky we were to have them as friends, teammates and brothers."

The Army-Navy rivalry is sufficiently rich in drama and backstories that Showtime Sports and CBS Sports are partnering to produce a two-hour documentary that will follow recruits at both academies for several months. Web episodes will air on this fall. The final product, tentatively titled A Game of Honor will air on Showtime the week following the Dec. 10 game at FedEx Field.

Gene Palka, Army DT

"It is still one of the most patriotic sporting events that anyone can go to. I think the thing that's changed a little bit -- having gone to this one last year [in 2010] -- is the number of heroes you see at the game; guys you played football with, or guys that you went to West Point with who have done some amazing things for this country. You get to see and interact and talk with those people and share some experiences that [most people in this] country can't even fathom. When I was a cadet, we didn't have young officers with the recent combat experience that they do now."

Martin Pierce, Army SS

"Guys that have served, like myself and my fellow comrades in arms, we don't ever forget. Especially when the first week of December rolls around. I still think that it's an importance piece of college football, and an important piece of the history of the game. When you do actually end up being deployed and you go out to your units and you understand when you're working with various members from the other services, it's definitely brothers in arms; you're definitely teammates."

Chad Jenkins

"I don't know of any other academic course that I took, or any other extracurricular event I partook in while at West Point, that has had as big of an impact [on my life] as Army football. There are quite a few analogies [comparing football to] war. Although it's not [entirely accurate] -- because the majority of the time it's not life or death on the football field -- there is something it does instill, so many intangibles to being in a situation where it is life or death on the battlefield. I don't think there's any better preparation than football to get you ready for that. I honestly don't. It's a team sport where all 11 guys in the huddle, whether they're on offense, defense or special teams, are working as one, as a unit. There's typically a leader on the offense and defense and special teams, and you're going against a guy that you want nothing more than to beat. You might get bumped and banged and hurt and bruised, but you better wipe your face off and get up and go after the guy again."

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