Football interest nationwide centered on collegiate conference championships, high school state championships and National Football League play last weekend.
While many collegiate teams begin bowl game preparations, the collegiate focus this weekend is on the 119th annual Army-Navy football game, starting at 2 p.m. Saturday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Navy leads the series, 60-51-7.
It’s an American tradition and a revered game. It’s a must-see for anyone wanting to watch the game played in its purest form.
Dr. Jeff Fair, the head athletic trainer at Oklahoma State for 25 years, attended his first Army-Navy game as a youngster. For 18 years (1997-2015), Fair was the associate athletic director for sports medicine at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Working this game was a highlight.
“My dad was a West Point graduate and the first two Army-Navy games I went to, I pulled for Army. I was at the game when Roger Staubach was a senior quarterback at Navy,” Fair said of the former Heisman Trophy winner and Dallas Cowboy star.
“It’s not just a game, it’s more of a happening because there is so much going on. The first game I worked in 1997 was quite the experience. The Midshipmen and Cadets from West Point march out, there is a flyover, the crowd includes families of both programs and the President usually attends the game,” said Fair, who earned a reputation as a respected, innovative trainer during his OSU and Navy tenures.
“They call this America’s game and it really is. It’s evenly matched and the kids play their hearts out. They may not be the best athletes in the country, but they play hard and never give up. And, it’s not hard to teach them what to do,” he said.
“Before practice at Oklahoma State, the players would talk about tennis shoes and girls. At the Naval Academy, they talk about their chemistry class and politics. I’ve been around some amazing young people.”
Former OSU quarterback Charlie Weatherbie was Navy’s football coach when Fair – who earned his doctorate at OSU – arrived at the academy. Fair treated Weatherbie when he played for the Cowboys.
“I started here in 1997 and in the 18 years we only lost three Army-Navy games,” Fair said. “Army lost 14 in a row before winning the last two. I’m going to my fourth Army-Navy game since I retired. I hope the weather Saturday is better than last year when it snowed.”
While at Navy, Fair was on staff when former Stillwater High standouts Terrance Anderson and Blake Carter played for the Midshipmen. He also took care of former Cowboy player Jerry Cramer’s son.
It’s been a memorable experience for Fair. He has a framed memento of the 100th Army-Navy game. When Navy won the Commander-In-Chief trophy, by defeating Army and Air Force, the team was invited to the White House. “I’ve been to the White House so much I know where the bathroom is,” he said.
“It’s been a great experience here. And, I wouldn’t trade my 25 years at Oklahoma State for anything,” Fair said. “I was lucky to get a chance to do big-time football and Oklahoma State was big-time football. I think the Big Eight Conference was the best at the time.
“I do miss it. After 43 years I’m still dreaming about football practice at night.”
Ron Holt is a sports columnist for the Stillwater News Press. Holt served as sports editor for more than 30 years and resides in Bixby.