The 2001 Army-Navy game, played on an unseasonably mild December day at Veterans Stadium, held more national interest and historical significance than the storied rivalry had seen in quite some time.
It marked the first meeting of the academies on the football field since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. President George W. Bush officiated at the coin toss and took part in the walk across the field from the Navy side to the Army side at halftime. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) delivered pregame pep talks in the locker rooms of Army and Navy, respectively.
Black Knights quarterback Chad Jenkins still hasn't forgotten Schwarzkopf's words.
"He said, 'Men, today not only do you represent the Army football team at West Point but you represent the entire United States Army. Today you're going to war, and the United States Army does not lose wars.' At that point, you're like, 'Game on!' " Jenkins recalled Friday.
Army used big plays for touchdowns - a 96-yard kickoff return, a 60-yard run and a 42-yard pass - to defeat Navy, 26-17, and extend its advantage in the series to 49-46-7. The seniors were particularly elated; they had evened their career record against the Midshipmen to 2-2.
Over the years, the game continues to hold an historical implication, but one that irritatingly sticks with Army's players, past and present. The Black Knights have not won a game since then, carrying a 13-game losing streak into Saturday's matchup at Lincoln Financial Field.
"I guess the only word to sum it up is 'unfortunate,' " said Jenkins, of West Palm Beach, Fla., who served four tours of duty in Iraq. "It's one of those things where nothing more would make me happier than for the streak to go away, just for the sake of the Army football brotherhood and those individuals and those players who are there right now."
Linebacker Brian Zickefoose, a Lancaster, Pa., resident and another key member of the 2001 Army team who went to Iraq twice, said when someone mentions the streak, his first thought always is "I can't believe it."
"I feel proud that we beat them, but I don't feel proud that it's been that long of a stretch of losing to Navy," he said. "Before that, it was pretty much we'd win a couple, they'd win a couple. But this is kind of unprecedented. It's definitely a hard pill to swallow for the alumni and also from a football lettermen's perspective."
When Navy won its sixth game of the current run, a 38-3 victory in Baltimore in 2007, it set the record for the longest such streak in the series. In the last 13 games, the Mids have outscored the Black Knights by an average of 32-11, although the margin last year was just 17-10.
Linebacker Jason Frazier, who was a junior in the 2001 game, said he felt a culture shift at the academy contributed to the slide. He said when he attended West Point, officials "did a great job of balancing training, working out, nutrition, all that was needed to maintain the Division I-level athlete and not to lose ground when it came to academics and the military.
"Then I saw changes with the development of maintaining the athlete, those things were integrated more with the corps and they lost the ability, I think, to sustain the athletes on the level that they needed to be sustained to compete on Saturdays," said Frazier, who was unable to serve overseas because of a knee injury.
Frazier, who lives in Atlanta, said he's encouraged by second-year head coach Jeff Monken.
"I think with him, the program is going in the right direction and I think the culture has shifted back to where it was when we were actually winning games," he said. "I'm excited to see how things are going to be under his tutelage."
The Black Knights, who were 4-8 in Monken's first season, are 2-9 this year but have had some heartbreaking results. They've lost twice on opponents' field goals on the last play of the game, and had a go-ahead touchdown scored against them with 24 seconds left in another contest.
None of that matters Saturday. All that matters to Jenkins, Frazier and Zickefoose is that Army defeats Navy.
"You take it one play at a time, which is cliché, but it's the truth," Zickefoose said. "I'm not going to let my team down, never, not this play. I'm going to dominate the guy across from me and I'm going to have that mentality on every play."
"We've got to end that streak now more than ever," Jenkins said. "So it would just be wonderful to see that scoreboard and to have Army sing [its alma mater] second at the end of the game. That's all we want for those guys."