The bliss of the postgame, of finding family in frigid stands, of carrying a Commander-in-Chief trophy around in the snow as if it were the Stanley Cup, in Army's possession for the first time in over two decades — all that was miles away when Army defensive end John Voit took off running over the frozen turf.
"A lot of those guys think I'm pretty slow,'' Voit said later about his Army teammates. "I had to show off my wheels."
Across the field, Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry grabbed a head start. Were they even in the same race? Perry already had broken away once for a 68-yard touchdown. If Perry reached the end zone again, Navy would be up 10. A 10-point third-quarter margin in Saturday's conditions at Lincoln Financial Field, between these two run-happy teams, would have seemed more like a mountain than a hill.
"You can't catch him,'' someone said in the press box at halftime, referring specifically to any race when Navy's quarterback gets in front.
By nailing the perfect angle, John Voit, senior captain, making his 37th straight start, saved the day for Army.
"Momentum is just attitude,'' Army coach Jeff Monkton said later.
Voit came "from the back side on the play … I'm, like, I think I can catch him,'' Voit said later. "I see some guy, some Navy kid, try to [block] me, so I said, 'Well, I have to dive.' I'm not sure if I hit his foot or not. I think I got enough so he tripped, or he slipped in the snow."
Instead of a 57-yard run, Perry had a 46-yarder, down at Army's 11. Three plays later, Navy was kicking a field goal, its lead 13-7. Insurmountable had turned into surmountable. A fourth-quarter Army TD, a missed last-second Navy field goal by not too many inches, Army had the glory. After a string of misery, the Black Knights had beaten Navy twice in a row, 14-13. It was the Midshipmen silently moving to their locker room.
"That's a fast player,'' Monkton said of Perry, who had 250 yards on 30 carries. "But the footing was not very good. From the top down, it probably looks just like a coating of snow, but there were clumps of snow. It was shoe-packed and then kind of thrown to one side or the other and then collect more snow. It was just a lumpy, bumpy surface, really difficult to run on and keep your footing. Every time we went out there for a timeout, we were, like, 'Holy smokes, how are these guys even staying on their feet?' "
Monkton said all that when asked about Voit's tackle.
"It was a big play, for sure,'' he said.
Voit's brother, Luke, was a rookie this season for the St. Louis Cardinals. Might take a lot of swings across Pattison Avenue to match what his brother just pulled off in Philadelphia. Luke was in the stands hollering with the rest of the family.
John Voit's goal is different. He wants to be an Army Ranger. He didn't lose 14 straight to Navy before last season in Baltimore, but he had lost two of them and suffered through 4-8 and 2-10 seasons before Army emerged as a football team, winning 17 in these past two seasons.
"All year long, we've been preaching being warriors in the fourth quarter, and winning the fourth quarter,'' Voit said afterward.
In other locker rooms, maybe comparing football to warfare sounds a little hollow. These guys know they have every right to use such metaphors. There's no other day when the pregame prayer given by a Navy chaplain talks of these men "treasured by their countrymen." On this day, it was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who switched sides at halftime, rooting on both teams.
Make no mistake, though. Bragging rights here are forever. Midshipmen on the field before the game had the word R-E-V-E-N-G-E spelled on their backs. Part of the same ceremony Cadets combined for the word R-E-P-E-A-T.
Hours later, snow falling harder outside, there was a whole lot of singing and carrying on inside Army's locker room.
Voit talked of being tackled a few times out in the postgame on-field craziness, then trying to find other seniors.
"When I did, it was an unbelievable moment,'' Voit said at a news conference. "A moment I'll never forget."
He'd found the right angle to help his team get there. Standing in a hallway later, Voit allowed that he thought he got Perry's foot on the third-quarter play. The snow can settle for an assist.