ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — On a beautiful fall day, the parking lot at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was filled with fans and tailgate parties. A record crowd of 38,225 showed up Saturday for the football game between Navy and Air Force.
Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk looked at the activity around him and smiled. After tumultuous week, he was right where he was supposed to be Saturday.
The Air Force-Navy game was in serious jeopardy on Tuesday, when the Department of Defense suspended athletic competition at the nation's service academies because of the U.S. government shutdown. At that point, Gladchuk took action to convince the DOD that the game should be played because it was funded by non-appropriated money.
His effort paid off. Late Wednesday night, the DOD relented.
"First thing that comes to mind is gratitude to the Secretary of Defense and the Navy leadership for allowing it to happen," Gladchuk said before kickoff. "It's a vision that comes to fruition in this memorial that happens to be a stadium every time we play a home football game."
The late morning kickoff meant some tailgaters featured bacon and eggs on the grill instead of burgers and hot dogs.
Mimosa in one hand, spatula in the other, retired Air Force officer Charlie Lang was delighted to be among friends following a stressful week.
"There was some concern, but I was hopeful it would happen because they've never canceled a Navy football game during a government shutdown," Lang said.
Jerry Elliott drove from Fort Worth, Texas, to watch his first Navy football game. Elliott, 72, and 71-year-old Jeff Miles (Navy, Class of '63) served together on the U.S.S. Nimitz from 1978-80.
"I was coming either way, but of course I'm glad they're playing the game," Elliott said.
Miles was certain it would happen.
"Navy athletics is privately funded," Miles said. "The idea of them trying to cancel a game between two service academies is appalling."
Gladchuk felt the same way.
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