Dec. 4, 2004 wire reports

PHILADELPHIA -- The roar of Air Force One and a tip of its wing over the field signaled President Bush's presence Saturday at the Army -Navy football game, a matchup steeped in tradition and shadowed by war in Iraq.


Asked on the field who he thought would win the game, Bush said: "The United States of America."

A devoted sports fan, Bush made a triumphant entrance to the 105th contest in the series when his plane swooped over Lincoln Financial Field before landing nearby. Bush took his seat on the Army side to start the game, with injured soldiers next to him.

When the president entered the Navy locker room before the game, three jerseys were hanging over the doorway in remembrance of former players killed while serving in Iraq -- Ron Winchester, J.P. Blecksmith and Scott Zellem.

During a visit to Army's locker room, Bush said, "It's my honor to be here for this game. I know you're going to play hard, but I'm here to tell you, thanks for serving your country."

The coin that Bush tossed to start the game -- tails, for Navy -- was from the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Players from both teams wore patches to honor their fellow servicemen.

Among those traveling with the president were brother Marvin; Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi; Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga.; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a graduate of the Naval Academy; chief of staff Andy Card; and senior adviser Karl Rove.

Bush also attended the game in 2001, less than three months after the Sept. 11 attacks. He told members of the armed services then that his thoughts were on the game but also on Americans who were fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.

The Associated Press News Service

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