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Army opens season on third anniversary of 9/11

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  • Army opens season on third anniversary of 9/11

    Posted: Wednesday September 8, 2004 8:13PM; Updated: Wednesday September 8, 2004 8:13PM

    WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) -- Memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States are never far from the minds of Army football players. Class roles with the names of the 200 or so former Black Knights who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since the day hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania serve as a constant reminder.

    Some of their ex-teammates are still in combat zones.

    But coach Bobby Ross says that shouldn't make his Army debut on Saturday, the third anniversary of the attacks, any different from season openers of the past. He expects his players will pay homage to the anniversary then get on with the game, even on a campus where genuine heroes have walked and where patriotism runs high.

    Sept. 11 "touches us almost every day here at West Point," said Ross, an Army veteran and a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. "But I think we'll be better prepared to handle it because it does touch us all the time.

    "It's a game of emotion and game of poise," he said. "So we've got to have both."

    Army takes the field against Louisville (1-0) at a time when many West Point graduates are facing situations much more difficult than anything in a football game.

    "It's hard not to be thinking of it and our opening game will bring it to focus even more," says the 67-year-old Ross, whose sons attended the Air Force and Naval academies. "It's not something you put aside. It stands out and always will."

    West Point graduates more than 900 new officers each year, about 25 percent of the new lieutenants required by the Army.

    Offensive guard Adam Wojcik, a fifth-year senior from Westerville, Ohio, will graduate next May. After graduation, he'll head to Fort Sill, Okla., to join a field artillery unit. There is a good chance Wojcik will one day serve overseas.

    Playing on Sept. 11 is "definitely going to be very emotional, knowing that once we graduate, we're no longer going to be worried about football, we're going out to take care of terrorists," he said. "Just playing on the anniversary will give us a little emotional boost."

    But many Army players say the attacks won't dominate their thoughts come game day.

    There is no major Sept. 11 remembrance planned although 40 members of the New York Police Department and 40 New York Fire Department members will join 80 cadets during a flag ceremony at halftime.

    "I haven't really been thinking about it more than Louisville," said senior offensive guard Andy Dytrych, who was a plebe on Sept. 11, 2001.

    The war on terrorism comes upon graduation, he said.

    "Right now I'm focusing on the rest of my Army football career. We don't really talk about it much. It's been a reality since I was a freshman," he said.

    Louisville coaches and players expect the Sept. 11 date to give the Black Knights a lift.

    "It was a tragedy and it's the anniversary. Going to play Army in New York, it'll be really tough," Louisville safety Kerry Rhodes said. "They'll be emotionally ready and we'll be in for a fight."

    Coach Bobby Petrino is hoping the Cardinals can simply focus on the game and keep memories of the day in the backs of their minds.

    "One of the biggest tragedies we've ever had in this country and it's the anniversary of it and we're at Army," he said. "We've just got to keep it in perspective that we're just going up there to play a football game. It does kind of take football and put it in its place ... We get to go have fun on a bad day."

    Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.