FOXBORO – New England Patriots’ long snapper Joe Cardona will not be a neutral observer when “America’s Game” comes to Gillette Stadium on Dec. 9.
Cardona was a four-year starter at the Navel Academy (2011-14) who never experienced defeat in the traditional Army-Navy rivalry game before being selected by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Cardona is an eight-year NFL veteran who serves as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve in the offseason.
“It’s America’s game and everybody is a winner as long as the two teams go out and play hard,” said Cardona. “But we all know I’m a Navy faithful so I will be supporting blue and gold on game day.
“Go Navy and beat Army and don’t make any mistake on that one. I will be here cheering my guys on. You can’t look at this as a normal football game.”
The festivities for the first Army-Navy game to be played in Massachusetts and third outside the Mid-Atlantic region kicked off on Wednesday morning in the G-P Atrium inside the lighthouse at the north end zone of Gillette Stadium.
The dignitaries in attendance included Gov. Maura Healey, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, state officials and the administrators, coaches, and team captains from both service academies.
Cardona arrived just before noon and held a private chat with Navy first-year head coach Brian Newberry, defensive end Jacob Busic, linebacker Will Harbour and quarterback Xavier Arline.
Cardona would later have a private chat with the Cadets’ co-captains, linebackers Leo Lowin of Austin, Texas, and Jimmy Ciarlo of Ringwood, N.J. In between, Cardona was swarmed by the assembled media to get his thoughts on the game.
“I have been very fortunate to have played in a lot of big games here in New England,” said Cardona. “But realistically all of them pale in comparison to those Army-Navy games.
“Army-Navy is one of those special events where you know that it is such an important game and not only for the players. It is such an important game for those watching around the country and the sailors in the fleet and the soldiers in the field.
“They take a lot of pride in the next generation of leaders that are going to be commissioned. It’s a special experience, for sure.”
The 124th meeting between Army and Navy will mark the final time the Black Knights of the Hudson take the field as an FBS Independent program.
The shifting league realignments taking place in FBS in both the Power-5 Conferences and the Group of Five compelled Army Athletic Director Mike Buddie to join Navy in the American Athletic Conference under a special football only arrangement that begins in the 2024 season.
Navy and Army would never meet in the regular season to respect the integrity and exclusivity of America’s Game at its regular place in the FBS calendar. The match would count as a non-league game the week after the AAC championship game is played. A vacancy opened in the AAC when Southern Methodist decamped to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It was a very methodical process that took a full year in terms pulling in our football coach, superintendent, and key constituents in the academy that understood the national landscape,” said Buddie. “It became apparent when SMU found a new home and left them with an odd number of schools.
“At that point, with the expanded college football playoffs, NIL, and the transfer portal and all the challenges coming down the turnpike, we just made the decision that leaving our independence behind was probably the right thing to do.
“The next step was which conference? It became pretty clear … the time was right to jump in.”
In the event Army and Navy go undefeated in league play, they would square off in the AAC Championship game and play America’s Game the following Saturday. The remaining FBS Independents are UMass, UConn and Notre Dame.
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