Former Army coach Bob Sutton: nothing a given in Army-Navy

FILE - In this Dec. 5, 1999, file photo, then-Army football coach Bob Sutton approaches a referee during the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. Despite the recent lopsidedness of the fierce Army-Navy rivalry _ the Middies have won 14 straight _ Sutton says nothing is a given when these two teams play. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy, File)
RUSTY KENNEDY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) Bob Sutton is still riveted by America's Game, even if he's far from the service academy world that once consumed him when he coached at Army.

And despite recent lopsided results in the fierce Army-Navy rivalry – the Middies have won 14 straight – Sutton says nothing is ever a given when these two teams play.

''I love the Army-Navy game, best game going,'' said Sutton, now defensive coordinator for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. ''I think (Army) has things turned around a bit. They were close last year. Navy, Ken (coach Niumatalolo) has done an unbelievable job there. He's won some huge games this year.

''But I'll say this about Army-Navy, none of that matters one bit,'' he said. ''None of it has anything to do with that game.''

That game will be played Saturday in Baltimore, not far from the Navy campus. The Middies (9-3) are coming off a 34-10 loss to Temple in the American Athletic Conference title game, a setback that relegated star quarterback Will Worth to the bench for the rest of the year with a foot injury and sent them plummeting from the AP Top 25 . They will face an Army team that hasn't played in three weeks.

One thing is certain, though. No matter the final score, coach Jeff Monken's third year at West Point will end like only one other football season at the academy in the past two decades. The Black Knights (6-5) will be playing in the postseason – they've accepted a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against North Texas in late December -for just the second time since Sutton's 1996 team won a school-record 10 games.

That's a big deal around here.

''I'm very proud of this team,'' senior linebacker and co-captain Jeremy Timpf said. ''I know Army has been struggling the past few years, and it's good to go out as a senior and know that you've produced a bowl game. It's nice to leave that with the program.''

Sutton spent eight years as an assistant at Army under Jim Young before taking over as head coach in 1991. His nine-year tenure is second in length at the academy only to the famed Earl ''Red'' Blaik, architect of two national champions in the mid-1940s, and Sutton knew how to beat Navy. His teams went 6-3 against the Middies, five of the victories in succession.

Sutton was fired after a 10-point loss to Navy in 1999 left Army at 3-8 for the second straight year, and the Black Knights have struggled mightily since. Rich Ellerson's 2010 team, which finished 7-6 and beat SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl, has been the lone exception in this long stretch of futility.

Meanwhile, service academy rivals Navy and Air Force have thrived.

The Falcons won their 20th Commander-in-Chief's Trophy a month ago at Michie Stadium, snatching the coveted hardware, emblematic of supremacy among the three schools, back from Navy (Army has won it only six times). Since 2007, Air Force has only failed to make the postseason once; Navy has missed playing in a bowl game just once since 2003.

Army, the lone independent among the three schools, hopes to join that perennial party. It won't be easy.

One year at a time, mate.

''At the academy, you're only going to go so high,'' Sutton said. ''It doesn't mean you can't be successful, but you're framed by all these different aspects. Football is very important, but it's not the most important thing. That's never going to change.''

On Saturday, it will be very important – to both teams – and Army comes in with more emotion than usual. Its gold helmets carry a sticker with the No. 28 framed by the words ''Brother, Teammate, Friend'' in honor of sophomore defensive back Brandon Jackson, a rising star who was killed in a one-car crash the morning after Army had beaten Rice in early September.

''I never thought I would lose one of my brothers while we were still at school together – while we were still teammates,'' senior linebacker Andrew Knight wrote in a personal letter posted Wednesday in the Players' Tribune . ''West Point prepares you for many things, but not for something like that.''

AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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