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It's the Bronx, but no pressure from the D train

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NEW YORK -- Back when Army football was a national power – and we are going way back – Yankee Stadium was as much a home field at which the Black Knights played as West Point. The first time was when the predominant names in the Bronx were Ruth and Gehrig. That was 1925, and Army defeated Notre Dame 27-0. Its last such game was last year, when Army lost to Rutgers 27-12. Its next game will be Nov. 8 against Connecticut. Thursday, new Army coach Jeff Monken and athletic director Boo Corrigan waxed borderline poetic about setting up shop on River Avenue and 164th Street.

As special a fall day at Michie Stadium is, there’s no disputing that a game at Yankee Stadium gives Army a greater national profile, and, perhaps, a bit of a nudge in the recruiting process. Every little bit helps.

"I think you get to a stage like this where you get the chance to play a team like Connecticut and it brings us forward in a way that gives people the opportunity to be a part of this and touch and feel what we are and who we are,” Corrigan said. “I think it gets us to a grander stage and really shortens the distance from where we are to New York City. People think of us as upstate, but we are 52 miles from where we were this morning when we left. We are excited about the opportunity."

This will be Army’s 41st game at Yankee Stadium. The Black Knights split their first four games – all against Notre Dame – than won five of the next six games, including a 6-0 defeat of Navy in 1930. The Black Knights played two games in the Bronx in 1945, beating Michigan and the Fighting Irish by a collective score of 76-7. A year later, Army, then ranked No. 1, played No. 2 Notre Dame to a scoreless tie.

The 1945 and 1946 games featured Army’s back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. It was in 1959 that Army began to slide. Air Force had only fielded a team for two years, but it managed a 13-13 tie. The Black Knights defeated Syracuse 9-6 the following year; since, they’ve lost six straight, including two in a row in the new Yankee Stadium. Their lifetime Stadium record is 14-21-5.

Will such another game provide any additional pressure?

"I don't know that the venue adds pressure,” Monken said. “I think playing the game itself against a great team like Connecticut, our players will recognize that they are a team that is a winning football team, been to bowl games, been to BCS bowl games, something that our guys haven't had the opportunity to be a part of. Just playing a team like UConn in a stadium like this is a great opportunity for those kids. The one thing that is unique about service academies is that our kids get to experience some great venues like NFL stadiums and the Army-Navy Game.”

Army is scheduled to play another game at Yankee Stadium in 2015 against a still-to-be-determined opponent. One thing Thursday did provide was a chance for Monken to commit a coach’s mortal sin. Not only did his discussion of the game come even before the beginning of spring practice, the Black Knights will play eight games next season until UConn appears on the schedule. He didn’t seem uncomfortable doing so.

“This will be one of those games that they'll remember,” he said. “The chance to play here will be really special, but I don't know if it puts more pressure on those guys. It will certainly make the game that much more special."

***

Will appearing at Yankee Stadium be Monken’s career highlight? Army is the ninth college for which he’s worked since beginning his career in 1989, and he seemed reluctant to offend anyone. What brought a smile to his face was recalling his boyhood summers at Wrigley Field.

“I grew up a Major League Baseball fan,” he said. “I'm a Chicago kid, and I followed the Cubs. I have a great respect for the brand. When you see that brand on the front of a Yankees hat, you know what that means in terms of excellence and championships. We're excited as a football team for this season and the opportunity along the way to play against a great UConn team and what that will mean to our players, coaches and our fans to be able to be here in this stadium where we have such a history. We're looking forward to it and appreciate the opportunity."

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