Oct. 19, 2007
By JACK WILKINSON
It’s hardly just another homecoming game on The Flats. Before toe meets leather Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium, Jahi Word-Daniels will seek and meet and reunite with a high school teammate-turned-most worthy opponent.
“Yeah. That’s him,” Word-Daniels said, smiling. The Tech cornerback chuckled while looking at a photo of John Wright, once a teammate at Hoover, Ala., High School, now a defensive tackle for Army. “Big John. He looks exactly the same.”
Greg and Janet Anderson will be there, too. The Stone Mountain couple will sit in the stands at Bobby Dodd, as they did for four years at St. Pius X High School, and watch their son Peter fly around Grant Field.
A junior linebacker and fearless special-teamer, Anderson returned a fumble for a touchdown in the Cadets’ opener at Akron. While he’d like to start, there’s something more essential than being a starter: becoming a U.S. Army Ranger.
Dr. Larry Cox will be in attendance, too. The good doctor, a family physician in Lewisberry, Pa., and his wife Brenda wouldn’t miss this homecoming for the world. Yes, their oldest son, Mike, Tech’s bruising, blocking fullback, is playing in his final homecoming game. But this goes beyond family ties, beyond wins and losses.
“It’s Army,” said Dr. Cox, who was raised on the West Point ideal by his father, Kenneth, 77, a retired Army colonel and Korean War veteran who went to college on the G.I. Bill.
“We grew up hearing all the military stories, how great it was,” Cox said. “He even inspected our rooms. I fell in love with West Point.”
It’s Army’s first trip to Tech since 1973. The Cadets lost that game 14-10, the Jackets avenging a 16-13 defeat at Grant Field in ’71. The school’s only other meeting: a 1952 mismatch, the year after West Point’s infamous cheating scandal, when Bobby Dodd’s co-national champions mauled the Black Knights 45-6 enroute to 12-0 perfection.
This time, Army (which beat Illinois 31-29 in the 1985 Peach Bowl at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium) returns to Atlanta reeling from a 47-23 loss at Central Michigan. No matter. Forget the Cadets’ 3-4 record. Rarely will Tech host an opponent which engenders more genuine respect than Army, particularly in this post-9/11 age.
So, too, does Navy, whom Tech has played far more often (leading that series 16-9), most recently in 2001 when the Jackets breezed 70-7 in Annapolis.
“I have a lot of respect for those guys [at service academies],” Word-Daniels said. “Especially John and Jarod.”
Jarod Bryant, a junior who alternates at quarterback for Navy, was a high school classmate of Word-Daniels at Hoover. “Knowing those guys personally,” he said, “what they went through — basic training, now having to abide by rules and regulations, everything they must do and still play football — I respect them alot.
“Knowing them helps me feel safer, too,” Word-Daniels said. “Knowing there are men and women out there fighting who have the same character traits as these two do, I can definitely appreciate everything they go through. If certain things eventually happen, they [Wright and Bryant] may get called on, too.”
Deployed, upon graduation. “They’d have to put their lives on the line,” Word-Daniels said. “Where as me, I just have to put my body on the line for my teammates. That’s nothing compared to them having to go overseas and putting their lives on the line.”
“I gave it a thought,” Luke Cox, the second-oldest of Larry Cox’s three sons, said of attending West Point. He visited the academy with a high school friend and teammate, Andrew Dill. Dill opted for West Point, got an appointment and is now playing rugby there. Cox went to UConn, but transfered to Tech after his freshman year and is now redshirting.
On Saturday, Luke Cox will be on the Tech sideline, watching his older brother block any Army player in his path. The Jackets are a heavy favorite. No matter. Whatever the outcome of this homecoming game, whatever one’s allegiance or politics, Army will leave town proudly.
As Larry Cox said, “Even the anti-war people will say they respect these guys.”