Standing on the sideline during Navy's 27--21 win over Army last Saturday—a game that counted President Barack Obama among the 80,789 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.—a pair of Showtime producers barking orders into earpiece walkie-talkies could have been mistaken for Secret Service agents.
With 4:39 left to play, Pete Radovich and Steve Karasik instructed nine camera crews located throughout the stadium to focus on Army's offense as it faced fourth-and-seven at the Midshipmen's 25-yard line. "Play of the game," Radovich said. "Concentrate on the ball. Forget everything else."
Quarterback Trent Steelman was tackled for a loss and Navy sealed its 10th straight victory in the storied rivalry, but ultimately it will receive only a brief mention in A Game of Honor—the feature-length documentary about football players at West Point and Annapolis to air Dec. 21 at 10 p.m.
"The game is why we're doing it," says Radovich, also the film's director, "but it's really about seeing what life is like at the military academies through [the players'] eyes."
Since May, Showtime's cameras have had unprecedented access at both academies—to locker rooms, classrooms, dorm rooms, mess halls and training maneuvers, even during live fire exercises when the bullets were real. "The demands on [the players] are incredible," Radovich says. "They're studying nuclear engineering and Arabic, they're getting full-time military training."
Some might think of the annual game's pageantry as mere propaganda—there were flyovers by F-18 fighter jets and Apache helicopters, and a presidential coin toss—but A Game of Honor pulls back the curtain on the crucibles that transform the players on the field into soldiers, sailors and marines. Their sacrifices are worthy of celebration.
"This is an oasis from corruption in sports," Radovich says. "They're joining the military in a time of war. It makes you question what you're doing with your own life."
Army-Navy no longer has an impact on the national championship, but as the documentary hopes to show, it's much more than just a game.