The Army Black Knights thought that the coronavirus would bring the end of their season. With so many PAC-12 teams canceling due to positive coronavirus tests among players and coaches, the 9-2 winning team found out Sunday that the Independence Bowl, to which Army had a months-long commitment, was canceled. But, on Monday the Knights found out they will have a chance to play and will battle the West Virginia Mountaineers in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on December 31.
“They were desperate for an opportunity to play one more time,” Army coach Jeff Monken told ESPN. Monken said a combination of teams opting out of bowl games due to coronavirus and teams refusing to take on Army created a situation where the team’s seniors might not be able to play their last game.
“We had guys in tears,” Monken said. “We pulled off the biggest wins of these seniors’ career, they just won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy back, that’s going to be their legacy, and they’re looking forward to playing in a bowl game one time together before they go off in the United States Army, and we’re sitting here telling them, ‘Sorry, guys, you can’t play.'”
“The bottom line is there were enough people who kept saying, ‘No, we don’t want to play Army, we don’t want to play Army,'” Monken said. “And I’m sure they don’t want to have one week to get ready for the option [offense] or whatever, but our players, we’ve got guys on our team that wouldn’t be invited as walk-ons to the teams we’re getting ready to play. We’ve got guys from California, they didn’t have a Pac-12 walk-on offer, and they are starting for us.”
“These young men haven’t quit all year and we surely won’t quit now,” Army director of athletics Mike Buddie said Sunday. “They deserve better. Period.”
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 21, 2020
Monken told ESPN radio that the team “went absolutely bananas” when they found out they would play in a bowl game after all.
“I was just humbled that people would think that much of our team and our young men to be advocates for them. Our players can’t advocate for themselves. They got to just take what’s offered. To have people that believe in them and think so highly of this institution and this program, really it’s humbling,” Monken said.