The 2012 Navy-Marine Corps Classic was not supposed to end with the head coaches of the participating schools apologizing for ending the game at halftime. Yet while Billy Donovan of the No. 10 Florida Gators and John Thompson III of the Georgetown Hoyas echoed each other’s sentiments and explained that player safety was of paramount importance, the jam-packed 3,500-person crowd on the USS Bataan nodded in agreement and ultimately left just as happy as if it had watched a full game.
“We were very, very disappointed,” said Donovan, explaining to the crowd that condensation that accumulated on the court at halftime would not allow the game to continued. “We certainly want to play. The problem is the floor right now. We do not want anybody to get hurt out here.” [Video at end of story.]
Florida led Georgetown 27-23 at the half. Gators junior forward Will Yeguete once again showed improved offensive proficiency, going 4-for-5 for the field for a game-high eight points and adding a team-high four rebounds.
Both teams went into the locker rooms with their respective coaches trying to figure out how to win the second half but emerged to see dozens of staff members on their hands and knees trying to dry up the gathered condensation off the court.
The squads eventually returned to the hardwood for shoot around; however, when the buzzer sounded to end the session, the court remained soaked and the game was called to ensure the players were not harmed physically.
Florida and Georgetown, which had already spent a full day on Thursday at Navy Mayport Station in Jacksonville, FL meeting with members of the military, taking pictures and signing autographs, were not quick to get off the ship.
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The players and coaches stuck around on the court after the game. Nearly all of the Gators handed their jerseys to servicemen, occasionally receiving a military jacket in exchange. Pictures were taken, smiles were wide and not a single person felt any sense of disappointment. The event accomplished its primary goal – creating “lifelong memories for the heroes who protect us every day,” as noted by City of Jacksonville executive director for sports & entertainment Alan Verlander.
It did not end there. Servicemen and women, along with dozens of fans, gathered on the court and outside of Florida’s locker room. Yeguete, junior center Patric Young and redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario stayed to take every single picture requested.
Junior F Casey Prather, who did not even play in the game, was hounded by servicewomen who wanted a group shot. He was more than happy to oblige.
Senior G Kenny Boynton got down on one knee to sign an autograph for a small child, and senior F Erik Murphy joked with some of the servicemen that reenlisted live at half-court during a television timeout in the first half.
Donovan took pictures with fans, too, despite the fact that he was visibly tired and horse. Thompson posed for shot in front of a floor-to-ceiling American flag and then manned a camera to snap a picture for a pair of servicewomen who were hoping for a photo opportunity in front of Old Glory. After all, the event was about them, not him.
Outside after the USS Bataan emptied, by the team buses that gathered at the entrance to the amphibious assault ship, the players were visibly exhausted and ready to return to Gainesville, FL. Yet Boynton continued to have a huge smile on his face while meeting with fans, Rosario danced a little, and Young swung a young one in the air by his arm pits. The small child and the big kid each had an ear-to-ear grin.
In the end, the game not having an outcome could not have mattered less. There were no losers on Friday though there were undoubtedly plenty of winners.
The City of Jacksonville put on a wonderfully organized event complete with food, drinks and a live concert before the game. The military personnel at Navy Mayport Station appeared thrilled to have so many civilians on base. There were guided tours of tanks, opportunities to take pictures with heavy artillery and even a chance to sit in an old-school fighter jet.
The teams understood why they were participating in the unique event – not necessarily to come out victorious but rather to show appreciation to the men and women that protect the United States of America. This was not something ingrained in their heads by their respective universities but rather an innate understanding as evidenced by their actions before, during and after the game.
The Gators and Hoyas will start their next games with 0-0 records. Though Friday’s contest may not have counted in the standings, it will not be forgotten. This event will remain forever etched in the memories of the players, coaches, staff, fans and, most importantly, the military members in attendance.
Friday was, simply put, a special night filled with plenty of special people.