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Bill Belichick, Joe Cardona explain gravity of Army-Navy game: 'I've seen a lot of big games, but this is special'

For the first time in it's 124-year history, the Army-Navy game will be hosted in New England at Gillette Stadium. For Patriots coach Bill Belichick and long snapper Joe Cardona, it brings everything full circle.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, long snapper Joe Cardona

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has spent most of his life between the Naval Academy and Gillette Stadium.

In Annapolis, as his father spent 30 years as a coach and scout for Navy Football, he developed the appreciation and expertise that led him to the NFL, where he became one of most accomplished coaches in professional sports.

This Saturday, as Gillette Stadium hosts the Army-Navy game for the first time, those two football worlds collide.

"It's a very unique opportunity that really is full circle," Belichick said Friday morning after the Patriots primetime win in Pittsburgh.

"I have a great appreciation for the Naval Academy and a great appreciation for this game. It's a thrill for me that it's taking place in our stadium. I look forward to the people I'm going to see and the classic event that it is – not just the game, but everything that leads up to it starting with some events tonight and hopefully culminating in a Navy win."

Belichick has been able to attend America's Game during his time in the NFL, but not like this.

He's had the opportunity to attend since college, but always got pulled away for meetings or distracted by preparation to coach in a game the following day.

Thanks to having the weekend off following "Thursday Night Football," it all worked out.

"I won't lie, it's nice," Belichick said of being able to take in the game, uninterrupted with the schedule falling the way it did.

"This is really a nice luxury for me. It's been a long time since I've had an opportunity to do this and I'm very much looking forward to it."

He intends to take advatage of the full day, too.

Both he and Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft will make an appearance on ESPN's "College GameDay" on Saturday morning, with Belichick serving as a guest picker, despite his bias.

He isn't the only Navy supporter in the building, though.

There was a game against the Steelers one a short week to prepare for, of course. But as noted by New England long snapper and Navy Lieutenant Joe Cardona, there was another team to prepare for in Week 14.

"It's Army week for both of us," Cardona said Tuesday during the Patriots locker room availability. "For me, Army week starts Thursday night after that game."

According the Belichick, he and Cardona have fielded a few questions about the game as anticipation grows.

Aside from the long snapper, he notes that none of the Patriots players were able to play at service academy schools. Despite that, they're interested in the uniqueness of the game and the magnitude it holds.

That apparently has led to some healthy rivalry within the locker room.

"You can see there's a little bit of a divide on the team as to who is for Army and who is for Navy," Belichick said. "Everyone has their own loyalties. As the buildup of the game has increased and peaked it's been interesting to see the player and team reaction."

For Cardona, that excitement comes with great emotion and nostalgia for his days with Navy football, suiting up with his best friends in the world in this annual matchup.

"It is a special experience and it's one of those things that you understand the other side," Cardona said. "I was fortunate during my time at Navy to be 4-0 against Army and it's one of those things I look at and empathize with the Army guys – I've met a lot of them along the way after our playing days there in Annapolis and West Point were over. They're all amazing individuals and tenacious teammates so I'm glad they're on my side now."

Both men note that sentiment is what makes the Army-Navy game so special.

Belichick spoke to his favorite part of this classic game, the March On, and how impressive it is to watch the Brigade of Midshipmen and the Corps of Cadets marching on the field in formation.

Seeing four thousand men and women recognized for their training and sacrifice, who have signed up to lead and defend the United States at all costs, is powerful.

"Football is part of it, but there's a bigger part of it for them," Belichick said. "Football is a game but they'll lay it all out on the line."

Over the years, Belichick says he's realized that every American has at least some small stake in the Army-Navy game through some connection to the branches of service, even if not through the academies themselves.

Across the world, individuals stationed at military branches will be tuning in. Even for a player-coach duo that have won multiple Super Bowls, this weekend's game feels just as big.

"There's really nothing like Army-Navy," Belichick said. "I've been in a lot of big games, I've seen a lot of big games, but this is special."

Cardona concurred earlier this week.

He's was 4-0 against West Point, and has been to two Army-Navy games since his graduation. Every year, he thinks back to the first time.

"I think back to that surreal moment of knowing this was the biggest game I'd ever play in," Cardona said.

"That still rings true despite the three Super Bowls. But that was, at the time and forever will be, the biggest moment for me. Just because I knew there were sailors and soldiers and marines all over the world watching us play."

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