Merrick native Ryan Higgins was in seventh grade when his parents took him to his first college football game. They drove 75 miles north to West Point for a matchup between Army and Air Force. He remembers the skilled marching band and a roaring jet flyover. A paratrooper dropped from the sky to deliver the game ball.
“It was such a special and cool experience for me to see,” Higgins said.
Few places put on as distinct and prodigious a display for football games than Army’s Michie Stadium — just ask Higgins, who will be quarterbacking for Fordham on Saturday in the Rams’ first matchup with the Black Knights since 1949.
In that game, six decades ago, both teams entered undefeated — Army was ranked No. 4 in the nation — and there was talk of the game eventually being moved to Yankee Stadium. On the sidelines for Army was a young assistant coach named Vince Lombardi. who was a Fordham alum.
Indeed, times have changed. Fordham is 1-6 — losers of five in a row — and in last place in the Patriot League of the Football Championship Subdivision. Despite leading the nation in rushing yards, Army is 2-5 and 93rd in the nation in total defense.
That could be a good sign for Higgins, a Chaminade graduate and Fordham’s starting quarterback since Oct. 1. Last week in a loss to Lafayette, Higgins threw for 413 yards and two touchdowns, tying for the third-most passing yards in a game in school history.
“I think over the course of the last few games I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable being on the field,” Higgins said. “Last week, the game slowed down for me a lot in that second half. We got some good drives going and were able to move the ball.”
Higgins and running back Darryl Whiting, a Queens native, will try to stay competitive against Army, which beat Northwestern earlier this year and beat SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl a year ago.
The game has been sold out and will mark the largest crowd (over 39,000) to watch a Fordham game since 1942. Higgins will have most of his family in attendance, including some coming from as far away as Louisiana.
After all, it is Army-Fordham, it is West Point, and decades of dormancy can’t erase all the luster of two historic New York teams matching up again.
“Going up there and playing them this year, being involved with the game, I’m looking forward to all the special things that go with playing at a place like West Point,” Higgins said. “We’ve been gearing up for this game for a while.”