By Troy Phillips
FORT WORTH, Texas – Ray Mabus made the rounds Friday during the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Sideline and press interviews. Radio appearance. Showing one of his favorite teams that he, too, was all in.
When you're United States Secretary of the Navy and 900,000 people are under your global command, it's what you do.
Mabus was like any Navy fan, hanging on every play as the Midshipmen counterpunched all day with Louisiana Tech at TCU's Amon Carter Stadium. As the teams fought into the fourth quarter and Navy tied the game at 38-38, Mabus was understandably anxious.
Louisiana Tech eventually won 48-45 on a last-second field goal after chewing up field position and clock on the game's last drive.
“This is the fun part of the job to represent Navy at events like this,” he said, repeatedly looking over his shoulder at the field while answering questions. “I go to a lot of Navy games. It's great to see them play, but it takes on a pretty serious aspect. Every one of these Navy players is going to turn pro, but they're just going to do it in defense of our country.”
Mabus, the nation's 75th Secretary of the Navy who also oversees the U.S. Marine Corps, was appointed early in President Obama's first term. The former governor of Mississippi and Ole Miss graduate (he's also a Rebels fan) manages an annual budget of $170 billion and is credited with increasing the U.S. Navy's fleet after a period of decline.
Under Mabus, the Navy and Marine Corps have become more dependent on alternative energy, per initiatives during his watch. He's one of two former governors and a Miss America from the tiny town of Ackerman, Miss.
“That's pretty good for a town of about 1,000,” he said.
His current job is never easy, so he appreciates a Navy team that lost 10 starters to season-ending injuries and still won nine games, among those victories against Notre Dame, and a Houston team that appeared destined to go undefeated.
“It hasn't been an easy road for these players or these seniors,” Mabus said. “With their academic load, it is amazing to see them perform so well at this level. Houston was No. 6 in the country at the time, and to also beat Notre Dame, it's a great credit to their perseverance.”
Like most Navy fans, he has marveled at the Midshipmen's ability to fight through a slew of injuries, the loss of all-American quarterback Keenan Reynolds to graduation after last season, three quarterback changes and BYU's interest a year ago in coach Ken Niumatalolo (he stayed).
He predicts the Commander in Chief Trophy won by Air Force this year will return to Annapolis, Md., sooner than later.
“Navy had won 12 of last 15,” Mabus said. “It really belongs back with Navy. The other academies don't seem to take care of it as well as we do.”
A challenge from one of their own, it appears, but Mabus said it's the kind of adversity on which Navy and players and students thrive.
“This is a great way for America’s people to see some of the finest student-athletes in the nation playing for the U.S. Naval Academy,” he said. “These young men are smart and our leaders of the future.”