FOXBORO (CBS) -- The Patriots may be off on their bye week, but most New England players will still be enjoying a football-filled weekend. You can add long snapper Joe Cardona to that list, as he'll be taking in one of the most famous football games in the sport's history.
That is, of course, the annual Army-Navy tilt, which will be held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey this year. Cardona will be in attendance for the first time since he graduated from Annapolis in 2015.
"This game is a special one for the school, a special one for the services as a whole," Cardona told WBZ-TV's Dan Roche on Patriots First Down. "I'm really excited to go out and support for the first time since I was playing in it."
Cardona's pride in the Midshipmen was right there on his chest, with a golden "BEAT ARMY" on his navy blue T-shirt. It's a phrase that he learned when he was a kid, and one that has become a way of life for the current Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve.
"I think that has been drilled into me. I'm a Navy fan through and through, grew up in a Navy household. I'll always support the Navy blue and gold, there is no doubt about that," he said. "The first day, the first words you'll ever say is 'Go Navy, Beat Army.' If you don't know the answer to a question, you're never wrong if you say 'Beat Army.' You get used to it there and it becomes more of a lifestyle than anything.
"When you walk on campus, there are signs everywhere that say 'Beat Army.' There is no question, if you're a recruit going to the Naval Academy to play football or whatever, you're exposed to it," he added. "You see the pride we take and how bad you want to beat Army. It is everything there."
Navy leads the series against Army 61–53–7, and Cardona won all four of his matchups with the Academy's biggest rival. But Army has won four of the last five matchups since Cardona made his way to the NFL.
"I was fortunately 4-0 against West Point, and I will not let my West Point friends live it down," he said. "They've had success since though, so we have a big one coming up."
While the competition on the field is always fierce, there remains a respect between the two schools. They are, after all, all representing the country.
"They say friends for 364 days and enemies for one. There is nothing more true than that," said Cardona. "I had friends at West Point who played football there, and I love those guys. Hardest nosed people and the guys I want with me in any tough situation. But ultimately, on that Saturday in December, all bets are off.
"We're going to duke it out on the field because we want to show each other how tough we are and everyone watching the caliber of men that are at the Naval Academy and West Point that will be representing our services on the field, and for what is to come after graduation," he added.
Cardona has admirably juggled his duties with the Patriots and the Naval Reserves throughout his career. He's won a pair of Super Bowls in New England, but just as important is all the work that he is doing for active service members when he isn't snapping the ball for the Patriots. Cardona has performed reenlistment ceremonies at Gillette Stadium, and last season, was named a finalist for the NFL's Salute To Service Award.
It's no surprise that it was Bill Belichick who drafted the Navy long snapper in the fifth round in 2015. Belichick's father, Steve, served in the Navy and was an assistant coach in Annapolis for 34 years. The two have formed a strong bond over the last seven seasons thanks to those Navy roots.
"I don't think there is any surprise I've had an ally there," Cardona said of his relationship with Belichick. "We have that mutual bond of having Annapolis in our roots. It has been awesome to be able to share with the team my experiences with the military, but also share with my fellow service members the experiences I've had with the team and find common ground and find ways to really make everybody around me better. That is really my only goal, to share these experiences with the men and women in uniform and hopefully have an impact there."
It has truly been a unique career for Cardona. But it's one that he is extremely grateful for, and hopes that it continues for a long time.
"Going to the Naval Academy, I never expected to play football in the NFL," said Cardona. "Every single day, you can lose sight in the daily grind, especially after seven years. But there are moments that come up and remind me that you're doing something special. There is no question how fortunate I am to be around the group of men I am around in that locker room every day."
Tune in to Saturday's Army-Navy clash on WBZ-TV at 3pm!
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