John Kentera is no stranger to taking calls but he never expected this one.
“This came out of nowhere,” Kentera said. “It’s the culmination of a lifelong dream.”
The “John Kentera Show” on San Diego’s 97.3 The Fan is headed to the Army-Navy Game festivities. The day before Saturday’s 122nd meeting between these teams, Kentera and co-host Braden Surprenant’s segment will hail from the USS Intrepid, the retired aircraft carrier nestled along Manhattan.
The following day the tandem will attend the game and all the goose-bump moments this event never fails to deliver.
Each roster includes two homegrown players in Navy punter Duke Pa’ane (Carlsbad) and Army offensive lineman Chris Hunter (Oceanside).
“This was a game I always wanted to go as a kid,” said “Coach” Kentera, a longtime Solana Beach resident. “It was because I always had a tremendous respect for the discipline and sacrifice of these great athletes.”
Kentera’s home station is among those worldwide that are affiliated with Navy’s broadcast football network. That evidently meant something to USAA, the firm sponsoring the trip, when it looked around at the applicants and went eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
“To be selected is pretty special,” Kentera said.
That has Kentera fine-tuning his Army-Navy notes in anticipation of Friday’s broadcast. Although Kentera is a sports history buff and already can recite the legacy of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside and everything in between.
“Once upon a time Army won three consecutive national championships in the 1940s,” Kentera said. “Navy’s had a nice run although this year it is struggling.”
Kentera and Surprenant will be challenged to pull off their three-hour show, which will require more than a three-hour cruise.
“We leave Thursday at 8 a.m. to Washington DC then to New York and check-in for dinner,” said Surprenant, who also coaches football at Cathedral Catholic High School. “After Friday’s breakfast they take us to USS Intrepid’s radio row, we do the show and then back to the hotel. On Saturday it’s up early to MetLife to watch the Army, Navy entrance, the fly-over, the game and back home on Sunday.”
Saturday’s patriotic extravaganza is showcased to a grateful nation. It’s the weekend’s lone major college football game because it always means much more than four quarters of football.
“My grandfather and uncle served in Vietnam,” said Surprenant, who lives in Scripps Ranch. “To be able to go to this game is a bucket-list item.”
Navy (3-8) has its checkpoints in trying to slow Army (8-3). The Black Knights have defeated the Midshipmen in four of their last four matchups, which has Navy pointing out that they lead the overall series, 61-53-7.
Someone mentioned to Kentera that he owed his brother, Bill Sullivan, a call. They made a vow to attend an Army-Navy game when kids, and no kidding, Bill is staying put.
“We never got around to going,” Kentera said. “Now we really have to do it together.”
Bridging differences through sports helps give significance to Saturday’s spectacle. It’s a football rivalry built around admiration for the opponent when actually all the players cheer for the same team: USA.