BALTIMORE (AP) -Clint Bruce played in four Army-Navy football games, never winning one of them.
As captain of the 1996 Naval Academy team, Bruce helped the Midshipmen beat California in the Aloha Bowl and earned a spot in the prestigious Hula Bowl. That didn't erase the agony of losing to the Cadets by 1, 2, 2 and 4 points.
``At the time,'' he recalled recently, ``it was like the end of the world.''
It wasn't until Bruce became a Navy Seal that he realized the true importance of being part of college football's biggest rivalry.
``I'm not diminishing the significance of the game when you're playing in it, but after you graduate and start running across guys who played with or against you, that's when it really means something,'' said Bruce, a former linebacker. ``Knowing the sacrifices they made to play football, knowing how far they're willing to go, it gives you the peace of mind to go into battle with those men. They're warriors.''
Unlike Bruce, Navy quarterback Craig Candeto was extremely successful against Army. He scored six touchdowns in the 2002 game, a 58-12 rout, then guided Navy to a 34-6 win as a senior.
``People still come up to me and say stuff about that 2002 game,'' said Candeto, now about two months shy of completing training to become a naval aviator.
``The guys I played against, I may end up saving their lives. Or they might save mine,'' Candeto said. ``That kind of makes the football game seem kind of small. We are truly brothers, fighting on the same team.''
There are older rivalries and games that feature more talented players, but no football game elicits more emotion from the participants - and their followers - than Army-Navy.
``When I got to Army, I just thought it was another rivalry like Michigan-Ohio State, teams that didn't really like each other,'' senior receiver Jeremy Trimble said. ``But around campus, everywhere you look there's a sign that says 'Beat Navy.' Everything we do during the season, the offseason, even in class, in the back of our mind it's all about beating Navy.''
Decades ago, the Army-Navy game matched up two of the country's finest football teams. Navy won the national championship in 1926 and lost only to Notre Dame in 1943; Army won the national championship from 1944-46.
Three Army football players have won the Heisman Trophy; Navy has produced two Heisman winners, including Roger Staubach, who vividly remembers his feelings as a starting quarterback in the 1962 Army-Navy game.
``I didn't sleep the night before,'' Staubach said. ``President Kennedy was there, there were about 100,000 people. ... It was probably the most excited, as well as nervous, I've ever been for a football game.''
This, from a player who participated in four Super Bowls. Even though Staubach became a star with the Dallas Cowboys, he often returns to the Naval Academy to offer words of inspiration.
``You could see how much the Army-Navy game meant to him, 30 years down the road,'' Bruce said. ``Something like that gives you the sense of being a part of something that's bigger than you.''
Staubach played his last college game in 1964, graduated in 1965 and served four years in the U.S. Navy. After a tour in Vietnam, he joined the Cowboys and played for 11 seasons. It is rare for a player to go from the service academy to the pros, mainly because high-quality players aren't willing to follow up their college career by serving in the military.
``Our young men are not necessarily destined to serve in the NFL,'' Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said. ``But they will do something greater: Serve our country.''
According to legend, the series began when Cadet Dennis Mahan Michie accepted a challenge from the Naval Academy to play a football game. Navy won that game, 24-0, on Nov. 28, 1890, and the teams will meet this Saturday for the 108th time.
The Super Bowl, in contrast, is a just an infant.
``Our game is way bigger, and I don't think it's even close, from an emotional standpoint and by the people it affects,'' Army coach Stan Brock said.
The players in the Army-Navy game aren't just playing for themselves or their teammates. From San Diego to Iraq, from Afghanistan to Iran, soldiers at virtually every U.S. military instillation in the world will be watching Saturday's game.
``There's just so much pride, playing for the men and women serving our country,'' Candeto said.
``I think it's the biggest college rivalry there is,'' Navy linebacker Greg Thrasher said. ``Everybody from around the world pays attention to this game. That makes it special to us.''
Bruce never beat Army. Irv Spencer, a senior linebacker on Navy's current team, has never lost.
``It's one of those things, when you come here people say, 'We don't care how you do in the season; Just beat Army,''' Spencer said. ``It's not about you. A whole lot of people are depending on you to win. It humbles you.''

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