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First Fan Attends Army-Navy Game

Devoted sports fan President Bush attended the annual Army-Navy football game Saturday, but told the teams that his thoughts also were with members of the armed services fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.

"My mind is on the game today, but my mind is elsewhere, too. My mind is with the men and women who wear our uniform as we wage a noble cause," Mr. Bush told midshipmen in a locker room pep talk before visiting the cadets.

"Know that our cause is just because it is right," he said. "Make no mistake about it - we will prevail."

To Army players, the president said: "The enemy made a mistake. We will win. There's no doubt in my mind about it. Thanks for your commitment to your country. It is a fabulous country."

The players cheered after his brief speeches.

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Later, Mr. Bush was escorted to midfield as the crowd of 67,000 stood and applauded. He shook hands with the team captains and tossed a coin in the air - heads, called correctly by Navy. Just before the coin toss, four jets flew over Veterans Stadium, an explosive boom marking their appearance, followed by six helicopters hovering overhead.

Mr. Bush stayed through part of the third quarter before leaving for Camp David. The score when he left was 13-0 in Army's favor.

The Cadets went on to beat Navy's Midshipmen, 26-17.

The president watched the first half from the Navy side, switching to the Army stands at halftime. He shook hands with Navy students when he walked down the stands, crossed between a line of cadets in gray coats and midshipmen in blue uniforms. He then marched up the Army side, shaking hands there too.

Mr. Bush, who threw out the ceremonial opening pitch of World Series Game 3 at Yankee Stadium in October, said he hoped his presence at the football game would help project a sense of normalcy for Americans.

"I have no fear coming to the game," he told CBS, which broadcast the game. "What I'm really here to do is to say to the country how proud I am of our military folks."

He said that the 102nd game might be seen in a different light because "a lot of the young men on the playing field will end up in ... Afghanistan or somewhere else."

Mr. Bush traveled from the Camp David presidential retreat to Philadelphia, accompanied by his chief of staff, Andrew Card, and Home Security Director Tom Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor.

"Who's he rooting for? Oh, either one of the two teams, I don't recall," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer joked Friday.

Navy was winless in nine games. Army's record was 2-8. The game has been played 75 times in Philadelphia, including the first one in the series, on Dec. 2, 1899.

The Midshipmen avoided a winless season last year by beating Army 30-28. Army has won 10 of the last 15 games, and holds a 48-46-7 edge in the series. But Navy has won the past two years.

12-year contract to hold the game in Philadelphia expires in 2003, leaving the future location of the Army-Navy contest in doubt. The city hopes a new football stadium, set to open in 2003, will keep the long tradition alive.

: © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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