Secretary of Navy visits UA-Ole Miss game
by W. Brian Hale
Oct 02, 2013 | 1418 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Secretary of the United States Navy Ray Mabus
Secretary of the United States Navy Ray Mabus
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TUSCALOOSA — The Secretary of the United States Navy, Ray Mabus, was a special guest at Saturday’s Alabama-Ole Miss matchup at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, where he presented an American Flag to an honored naval veteran during the traditional pre-game ceremony observed at schools throughout the Southeastern Conference every week.

Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi and a graduate of Ole Miss, was appointed to the Navy’s top post in 2009, leading the efforts of the world’s only global navy as well as the United States Marine Corps. His participation in Saturday’s ceremony was heartwarming for the Ackerman, Miss. native, calling the pre-game tradition “one of the most appropriate honors the football programs can do.”

“People all around the SEC and all around the country are recognizing what our veterans have done for us and what our active duty personnel continue to do for us so we can enjoy wonderful things in life, like a Saturday afternoon football game,” Mabus said. “We simply cannot give the men and women in our armed forces enough thanks for protecting us everyday — they are the fewer than one percent of Americans who wear the uniform of America, but they keep us and our freedoms safe and secure.”

Meeting with the media at halftime when the top-ranked Crimson Tide held a 9-0 edge over his alma mater, Mabus was proud of his Rebels’ defense effort in the game, but was quick to credit Alabama’s defensive play as well.

“Our defense has certainly showed up to play today, but so has Alabama’s,” Mabus said. “Coach Hugh Freeze has done a great job in his two years at Ole Miss of making halftime adjustments that end up working in our favor. By the same token, the same can be said for Nick Saban. We’re going to need solid play on offense and defense to be able to beat Alabama. It’s a tall order.”

Saturday’s game was the first SEC contest Mabus has attended since 2009, when he witnessed Alabama’s 22-3 victory over Ole Miss in Oxford. Though removed from SEC territory, Mabus attends as many Navy games as possible to cheer his Midshipmen on.

“I watch all the Ole Miss games and as many other SEC teams that I can in Washington every Saturday. There’s nothing like SEC football anywhere and it’s wonderful to come back and experience the atmosphere again,” Mabus said. “When the schedule permits, I try to get to as many Navy games as I can — the special thing about watching the Midshipmen compete is that every one of them is going to go pro in defense of our country and that’s a very astounding aspect when you watch them play.”

A little-known fact that ties the Navy and the Alabama football programs together resides in the fact the Saban has coached at both — including a stint with the Midshipmen in 1982 as a defensive assistant — a circumstance that took Mabus by surprise when asked about it.

“Wow, how in the world did we let him get away?” Mabus responded with a chuckle.