“If you’re at the Naval Academy or you’re at West Point, if you lose the Army-Navy game, it is a black eye on your entire season. You can go undefeated for the whole season, and if you lose at the end, you will not stop hearing about it for the entire year."
The rematch between Georges St-Pierre and Josh Koscheck for the UFC Welterweight Championship this Saturday at UFC 124 is one of the most eagerly anticipated matchups of the year.
For UFC middleweight Brian Stann, however, it’s only the second-most important sports event of the day.
The 111th Army-Navy game will be played at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon, and as a former linebacker for the Midshipmen, Stann sees a certain parallel between his battles against Army on the gridiron and his upcoming clash with Chris Leben at UFC 125.
“It’s very similar,” Stann said. “If you’re at the Naval Academy or you’re at West Point, if you lose the Army-Navy game, it is a black eye on your entire season. You can go undefeated for the whole season, and if you lose at the end, you will not stop hearing about it for the entire year, and it’s very similar to fighting.
“You can go on a three- or four-fight win streak and look absolutely amazing, and then lose one fight. I looked great in my last fight, got Fight of the Night, and if I stink up the joint and just get dominated by Chris Leben, I’ll have to deal with it and hear the criticism until I can get back in there and fight again.”
While Stann will be at Greg Jackson’s training camp in New Mexico on the day of the game, he will be part of the broadcast, having recently filmed a segment for the pregame show. Still, it’s a far cry from last year’s Army-Navy game, when Stann addressed the Navy team before their 17-3 win over the Black Knights.
“I talked a little big about my time in Iraq as a leader of Marines,” Stann said, “and how the qualities that they’re developing as leaders and as men and future warriors – not only in the classroom at the Academy, but on the football field – are for something much bigger than a game. That being said, they need to showcase it on the field.”
Having been through both a full Navy football career and two tours of duty in Iraq in the Marine Corps, Stann knows how important his football experience was in preparing him for the battlefield, and later, the Octagon.
“It’s a ‘put up or shut up’ environment,” Stann said. “It’s much like the real world, and very much like the UFC. Regardless of how much other players and coaches like you, you need to be someone who produces for the team, who makes the team better and works toward that goal every day, or you will no longer be on the team.
“That holds steady for any walk of life. You want a job that pays well in this country, it is put up or shut up, and the same held true in the Marine Corps. When we were in Iraq, especially as a Marine Corps officer, if you were not a capable leader of Marines, you were gone. The Marine Corps would fire you and find the next guy, because they cannot afford to allow you to lead Marines improperly and lose lives. That was something I learned early on with the football team. You had to find your area of productivity, you had to find somewhere you made the team better, or you wouldn’t be on the team anymore.”
While the stakes may not be as high in civilian life as they are on the battlefield, the demands are similar, and that is a lesson Stann works to communicate when he’s not in the Octagon, as the Executive Director of Hire Heroes USA, a non-profit organization that helps veterans make a successful transition into civilian careers when their military service is completed.
“We’re getting men and women who need to transition in life,” Stann said, “and we need to teach them that you can’t just get a job and accomplish the job every day, especially in this economy, where there are so many people unemployed, because there are people who will take the job for less money and outperform you.”
Coming from the life-and-death stakes of the battlefield, work ethic is generally well-developed in veterans, but the ability to communicate one’s value to an employer doesn’t come nearly as easily.
“In order to obtain the job, Stann said,” you need to be able to communicate your skill set on your résumé and in your interview, properly, and communicate value. You need to communicate your value to an employer, or else they won’t hire you, and that’s the biggest challenge for veterans, because their skill sets are so technical and so military-specific that they don’t understand how to communicate it effectively to a civilian who has never been in the military.
“Some of these veterans don’t know exactly what the value is of what they’ve done in Iraq. Even if you’re an infantry guy patrolling every day with a weapon, there’s so much leadership, so much planning, so much attention to detail, due diligence, so much communication involved when you’re executing these plans, procedures and missions, that a lot of employers find value in that. You just need to communicate effectively that that’s what you were doing over there.”
Recruited into Hire Heroes by the organization’s chairman and founder, John Bardis – who also corners Stann for all of his fights and works with him on his wrestling – Stann is a firm believer in his fellow veterans’ ability to contribute in civilian life.
“They have the skills. They have the work ethic. They have the honor. They have the courage. Now, they just need to know how to play the unemployment game so they can compete with everybody else.”
Still, that doesn’t stop him from making a few pointed comments every now and then when speaking with an Army veteran, especially around this time of year.
“It’s part of our inner circle and our pride in each different service,” Stann said, “but at the end of the day, we certainly understand we’re all on the same team.”
Still, if Stann has his way about it, neither the Midshipmen’s performance in Philadelphia on Saturday nor his fight against Chris Leben on New Year’s Day will give anyone anything to joke about.