This past weekend, Jill and I took our daughter, Caroline, to visit Philadelphia. Yesterday, we spent the day touring the beautiful campus of Villanova University – one of Caroline’s top choices to attend after she graduates high school in 2024. We also took the opportunity to learn about Philadelphia, which is one of the most underrated cities in the country. I grew up near New York City, so I never gave Philly much thought, and I’m only now realizing how special it is.

While visiting, we stayed at the Union League of Philadelphia, one of the oldest social clubs in the country. We were the guests of my good friend Jeff McFadden, who is the general manager and CEO. As he gave us the tour, Jeff explained that the club was founded in 1862 as a patriotic society in support of the policies of Abraham Lincoln. In the aftermath of a war that claimed 620,000 lives, when America seemed hopelessly cleaved in two, the Union League devoted itself to healing the country and rebuilding bonds with the South. Jeff continues to uphold these values 160 years later, and I’ve seen firsthand how he has nurtured a culture of inclusivity and empathy among his staff.

On Saturday, Jeff brought us to the annual Army–Navy game, which this year was played at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team. Now, the Army–Navy game is one of the greatest rivalries in the world, right up there with Yankees vs. Red Sox and Alabama vs. Auburn. When those two teams take the field, they are sworn enemies. At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, “Beat Army” is basically scripture. And at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, first-year cadets are quickly taught three key phrases: “Yes, sir/ma’am,” “No, sir/ma’am,” and “Beat Navy.” My stepson, Anthony, attends West Point Military Academy, so I know just how deep the Army–Navy rivalry runs.

Before the game started, Jeff brought us to a tailgate fundraiser for the Travis Manion Foundation. Travis Manion was a 2004 graduate of the Naval Academy, and he went on to serve as a Marine during the Iraq War. He returned home safely but promptly volunteered for a second tour. When his family questioned why on earth he’d want to go back to war, Travis responded simply, “If not me, then who?” On April 29, 2007, Travis and his fellow Marines were ambushed while searching a suspected insurgent house. While coming to the aid of his comrades, he was fatally shot by an enemy sniper. His courage allowed every other member of his patrol to survive. The Travis Manion Foundation was formed a year later and has become one of the leading veteran service organizations in the nation, helping to instill character-building into veterans, civilians, and kids. Their events ensure Travis’s core values—loyalty, courage, and sacrifice—are passed onto the next generation.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Travis’s words— “If not me, then who?”—as we filtered into the stadium. I thought of them as we were surrounded by 70,000 passionate fans. I have never seen such a charged atmosphere. The two teams glared at each other from across the field—Army in black and gold, Navy in blue and gold—and in that moment they were mortal enemies. Both were ready to wage war for the honor of “singing second” that day; after the game, both academies sing their respective alma maters, but the winning team has the honor of singing second. Just before kickoff, a chaplain gave a prayer, and one of his lines moved me to tears:

“On this field are two teams divided by their passion to win. On one side, Army’s black and gold. And the Navy’s blue and gold. And yet, very soon they will be brothers in arms. One team, but still with a passion. Still united to win for our nation’s red, white, and blue.”

After the prayer, both the Army and Navy glee clubs sang the National Anthem together. And then, for the next four hours, it was full-out war. It was the grittiest football I’ve ever seen—no passing to speak of, just a ground-and-pound run game with both teams scratching and clawing for every yard. Finally, after recovering a Navy fumble in double overtime, Army kicked the game-winning field goal. Every player had left everything and more on that field. They had scuffled and fought and pounded each other into the turf, but when it was all over, they embraced each other as brothers. As the chaplain had said, it was no longer black and gold vs. blue and gold. It was red, white, and blue.

I knew in my bones that each of those Army players would give their lives for their Navy brothers and sisters, and vice versa. Like Travis Manion, they would volunteer for a second, third, and fourth tour of duty—whatever it took until their job was done. If not me, then who?  In a time when it seems our country is broken beyond repair, when Red America and Blue America are at each other’s throats, we could learn a lot from the Army and Navy players and all the cadets at our nation’s service academies.

Somehow, the Army and Navy figured out a long time ago how to set aside our differences and fight as one for the country they love. Somehow the Union League of Philadelphia figured out how to set aside their differences with the South and help rebuild a devastated country. We owe it to them to try a little bit harder to get along with our neighbors. We owe it to Travis Manion to try a little harder to uphold the values he died defending. We owe it to our great country to try and surround ourselves with people we may not agree with, to surround our dinner tables with Christians and Jews and Muslims, with white folks and black folks and Hispanic folks, with gay people and straight people and everyone in between.

As that chaplain said just before the Army and Navy players strapped on their helmets to fight six grueling quarters of football: “All across our land I pray that this lesson of unity and passion that these men display today might be ours as well… Lord, these teams fight for the right to sing second today, knowing all too soon they will stand for our right to sing free. May we who watch them, learn from them.”