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Public Affairs : Soldiers First

NYT writer talks Army football in "Soldiers First"

Story and photo by Kathy Eastwood
Staff Writer

Joe Drape, a New York Times sports writer, made another visit to West Point Sept. 14 to sign his new book “Soldiers First: Duty, Honor, Country and Football at West Point.”

Drape spent the better part of last year at West Point watching football games and talking to Army football players, coaches and other cadets––all due to his son Jack, who was five at the time.

“I never knew anything about Army football,” Drape said. “I was a Notre Dame fan. Then I was watching Notre Dame and Army on television when they played at Yankee Stadium in November 2010. When Jack saw the Corps of Cadets march on the field and Army parachute the game ball onto the field, he was hooked and watched the game with me.”

Drape said Jack wanted to go see the “good guys” and Drape knew what Jack meant because he enjoys playing with plastic military men and calls them the good guys.

“That got me hooked then too,” Drape said. “Jack got it immediately. I have covered many sports scandals as a sports writer so it was great to look for something uplifting. They may not be the biggest team, but they play hard and I wanted to write about some place where athletes are treated like all their other classmates and not given special perks. And there is Coach Richard Ellerson who is fairly new and has a different style of coaching.

“After watching them, the easiest thing they do is play football compared to what they do every day,” he added.

Drape enjoyed talking to the players and other cadets from the academy. He said Class of 2012 graduate 2nd Lt. Steve Erzinger will occasionally visit for dinner and other members of the team also stop by when they’re in the area.

While researching the book, Drape found the time to tour West Point and was impressed with what he saw.

“I remember seeing Reconciliation Walk and was very impressed,” he said. “Just think of all those who were at West Point, people like Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and Washington. He was here first. West Point is pretty much a history of who we are.”

Drape said he began writing books after the New York Times assigned him to cover a horse race, which is a sport with a steep learning curve, he said.

“I’ve always enjoyed writing and I enjoy reading,” he said. “I was a news guy until 1993, and then got into sports. I like writing about sports because it’s a way of looking at our culture.”

Drape was able to get field passes for Saturday’s Army-Northern Illinois game so Jack could once again meet and watch the good guys play.

Joe Drape book signing 2.jpg
Class of 2015 Cadet Spencer Carroll has the book "Soldiers First: Duty, Honor, Country and Football at West Point" signed by author Joe Drape at the Cadet Bookstore Sept. 14.