June 22, 2014

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'I Believe' Chant Has Navy Lacrosse Pedigree

by Matt White | LaxMagazine.com

The chant, "I believe that we will win," traces back to the Navy Prep School and was carried on by Navy men's lacrosse players before it became a national fad at places like Utah State and San Diego State. It's now the de facto anthem for the U.S. World Cup soccer team.

I...

I believe...

I believe that we...

I believe that you already filled in the rest, because by now you've surely heard the U.S. men's soccer team's "I Believe" cheer. With a simple, rhythmic message of faith, togetherness and guts, the six-word chant — "I believe that we will win" — has become the de facto soundtrack of Team USA's run at the World Cup in Brazil. It's also surely the first cheer to get not one, but two of its own ESPN commercials.

But while the World Cup has made "I Believe" a national sensation, its roots trace back to one of the most famous men's lacrosse teams in history, Navy's 2004 national runner-up squad. On the field, that team delivered Navy's best season in the NCAA era, dueling Syracuse in a legendary championship game, a 14-13 shootout that still is the second-highest scoring NCAA final ever decided by one goal. But in Navy lore, that team stands out for being led by Brendan Looney, a senior defenseman who went on to be a Navy SEAL. Looney died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2010.

On campus, "I Believe" was one of the 2004 team's calling cards.

"It started before us, but it wasn't really a big go-to chant," said Graham Gill, an All-American midfielder and now a Navy pilot.

The players led "I Believe" at football games, and the football players returned the favor by chanting it on lacrosse sidelines.

"We looked at it like, 'We're gonna cheer for our guys because we know the work they put into it," said Chris Pieczonka, a faceoff specialist on the team.

"I grew up in New Jersey," Gill said. "And I remember basketball games and all the cheers were just taunting back and forth, and that's all it was. This is more positive, and it's showing the team that the crowd is behind them."

Attendance at football games is mandatory at Navy. The lacrosse team and other varsity athletes generally sat together at the top of the brigade's section. The "I Believe" ringleader was Dwayne Osgood, a midfielder from Penn Yan, N.Y., who went on to be a Marine with two combat deployments.

"We were the stewards of the chant from 2003 to 2005," said Osgood, now a U.S. Treasury Department official. "I would stand up with a couple guys holding my legs. It took one or two tries for the brigade to catch up, but after I did it for two or three games, the brigade was looking for it."

Osgood learned "I Believe" at the Navy Prep School, where another student, Jay Rodriguez, created it for his platoon. A third prep-schooler, Corey Strong, carried "I Believe" to the Naval Academy as a cheerleader.

"I would randomly be walking to class and people would see me and say, 'I believe'," said Strong, who spent a summer with several lacrosse players as student instructors at the prep school. "Probably the craziest athletes on campus are the lacrosse players. So if someone was going to get excited and do something with the cheer, it would be those guys."

On May 2, 2011, after a Navy SEAL team killed Sept. 11 terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Naval Academy commandant led the brigade in a celebratory rendition of the chant: "I believe that we have won."

The breakout moment for "I Believe" traces to a 2003 Navy football game against Air Force at FedEx Field, the NFL stadium outside Washington, D.C. While Navy had been dreadful for years, Air Force was 4-0 and ranked in the AP's Top 25. (OK, they were 25th, but still...)

But with a new coach, triple-option mastermind Paul Johnson, things were looking up. Instead of taking their normal spot at the top of the brigade, the lacrosse players sat in front. With Navy ahead 28-25, Osgood stood, faced the Brigade and began: "I!"

"People had been saying, 'Do it now,' but he was like, 'We gotta wait,'" Pieczonka said.

"When we finally did it, the whole brigade went crazy," Gill said.

The following spring, football players attended almost every lacrosse game, calling themselves "Hooligans" and bringing the "I Believe" cheer with them.

"I remember them doing that cheer at Maryland, and they were ranked No. 1," Gill said. "It was a really close game, and they did it late in the game, and you felt like, 'Alright, this is it.'"

Navy beat Maryland 9-6.

A year later, Navy played Ohio State in Columbus. Soon after the opening faceoff, an RV full of Navy football players made a dramatic arrival. "They were 10 minutes late for the game, and came hauling into the parking lot, hollering at everybody there," Gill said. "They had done all this research on Facebook on their players and knew who all their girlfriends were and everything like that."

For the next decade, "I Believe" percolated through college sports across the country, notably at Utah State and San Diego State, and migrated into soccer in the last few years. The U.S. team adopted it as an anthem during World Cup qualifying. Tim Howard, Team USA's goalie, tweeted the cheer before the team's game with Ghana. Ice Cube, Cam Newton and Abby Wombach recited it in an ESPN commercial.

On May 2, 2011, after a Navy SEAL team killed Sept. 11 terrorist organizer Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Naval Academy commandant led the brigade in a celebratory rendition of the chant: "I believe that we have won."

For the 2004 team, it still has juice. During an interview for this story, Gill had to stand and pace around his house, unable to sit still thinking about the chant. 

None of the players from the team have been surprised at the widespread adoption of the one-time Navy chant.

"It caught me off guard, but it didn't surprise me that much either because its so appropriate," Gill said. "It made me excited that we are part of what started it and carried it on and had a little part of what it's become."


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