Updated January 3, 2020 - 10:44 pm
The ironic part is that he wasn’t the best of cadets. Didn’t like the rules, didn’t like hearing those reveille calls at the crack of dawn, didn’t like doing laundry or being told when to eat and when to sleep and when to study and when to march and when to sort mail.
“I made it through in spite of myself,” Bill Foley said. “I was always trying to figure out how not to do what they wanted me to do.”
He was sitting just off the ice at T-Mobile Arena on Friday night, Army playing Providence in the Fortress Invitational opener, his black pullover with gold trim worn proudly as a product of West Point.
It has been a long journey from the class of 1967 to the incredibly successful business portfolio Foley has built over decades, to bringing major league professional sports to Las Vegas as owner of the Golden Knights.
But his thoughts are never far from a place where the past comes alive, where memorials commemorate many of the nation’s military campaigns amid those Norman-style buildings constructed from gray and black granite.
He loves Army deeply and everything it stands for, the values and discipline and tradition and integrity, all the ideals that he pledged from the beginning would define the Knights.
They have never named a captain in three seasons, a prime example of things being run in a manner Foley learned at that picturesque setting in upstate New York that overlooks the Hudson River.
“We’re all about the team and not individuals,” Foley said. “Our guys are a selfless group. I wouldn’t be in this position without the Army and everything I learned there about commitment and teamwork and having no egos.
“The Army creates leaders. I came out of it with a purpose.”
The black knight was actually good and virtuous, a nobleman who served as a commander and diplomat under the King of Poland in the 1400s.
History matters to Foley, whose NHL team has the nickname and uniform colors and logo about as close to those of the Army Black Knights without totally raising the ire of the Pentagon.
So, too, does remembering from where he came, and it’s difficult strolling the grounds at West Point without seeing Foley’s influence.
“We’re honored to be here,” said Zach Evancho, Army’s senior captain. “You see Mr. Foley’s name all over our buildings. To see someone who went through all the stuff we have to at school and make such a name for himself as an NHL owner is great for West Point and for hockey.
“Our senior class will all be serving in the force within the next year, so I’m pretty sure Mr. Foley says it often: The lessons learned at West Point are not just for the Army but for life. He has certainly proven that if you take those lessons and apply them, you can be successful no matter what you do.”
Foley didn’t play hockey at Army. He swam and competed in lacrosse, the latter of which he built a facility for the men’s and women’s teams, named for himself and two former classmates killed in Vietnam.
There is also the Foley Athletic Center, a massive 77,000-square foot indoor facility.
He has never forgotten, both those who serve now and those with which he shared his West Point experience, several classmates and their wives sitting with Foley on Friday.
“Bill Foley has given back so much to West Point,” longtime Army coach Brian Riley said. “One of the things about West Point is that whether it’s academic or athletics facilities, they’re second to none. We’re able to say that because of things Bill Foley has done to make that happen. For our players to be able to spend a few minutes with him and talk to him is unbelievable.
“Most teams in college hockey recruit guys and say, ‘Come here and you can play in the NHL.’ We say, ‘Come to our school and you can own an NHL team.’ It’s great to be here in (Las Vegas). We’re hoping to make Mr. Foley proud.”
Foley watched as Providence went ahead 1-0 in the first period, the goal coming from a kid named Jack Dugan, who leads the NCAA in scoring and just happens to have been chosen by the Golden Knights in the fifth round of the 2017 draft.
Duty. Honor. Country.
“I’m rooting for Army, but (Dugan) is a really good player who we want to see do well and keep getting better,” Foley said. “If I had my way, Army would win 2-1 and he could have the Providence goal.”
It wasn’t to be, as the Friars posted a 3-1 victory in a two-day event featuring four ranked teams.
It was Thursday afternoon at City National Arena, following a spirited Army practice, when Foley addressed the team. They stood there, listening intently, then snapping pictures, then each lining up to shake his hand, then presenting the Knights owner with a gift.
All young men serving their country, born from a sense of love and devotion, much like a certain cadet from the class of 1967.
“They are so much smarter and more determined and composed than I was,” Foley said. “I don’t know how I got through it.”
In this instant, an Army player created a turnover and attacked a breakaway.
“They’re faster than I thought,” Foley said. “I know one thing — they will never give up. It doesn’t matter what the score is.
“They never give up.”
He was beaming, a prideful smile that stretched from here to West Point.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.