He's preparing to scream his lungs out for three-plus hours in frigid weather, cheering on a football team that hasn't defeated its rival in its last dozen tries.
All he's asking in return is your vote. And if he doesn't get it … well, he'll be cheering anyway, because that's what "The Crazy Colonel" does.
Retired Col. Daniel Ragsdale, known by many for his antics at Army football and basketball games, is one of 10 finalists for enshrinement in the Fan Hall of Fame, an ESPN-backed creation spawned in 2012 that already includes such luminaries as "Captain Dee-Fense" and "The Georgia Joker."
Inspired by the "yell leaders" and "the 12th Man" after spending a year at Texas A&M, Ragsdale brought his vocal approach to athletic support with him to the U.S. Military Academy. After graduating in 1981, he would spend about half his 30-year military career in various West Point positions, he said in a Wednesday interview, finally serving as Vice Dean for Education before leaving service in 2011.
"It took on a life of its own after I retired," Ragsdale said of his "Crazy Colonel" persona. "When I was there [serving at West Point], I was kind of a day-to-day visual presence. It was less of a mystique, maybe? Now, when I come back … I can say, 'You don't know who I am, do you?' And the cadets, they say, 'No, sir.' And I say, 'Well, you will.'"
A key part of his popularity, Ragsdale said, comes from his positive approach during games. Surrounding fans are more likely to join in the cheers and chants if they don't involve yelling at referees or blasting opposing players and coaches, he said. When he asked one West Point boss if there were concerns about his activities, he recalled being told to "crank it up a notch."
"We've all seen loudmouth fans and hecklers, that sort of thing, and that's just not the direction I've taken," he said. "I think if I did, there'd be less of an interest."
School and Army pride are clear motivators for Ragsdale's vocal fandom, but for true inspiration, he points to an anonymous message he received over social media from a fellow West Point graduate, someone struggling through a third Afghanistan deployment who said remembering the cheers of a crazed colonel helped him find his place in a troubled war zone.
Col. Daniel Ragsdale celebrates during the 110th Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia in 2009. After retirement, Ragsdale has traded in the uniform for a T-shirt in the stands, despite the often-frigid Army-Navy weather.
Photo Credit: MC1 Chad J. McNeeley/Navy
"I learned that no matter what my role is, I have to give it everything I have," the message reads, in part. "I may feel alone, scared, frustrated, or hopeless, but I still have a role to play."
Ragsdale's reaction: "I told my wife after I read this thing, you know, I could die now. … If I'm able to have that kind of influence, it's that much more of an encouragement for me to continue to do so."
He applied for Fan Hall of Fame consideration "on a whim," he said, and was selected Monday as one of the year's 10 finalists. An online vote to determine which three fans will be enshrined ends Dec. 10.
Three days later, Ragsdale's fandom will reach its yearly zenith, when the Army Black Knights travel to Baltimore in hopes of ending their 12-year losing streak to the Navy Midshipmen. The retired colonel, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2005, said he'll ratchet up his cheers "to about a 27, on a scale of 1 to 10," and expects to do so in a T-shirt, regardless of weather.
Danny Wild's photo of Daniel Ragsdale in action during the 2010 Army-Navy game became the inspiration for a T-shirt given out to all cadets in the run-up to last year's rivalry contest.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Ragsdale
(He's also been featured on a T-shirt, which was part of a "spirit package" distributed to each cadet last year during Army-Navy Week festivities.)
Aside from ending a long losing streak, the win would give Ragsdale rare bragging rights in his own home – his first son graduated from West Point, he said, but his second graduated from the Air Force Academy and his daughter graduated from the Naval Academy.
"We have a joint family. People say, 'You can't lose when they play!' I say, 'Yes I can!' Just because I have disloyal children doesn't mean that my lifelong allegiance is changing," he joked.
These are not the only family concerns faced by the Hall of Fame finalist.
"My wife would prefer that this would go away," Ragsdale said. "She frequently says, 'You know, you retired as a colonel. Can't you retire the Crazy Colonel?' We're at polar opposite ends of that spectrum. She would very much like to blend into the woodwork, not call attention to herself."
Now a Virginia resident and a program manager with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Ragsdale, 56, works with cyber-related programs. He holds a doctorate in computer science from Texas A&M and a master's in the same field from the Naval Postgraduate School, according to his DARPA bio, which lists his nickname as "Rags."
As for his other nickname: "I never picked the title 'Crazy Colonel,' he said. "It was applied to me by those who saw me in action."
Retired Col. Daniel Ragsdale surfs the crowd during a Feb. 8 Army basketball game against Navy at West Point.
Photo Credit: Danny Wild/USA Today Sports