Army-Navy Game

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The Army-Navy game is the most traditional and enduring rivalry in college football.

The Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipmen first met on the football field in 1890, with the Middie’s traveling to West Point and winning 24-0. Army would even the score the following year in Annapolis and the two service academies have played annually since 1899, with the exception of 1909, 1917, 1918 and 1929. The game has been played in several cities throughout its history—including the national dedication of Soldier Field in Chicago in 1926—but has most frequently been played in Philadelphia, roughly equidistant from the two academies.

The game is played on the second Saturday of December, is the last regular-season game in Division I-A football and is the third and final game of the season’s Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which is awarded to each season’s winner of the triangular series between the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy. In addition, the winner of the game is awarded the Thompson Cup, named after its donor, Robert M. Thompson, a former Naval officer and President of the American Olympic Association. Though the game has been played 115 times, only six of those games have ever been held on the campus of either academy, as neither team has a stadium with enough seating to accommodate the large crowds, media, and dignitaries that attend each year.
For much of the first half of the 20th century, both Army and Navy were regularly national powers, and the game occasionally had national championship implications, including 1944 and 1945, when both teams came into the contest undefeated. Joseph Reeves wore the first football helmet while playing for Navy in the 1893 game and instant replay made its debut at the 1963 Army-Navy game. The 1983 contest was played in the Rose Bowl, the only site west of the Mississippi River to host the Army-Navy game. The game has aired nationally on the radio since 1920 and has been nationally televised since 1945. CBS has aired the game every year since 1984 except for a five-year period when ABC had broadcast rights [1991-1995]. Last year’s game was held at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and was won by Navy, 17-10, and helped the Midshipmen extend their winning streak to 13, the longest in the history of this storied rivalry.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to attend the game in 1901. He was also the first to start the tradition of the president or Secretary of Defense to cross the field at halftime to make sure the leader sat on both sides during the course of the game. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the only U.S. president to play in the game, which he did in 1912. Army has produced three Heisman Trophy winners; Doc Blanchard [1945], Glenn Davis [1946] and Pete Dawkins [1958]. Two Midshipmen have won the Heisman; Joe Bellino [1960] and Roger Staubach [1963]. The Black Knights won national championships in 1944, 1945 and 1946. Navy’s sole title came in 1926.

The game is especially emotional for the seniors—called “first classman”—by both academies, since it is typically the last football game they will ever play [both Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipmen went to bowl games in 1996 and 2010]. Festivities begin with the “march-on,”- with the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen entering the stadium in full uniform, lined in tight rows and columns while taking the field. During their junior year, select Middies and Cadets spend a semester “in enemy territory” attending the opposition’s institution. The intent is for these officers to get a view of life and training from their brothers-in-arms.

A long-standing tradition of the Army-Navy football game is to conduct a formal “prisoner exchange” prior to the game, allowing students the opportunity to enjoy the game with their comrades. Following the game, a tradition called “honoring the fallen” takes place. Both team’s alma maters are played and sung. The winning team stands alongside the losing team and faces the losing academy students, then the losing team accompanies the winning team, facing their students. This show of mutual respect and solidarity has brought about the phrase, “Sing Last”, as that honor goes only to the winning side. It is the greatest display of sportsmanship in college athletics.

Army and Navy meet at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia tomorrow at 3:00 pm ET. It will mark the 86th time that the “City of Brotherly Love” as hosted the game. Navy leads the series 59-49-7.