Army-Navy: A Traditional Rivalry

Chris JohnsonContributor IIAugust 20, 2009

One of the most popular college football rivalries, is that of the annual Army/Navy game. Since 1890, the Midshipmen (Navy) and the Black Knights (formerly the Cadets of Army) have been battling on the gridiron.

Both former and current military members will set aside their duties to watch this one football game, over all others. What are they fighting for? It's bragging rights!

In 1894, an incident between a Rear Admiral and a Brigadier General, which nearly led to a duel after the 1893 Navy victory. President Cleveland called a Cabinet meeting in late February 1894.

At the end of the meeting, Secretary of the Navy Hillary A. Herbert and Secretary of War, Daniel S. Lamont issued general orders that each Academy would be allowed to visit each other, for football games, but its cadets were “prohibited in engaging in games elsewhere.“

The series would not resume until 1899, when it was played in “neutral” locations, respectively Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

The 1909 game was played when Army cancelled its entire schedule after the death of Cadet Eugene Byrne, from a game with Harvard. Navy would suffer a loss of Midshipman Earl Wilson, sustaining a broken neck against Villanova, and died six months later.

When the United States entered World War I, the War Department ordered the annual Army/Navy game suspended for the duration of the war. No games were played between 1917 and 1918.

The 1926 Army/Navy game was the first event to be held at Chicago’s “Soldier Field,” which was dedicated as a monument to American servicemen who had fought in World War I. Over 100,000 spectators attended, as Navy entered undefeated and Army had lost only to Notre Dame.

This game would also decide the National Championship. The game lived up to the hype with a 21-21 tie. Navy was awarded the National Championship that year.

During the 1928 and 1929 seasons, the annual game was once again interrupted. A failure to reach an agreement of player eligibility forced the cancellation. An agreement was reached by the two academies, and play would resume in 1930. The annual contest has been uninterrupted ever since.
In 1941, the Army/Navy game program featured the U.S.S. Arizona, just nine days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. “A bow on view of the U.S.S. Arizona as she plows into a huge swell. It is significant that despite the claims of air enthusiasts no battleship has yet been sunk by bombs.” Lest we forget.

In 1944, Army and Navy were ranked 1 and 2 in all the 1944 polls, and once again playing for the National Championship. Originally scheduled to play at Thompson Stadium in Annapolis, the game was switched to Baltimore, to accommodate the demand for tickets to benefit the Sixth War Loan Drive. Army won its first National Championship 23-7.

Though the Army/Navy game is met with its spender, there have been some practical jokes played on the unsuspecting. Prior to the 1967 game, General Ward Le Hardy, USMA Ret., USMA Class of 1956, (then Major Le Hardy) was serving as Company Officer for the 22nd Company at USNA when the Midshipmen of his company moved his entire office to Tecumseh Court during the Army/Navy Week. Major Le Hardy’s car was returned after he explained that his wife needed the car, to shop for groceries.

In 1983, the game was first played west of the Mississippi, to Pasadena, CA's Rose Bowl, where Navy beat Army 42-13.

From 1988 to 1998, eight of the eleven games were decided by five points or less, seven were decided in the final two minutes, and when Army won five straight from ‘92-’96, they were decided by a total of 10 points.

In 2000, the Cadets of Army changed their mascot to the Black Knights. Replacing the Kicking Mule and the letter A, with a Black Knight astride a horse, as its mascot. In the late 1920’s the Cadets of Army were dubbed the Black Knights of the Hudson. So the name came back around and was chosen to represent the Army.

The game itself embodies the spirit of the inter-service rivalry of the U.S. Armed Forces.  Both teams and the Air Force Academy vie for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, given to the winner of the triangular series each year. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy has been won by Army six times, Navy 11 times, Air Force 16 times, and has been shared four times.

Of the Army/Navy record, Navy has won the series 53-49-7. Historically played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the game is now played on the first Saturday in December and is traditionally the last game of the season for both teams.

It is the last regular-season game played in Division I-A football. However, starting in 2009, the game will be moved to the first Saturday in December to the second Saturday. This years game will be on Dec. 12 in Philadelphia.

At the end of each game the Alma-maters of the losing team, then the winning teams are played and sung. The winning teams stands alongside the losing team and faces the losing academy, then the losing team accompanies the winning team, facing their students. This is done in a show of mutual respect and solidarity.

This classic rivalry can be seen during all competitions between each academy. Navy ends many ceremonies, including the wedding ceremony with “Go Navy!” or “Beat Army.” While Army states “Beat Navy!” The rivalry is also used at the close of informal letters by graduates of both academies.

That reminds me, “Beat Navy!”


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