It's a ritual as old as college football itself. It's not a bowl game per se but a lot of people (both civilian and military) pay special attention to it. What is it? The Army–Navy Game, the last Division 1A game of the college football season.
Started in 1890 and going on for 81 years, it pits the United States Naval Academy against the United States Military Academy (also known as West Point) on the football field.
Navy holds a 55–49–7 series lead (the last tie coming in 1981, when the two fought to a 3-3 draw. It is one of the most traditional and enduring rivalries in college football. The game is nationally televised by CBS, having previously aired on ABC from 1992–1995. Instant replay made its debut in the 1963 Army-Navy game. The winner of the game is awarded the Thompson Cup, named after its donor, Robert M. Thompson.
The most recent game in the series was held at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 11, 2010. Navy won by a score of 31-17. Navy now leads the all-time series with a record of 55 wins, 49 losses and seven ties. This year's contest will be played at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Navy has won the last nine meetings, including last year in the City of Brotherly Love, 31-17. Army's last win was ten years ago in Philly, taking a 26-17 decision.
This game has inter-service "bragging rights" at stake; in past decades, when both Army and Navy were often national powers, the game occasionally had national championship implications. However, as the level of play in college football improved nationally and became fueled by prospects of playing in the National Football League, the high academic entrance requirements, height and weight limits and the military commitment required has reduced the overall competitiveness of both academies. Since 1963, only the 1996 and 2010 games have seen both teams enter with winning records. This season's game will have both teams out of bowl consideration with Army and Navy
The tradition of the game has ensured that it remains nationally televised to this day. Arguably, one of the great appeals of this game to many fans is that since few, if any, of the participants will ever play in the NFL, they are playing solely for the love of the game. Due to commitments to serve in their respective branches of the armed services after graduation, many players are simply deemed too old to even consider playing competitively again, much less in the professional ranks. Many have other post-service ambitions that would preclude such a career or they simply do not want to pursue one.
while these players do have to serve their nation for five years after they get their diplomas, there are a couple of recent players that have made it to the ranks of the National Football League. Quarterback Roger Staubach (Navy, 1965) went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys that included being named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl VI. Wide receiver and kickoff/punt returner Phil McConkey (Navy, 1979) was a popular player on the New York Giants' squad that won Super Bowl XXI. Running back Napoleon McCallum (Navy, 1985) was able to concurrently serve his commitment to the Navy and play for the then-Los Angeles Raiders. After satisfying his Navy commitment, he joined the Raiders full time. Sadly, his career was ended by a gruesome knee injury suffered in a game against the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.
The game has not always been played in Philadelphia. On November 27, 1926, the Army–Navy Game traveled to Chicago for the National Dedication of Soldier Field as a monument to American servicemen who had fought in World War I. Navy came to the game undefeated, while West Point had only lost to Notre Dame, so the game would decide the National Championship. Played before a crowd of over 100,000, the teams fought to a 21-21 tie but Navy was awarded the national championship.
In both the 1944 and 1945 contests, Army and Navy entered the game ranked #1 and #2 respectively. The 1945 game was labeled the "game of the century" before it was played. Army defeated a 7-0-1 Navy team 32-13. Navy's lone tie was against Notre Dame.
The game is especially emotional for the seniors, called "first classmen" by both academies, since it is typically the last competitive football game they will ever play (the games in 1996 and 2010 were aberrations, as both Army and Navy went to bowl games afterwards and Navy has played in a bowl game in each season since 2003). During wartime the game is even more emotional, as some seniors will not return once they are deployed. For instance, in the 2004 game, at least one senior from the class of 2003 who was killed in Iraq, Navy's J. P. Blecksmith, was remembered. The players placed their comrade's pads and jerseys on chairs on the sidelines. Much of the sentiment of the game goes out to those who share the uniform and who are overseas.
At the end of the game, after these two schools have fought like cats and dogs on the football field, trying to outdo the other, the alma maters of the losing team and then the winning team 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 is done in a show of mutual respect and solidarity.
The rivalry between Annapolis (4-7) and West Point (3-8), while friendly, is intense. Even the mascots (the Navy Goat and Army Mule) have been known to play pranks on each other. The Cadets live and breathe the phrase "Beat Navy", while Midshipmen have the opposite phrase, "Beat Army", dinned into them (even the weight plates in the Navy weight room are stamped with "Beat Army"). They have become a symbol of competitiveness, not just in the Army–Navy Game but in the service of their country, and are often used at the close of (informal) letters by graduates of both academies.
Occasionally, the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, awarded to each season's winner of the triangular series between Army, Navy, and Air Force, will be at stake in this game. For most of the 1970s, Navy had held the trophy. After a period of flux for most of the 1980s, Air Force dominated the competition until the early 2000s. Navy has been the dominant team in the rivalry for most of the 2000s, winning every game in the triangular rivalry starting with the 2002 Army–Navy Game and ending with a 2010 loss to Air Force. If there is a tie in the Commander-In-Chief Trophy competition, the trophy remains with the incumbent team.
The rivalries Army and Navy have with the Air Force Academy are much less intense than the Army-Navy rivalry, primarily due to the relative youth of the Air Force Academy and the physical distance between Air Force and the other two schools, with Air Force Academy being located in Colorado Springs. The Army-Air Force and Navy-Air Force games are played at the academies' regular home fields, rather than at a neutral site, although Navy has occasionally moved its home games with Air Force to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
The 34-0 Navy victory over Army on December 6, 2008, was the first shutout in the series since 1978 and marked the second time a Navy coach defeated Army in his first year of coaching, following Wayne Hardin in 1959.
Though the game has been played 111 times, only 6 of those games were held on the campus of either academy. Traditionally, the game is played in Philadelphia, due to the historic nature of the city and the fact that it is approximately halfway between West Point and Annapolis (and that it has a venue which can hold the attendees). Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium (JFK) hosted more matchups than any other venue in the history of the series, even hosting the game years after the 1971 construction of nearby Veterans Stadium, which finally became the game's host in 1980. Franklin Field, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, hosted the game in the early twentieth century before it was moved to JFK. New York's Polo Grounds holds the record for most games hosted outside of Philadelphia. The city of Baltimore has hosted a number of games throughout the history of the series.
The Rose Bowl is the only site west of the Mississippi River to host the Army-Navy game; it did so in 1983. The city of Pasadena, California, paid for the travel expenses of all the students and supporters of both the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy — 9,437 in all. A substitute, however, for Bill XXII — the Navy mascot — and four rented Army mules were brought in. Both animals were restricted to the barracks. The attendance for that game on the West Coast was 81,000 and was held at the Rose Bowl that year because there are a large number of military installations and servicemen and women, along with many retired military personnel, on the West Coast. The game has been held one other time in a non-East Coast venue, at Chicago's Soldier Field, which played host to the 1926 game.
Currently the game is played primarily at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles. Every four to five years the game is held at a site other than Philadelphia. These sites have in the past rotated between Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (replaced in 2010 by MetLife Stadium) and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. These are still considered neutral-site games but provide locations that are closer to one academy or the other.
In 2009, the Army–Navy Game was moved to the second Saturday of December, meaning that the game will not be played simultaneously with any conference championships and will make it the final game of the Division I FBS regular season.
The 2009 game was held on December 12 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. CBS recently continued television coverage of the Army–Navy Game with a contract extending through 2018.
On June 9, 2009, Navy and Army announced sites for all Army–Navy Games through 2017. This year's game will be held at FedEx Field; the 2014 and 2016 games will be at M&T Bank Stadium; all other games during that period will be at Lincoln Financial Field. In case you're wondering, here are the cities and the number of times they have had the game: Philadelphia, (83), New York (11), Baltimore (4), East Rutherford, New Jersey (4), Annapolis (3), West Point (3), Chicago (1), Pasadena (1), Princeton, New Jersey (1) (Nine games were held at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan and two at the original Yankee Stadium in The Bronx.)
Army vs. Navy. The last D1 game of the season before the bowls get underway. Better double time it to the tv, soldier. That's an order!