To younger college football fans, it may seem odd that both the Army Black Knights and the Navy Midshipmen have ever fielded championship caliber teams. The two service academies, along with the Air Force Falcons, are not known for on-field prowess, typically fielding teams that are smaller and not as athletic as today’s top teams.
College football has changed too as student-athletes now have the potential of a lucrative NFL career to look forward to. Academy students may play in the NFL, but only after completing their service obligations. Thus, the best players typically opt for the big-time programs, with an eye toward getting to play on Sundays for pay.
Although college football has certainly changed, one of the greatest and longest lasting rivalries continues pitting Army versus Navy for the final game of the regular season.
The very first Army-Navy contest was held in 1890, but it wasn’t until 1930 that the game was played annually and every year since. Through 2011, the two service academies have met 112 times with Navy winning 56 times to Army’s 49 wins. Seven contests have ended in a tie.
Just six games have been played on the home field of either team. From 1890 to 1893 and again in 1942 and 1943, Army-Navy games were played in West Point, NY or Annapolis, MD.
Beginning in 1899, after a five-year rivalry hiatus, most games were played in Philadelphia, a near equidistant neutral location for both academies. Games have also been played in New York, Baltimore, Chicago, New Jersey and California. Philadelphia, however, is the host city most years, with Baltimore scheduled to host the game twice this decade.
Three contests have decided the national college championship with both teams in the running when the game was played. In 1926, to officially dedicate Chicago’s Soldier Field, the Army-Navy game was played there resulting in a 21 to 21 tie. Navy came into that game undefeated, while Army’s lone loss was to Notre Dame. The Midshipmen were awarded the national championship title.
During the Second World War, the Army-Navy series continued, unlike in World War I which resulted in a two-year break. During the latter war years, both academies fielded top notch teams with Army ranked No. 1 in 1944 and again in 1945. Both years Navy came in as the No. 2 team and both games were won by the Black Knights.
Typically, Army or Navy will win a few games in small streaks before momentum shifts to the other academy. Twice, and as recently as the 1990s, Army has taken five straight games in the series. Three times, Navy has also put together five straight wins before Army snapped the streak.
In recent years, Navy has dominated the series, winning the last 10 contests including inflicting its highest-scoring beat down of Army in 2002 that started the current streak. Over the past 10 years, Navy has beaten Army by at least four touchdowns in five contests, but in recent years Army has played more competitively while still losing.
Prior to “America’s Game,” students from both academies play pranks, usually looking for the most outlandish example to tweak their rivals. In the early years the typical pranks involved stealing the Midshipmen’s goat or the Black Knights’ mule, but a later agreement between the two academies exempted animals from pranks. That agreement followed a 1991 incident whereby midshipmen raided the West Point veterinary clinic and made off with four Army mules. Army helicopters were launched in a bid to chase down the merry band of midshipmen reported The New York Times.
The two academies also routinely exchange students for a semester with some “kidnapped” or assigned to the rival academy. For visiting students the week leading up to the big game can be a challenging one, as their hosts find ways to get under their skin. Cadets and midshipmen may find themselves tied up in a laundry room, their barracks room furniture moved to the roof, their personal items hidden or some other good-natured prank pulled. Dangerous and deeply inconsiderate pranks are always avoided, as each academy seeks to uphold its own code of honor.
Sing Me A Song
Another traditional point of the annual Army-Navy game is the singing of each academy’s alma mater or song at the end of the contest. The losing team sings first, facing its student section with the winning team by its side. Then the winning team stands before its students with the losing team by its side. This serves as an important reminder to supporters of both academies that this iconic rivalry is important, but never at the expense of each academy and above all the expense of the country and the citizens they’ve been sworn to protect.