Army-Navy Game Rich in Rivalry, Tradition
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2011 The Army and Navy football teams are preparing to collide tomorrow at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., continuing a tradition of athletic competition and military tradition that’s spanned over a century.
This year’s Army-Navy football game, the 112th, begins at 2:30 p.m. EST. CBS and the American Forces Network will broadcast the game live. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to attend.
FedEx, a 85,000-seat stadium that’s home to the NFL Washington Redskins football team is located in the National Capital Region, which is a fitting venue for the annual Army-Navy football clash, the Army’s Black Knights head coach Rich Ellerson told reporters last week at Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va.
“There's a special connection between both of our institutions and our nation's capital,” he said.
The Army and Navy Pep Bands will be in the Pentagon today with their cheerleaders and mascots to fire up the military crowd. As they do every year, the pep bands will march through the Pentagon’s halls, making stops at the offices of senior leaders and performing a pep rally or two.
The longstanding “Beat Navy” and “Beat Army” banter between the two squads, Ellerson said, showcases the teams’ competitive spirit.
“The meaning and symbolism go so much farther than what you see on the field,” said Navy Cdr. William Marks, the Naval Academy’s public affairs officer.
“Only in this game do brothers-in-arms become rivals for one day, knowing that … they will be side by side defending the nation,” he added.
Fans of these friendly rivals feel game anticipation early before the kick-off, particularly with the pregame spirit videos, said Dennis Herring, mass communications chief in the Naval Academy public affairs office. "It really gets your adrenaline pumping,” he said.
That rivalry has been part of the game’s storied history since its inception in 1890, when a Navy football player challenged an Army cadet to a game.
Just three years into the tradition, the Army-Navy game was suspended from 1894 to 1898 after a Navy win in 1893 reportedly caused an incident between a rear admiral and a brigadier general that nearly led to a duel.
When the game returned in 1899, it was moved to Philadelphia -- a neutral venue that was about halfway between West Point, N.Y., and Annapolis, Md. Most of the subsequent games were played in various Philadelphia stadiums.
Army cancelled its season in 1909 after the death of a cadet in a game against Harvard. War suspended the games during World War I in 1917 and 1918. They were suspended again in 1928 and 1929 because of player eligibility issues. The games have continued each year since.
President Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to attend an Army-Navy game in 1905.By 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who hoped the Army-Navy game would boost a war-weary nation, connected the game to a war bond drive. That year's 70,000 attendees were required to purchase war bonds with their tickets.
Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur cabled West Point head coach Army Col. Earl H. "Red" Blaik from his Pacific base following Army's 23-7 win against a tough Navy team, 23-7. MacArthur’s cable read: "We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success.”
Perhaps central to the Army-Navy game rivalry are the traditions of gags among team members, such as the cadets' annual goat-kidnapping of the middies' mascot.
Since 1982, the midshipmen of 13th Company have run the game football from Annapolis to the playing field to try to get the "unlucky" company off the yard.
A more involved gag in the name of rivalry is the teams' prisoner exchange, when certain cadets and middies spend a semester of their junior year in “enemy territory.” On game day, the middies and cadets return to their own school’s sides of the field for the duration of the game during the “prisoner exchange.”
Another tradition is the Victory Bells, two of which flank the steps of the Naval Academy's Bancroft Hall.
One, the Enterprise Bell, originated from World War II's most-decorated ship, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. A kamikaze attack off Japan destroyed its forward elevator and killed 14 people. The carrier was decommissioned in 1947 and eventually scrapped.
Now the ship's bell rings continually from the time of the game's final score until the team returns to Bancroft Hall.
On the other side of Bancroft Hall stands the Japanese Bell, a replica of the bell presented to Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1854.
Each time Navy defeats Army, the Enterprise Bell is rung from the time the results are known until the team returns.
At the team’s reception, the Navy score is rung on the Japanese bell by the team captain, coach, superintendent and commandant, followed by each team member.
On the field just before the kick-off is the March On, the military presentation of the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets marching onto the field.
Herring called it “truly one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports."
For the many that can’t attend the game or watch it in the comfort of their homes stateside, the American Forces Network broadcasts the game to service members worldwide.
Marks recalled watching the game last year on a movie screen at 2 a.m. aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln while deployed in the Arabian Gulf.
“You could feel the electricity among the 5,000 crew members,” he said. “It was an amazing experience and it meant the world to us to be able to cheer on Navy during our overseas deployment.
“I think as a country,” Marks added, “we can take a moment to step back and marvel at the quality of these men and the virtues and values they represent.”