Tomorrow marks one of the most storied events in sports: the Army-Navy football game, held for the first time 128years ago (when, for the record, Navy beat Army 24-0).
It’s possible with my limited, but not sheltered, sports awareness, I may have come across the Army-Navy rivalry before meeting my husband, but if it weren’t for him, I’d have little knowledge. It’s arguably the most enduring—and traditional—rivalry in college football.
My mate recalls with great clarity what life was like growing up the son of an Air Force colonel, a career military man who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1954. His father, who was typically a kind, soft-spoken gentleman, would turn into somewhat of a lunatic each year when the Army-Navy football contest ensued. This nonviolent man reportedly broke the TV with a sponge after he threw it at the contraption with disgust during one years’ match-up. Apparently over one bad play.
Greg was dismayed by his change in character this one time every year and even more confused when his father seemingly cheered on Navy’s football team during every other game. When he inquired, his father answered the better Navy was, the sweeter the victory by Army “when” they beat them that year (because he never said “if”).
Back in the day, his parents also threw parties the day of the Army-Navy game, even renting additional TV sets so guests could easily watch it (which was also against character). It was that big a deal, and both Army and Navy fans were welcome.
When Greg and I visited the USMA at West Point in 2015, I got to see firsthand the profound spirit and hallowed grounds of this institution and its cadets. It was one of the most poignant experiences of my life. As we toured West Point the day before the game, it was hard to go anywhere where we didn’t see “Go Army, Beat Navy!” signs. It was prolific, and these were permanent fixtures as the game was still a couple of months away. After a trip to the gift shop, we found ourselves the proud owners of a Go Army, Beat Navy banner that has hung in our family room since we brought it home.
We took in a home game the following day, another unforgettable event that began with the time-honored tradition of the cadet parade. A demonstration by the rifle team and introduction of the marching band was followed by thousands of cadets marching onto the field in full dress uniform. The game itself has plenty of rituals and is a veritable spectacle in the best way. You won’t see anything else like it, unless you’re at another military academy. Cannons fire regularly throughout the game. When the Black Knights of Army score, every cadet—including those playing football—go into a frenzy, singing their fight song and moving so energetically, they appear to be a swarm.
This year, my husband will watch the game with a diehard Navy fan, a friend who lived a long while in Annapolis and befriended many Midshipmen from the nearby United States Naval Academy along the way. The friendly ribbing has already begun because believe me, the rivalry goes both ways. Navy is just as passionate about beating Army. In fact, each branch is passionate about beating another, but nothing quite tops the Army-Navy rivalry, and that’s good stuff.
The past two years, Army has prevailed, but Navy held onto a fourteen-year winning streak prior to that. The official record is Navy 60, Army 51 and seven ties, but Army is poised for another win if all goes well—and might even score another Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Each year, the trophy is awarded to the winner of the academy college football series consisting of the Army Black Knights, Navy Midshipmen and Air Force Falcons. If Army beats Navy tomorrow, the trophy is theirs again this year.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Army or Navy, you owe it to yourself to watch this rival game once in your life, or better yet—attend it live and experience the exuberance as it ensues. You’ll never forget it.
Until then, in the words of my father-in-law, husband and countless others who have served our military, GO ARMY, BEAT NAVY!
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