Mental Floss

Army-Navy: Football's Greatest Rivalry

Andréa Fernandes
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I spent the last 3.5 hours watching the 112th Army-Navy game. It's a particularly personal game in my family: my grandfather served in the Army; his first son, my dad, was born at West Point and went on to attend the Naval Academy, serving 20 years in the Navy; his eldest son, my brother, is currently a senior at West Point, preparing to graduate in May and embark on a career in the Army. So yeah, you could say watching the game is a big deal for us.

To celebrate this 112th meeting of the USNA and USMA football teams on the football field, I've compiled a thorough list of interesting facts on this longstanding tradition, one of the most enduring rivalries in college football.

HISTORY

In 1890, a Navy football player challenged USMA Cadet Dennis Mahan Michie to a game; Michie accepted the challenge and a tradition was born. (Above is a view of the 1908 game.)
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After a mere 3 Army-Navy games, the tradition was suspended from 1894 to 1898. As the story goes, the Navy win in 1893 prompted an incident between a rear admiral and a brigadier general that nearly led to a duel. The two teams were then restricted to playing only home games, preventing another match-up. When the tradition resumed in 1899, the game was moved to Philadelphia, considered a neutral location due to its near-equidistance from both academies.
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Since the move to Philadelphia in 1899, the City of Brotherly Love has hosted the Army-Navy game a total of 83 times. New York City has hosted 11 times, Baltimore (MD) and East Rutherford (NJ) have each hosted 4 times, and the game has been played just one time each in Chicago (IL), Pasadena (CA), Princeton (NJ). The game has been played 3 times on Navy's home turf in Annapolis, MD; Army has also had the home advantage 3 times with games at West Point, NY. This year, the game was played in the DC area—at FedEx Field in Landover, MD—for the first time. As Army coach Rich Ellerson put it, "I'm surprised it has taken this long, but it's fitting and appropriate that this game be played in our nation's capital... It's going to feel like a home game for both of us."

(At left is the image from the 1944 Army-Navy game program.)

TRADITION

ATHLETICS

Navy midshipman Joseph Mason Reeves (who went on to become an admiral) wore the first football helmet in the 1893 Army-Navy game. A Navy doctor had informed Reeves that one more kick to the head could result in "instant insanity" or death. An shoemaker from Annapolis crafted the leather helmet that Reeves sported to protect his noggin.
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The first shut-out in the rivalry since 1978 occurred in 2008, when Navy walloped Army 34 to 0.
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The Army-Navy game has been, for the majority of its history, the last regular-season contest in college football. It was historically played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but was moved to the second Saturday in December to avoid it being on the same weekend as other college games.
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5 Heisman Trophy winners have played in the historic game: Doc Blanchard (Army, 1945), Glenn Davis (Army, 1946), Pete Dawkins (Army, 1958), Joe Bellino (Navy, 1960), and Roger Staubach (Navy, 1963).
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While the Army-Navy game is usually the last competitive game of the players' lives, due to their commitments to the military, at least a handful of players have gone on to professional football careers, including the following 5 USNA alumni and 1 USMA alumnus:
- Joe Bellino (Navy '61) played in the AFL for the Boston Patriots.
- Roger Staubach (Navy '65) played for the Dallas Cowboys, was the MVP of Super Bowl VI, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
- John Dickson Stufflebeem (Navy '75) was a punter for the Detroit Lions.
- Phil McConkey (Navy '79) played for the New York Giants, including at Super Bowl XXI.
- Napoleon McCallum (Navy '85) concurrently served his Navy commitment and played for the (then) Los Angeles Raiders; he played for the Raiders full-time once he satisfied his commitment to the Navy.
- Caleb Campbell (Army '08) was the first USMA player selected in the draft in more than a decade, but he served two years in the Army before joining the Detroit Lions last year.

PARTING WORDS

"Our guys understand that the entire Marine Corps and the entire Navy are watching them. They want it so bad for the ones that have come before them, the ones who have fallen and aren't here anymore. ...They know what this game means." —Buddy Green, former Navy defensive coordinator

"It's more than football. This isn't the biggest rivalry in college football. It is the biggest rivalry in sports. ...If not for these guys doing what they do, you wouldn't have football. America understands that, because of these young men, they allow us to have freedoms in this great country." —Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo

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