The Navy-Army football game is anticipated year-round by service members, their families, and avid college football fans alike. The game is likened to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; it is anticipated and watched worldwide during the holiday season. What started the annual game between West Point’s Black Nights and the Navy Midshipmen of the Naval Academy?
History of West Point
The United States Military Academy at West Point was first known as Fort Arnold. After Benedict Arnold’s famous betrayal during the Revolutionary War, the location became known as Fort Clinton. It officially became the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1802. West Point welcomes around 1200 new cadets each year and about 1,000 cadets graduate. Upon graduation, the cadets attend the Basic Officer Leader Course and then study their branch-specific material aligning with their occupational specialty.
History of the Naval Academy
Annapolis served as Army Post Fort Severn before Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft established the school on October 10, 1845. When the school opened, it hosted 50 students. Like West Point, about 1200 midshipmen are accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy each year, with approximately 1,000 graduating at the end of the four years. Unique to the Academy, midshipmen can choose between serving in the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Marines, as the Marines are a branch of the U.S. Navy in their last year at the Academy. After graduation, the Ensigns (USN) or 2nd Lieutenants (USMC) attend their military occupational specialty (MOS) school.
Since the game was first played in 1890, it has become a long-standing tradition at the end of the year. Since the end of World War II, the game has been televised. CBS has a broadcasting agreement with teams through 2028 to play the game on the second weekend in December.
The game itself is not like other football games. Everyone playing on the field is willing to serve their country outside the game field. In honor of that service, before the game, there are demonstrations by the Green Berets and Navy Seals and military flyovers showcasing the precision and might of the United States Military. As the Commander-in-Chief of the military, the president is invited to attend the game. Historically, ten U.S. Presidents have attended the game, including Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
The game is hosted in various locations, with most of the games hosted in Philadelphia as a halfway point between Annapolis and West Point. From 2023 to 2028, the game will rotate to five different cities – Foxborough, Massachusetts; Landover, Maryland; Baltimore, Maryland; East Rutherford, New Jersey; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
While only for some years, the game is used for each team to show off new uniforms in honor of events. For the 2023 game, the Army debuted jerseys and helmets explicitly designed to honor the “Iron Soldiers” of the 1st Armored Division as part of the 80th anniversary of Operation Torch, a critical Allied invasion of North Africa during World War II. At the same game, the Navy team honored the 54 Naval Academy grads who have become astronauts with a uniform born of the partnership between the Academy and NASA.
Of the 123 games, the Navy has won 62 times, and the Army has won 54 times. The U.S. Navy had the longest winning streak from 2002 to 2015.
Is it really a rivalry?
During the weeks up to the game, Soldiers hang “Go Army, Beat Navy” signs from their cars, residences, and businesses. The same goes for Sailors and Marines with their “Go Navy, Beat Army” signs. In the end, it is all in good fun and jest. The service members and retirees get together in homes, bars, and restaurants and at the game themselves to watch the fantastic skills of individuals who have committed to giving their all for their country. In the end, it’s a time when these two military academies are highlighted for their skills both on and off the football field. In the spirit of the game – Go Army, Go Navy!