RIVALRY SERIES: ARMY BLACK KNIGHTS VS. NAVY MIDSHIPMEN
Updated: Feb 4
This article was originally published on December 11th, 2019.
This weekend Philadelphia will play witness to one of the most popular college football rivalries, the 120th installment of the Army-Navy Game.
This game will be the Army’s final game of this year’s football campaign after the Black Knights fell short of bowl eligibility with a 5-7 record. Despite the Army’s poor record this season, both teams have the knack of throwing form book out the window for this annual fixture. Bob Sutton, an Army coach in the 1990s who went 6-3 against Navy used to say the more desperate team wins in Army-Navy. “Regardless of our record or their record, you have to be more desperate. Frequently the underdog wins in this game”.
Navy, however, secured a spot in the Liberty Bowl, a prestigious postseason game that pits it against Big 12 opponent Kansas State. Kansas State handed College Football Playoff semifinalist Oklahoma its only loss of the regular season, so the Midshipmen have an opportunity to make noise at a national level in Memphis.
Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo (@NAVYCoachKen) noted, "Going to a bowl game is always one of our top goals, but right now our only focus is to get goal number one and that is to beat Army and win back the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy."
From 2002 through 2015, Navy went on a 14-game winning streak in the historic rivalry, the longest in the series dating back to 1890. Army ended the streak in 2016 and has won all three matchups since.
When the Army’s Black Knights and Navy’s Midshipmen take to the field for the 120th edition, there is more than inter-service rivalry on display and bragging rights on the line. There’s also history, patriotism, and tradition.
The rivalry is one of the longest in college football history and kicked off 128 years ago when apparently Cadet Dennis Mahan Michie accepted a “challenge” from the Naval Academy and the two squads faced off on The Plain at West Point on November 29, 1890. The Navy came out on top of the first occasion, with a 24-0 victory.
Since that first game in 1890, the game has become an annual fixture. However, there have been ten occasions in which the game has not been played.
In 1894, an incident between a Rear Admiral and a Brigadier General, which nearly led to a duel after the game ended.
President Cleveland decided to call a Cabinet meeting, after which Secretary of the Navy Hillary A. Herbert and Secretary of War, Daniel S. Lamont issued general orders to their respective Academies stating that other teams would be allowed to visit Annapolis and West Point to conduct football games, however, the Army and Navy football teams were “prohibited in engaging in games elsewhere.”
This meant that both teams were restricted to only playing games at their home stadiums. The series would not resume until 1899 when it was decided that a “neutral” location, Franklin Field in Philadelphia, would be used.
The game was canceled once again in 1909 when Army canceled its entire schedule after the death of Cadet Eugene Byrne in the game against Harvard.
When the U.S. entered World War I, the War Department ordered the annual fixture to be suspended for the duration of the war. Therefore, no games were played between 1917 and 1918.
In 1926, the game was moved from Philadelphia for the first time. Moving to Chicago’s “Soldier Field,” which was dedicated as a monument to American servicemen who had fought in World War I. The over 100,000 spectators were treated to a spectacle, as the winner would win the National Championship, as Navy entered undefeated and Army had lost only to Notre Dame. A 21-21 tie meant that Navy was awarded the National Championship.
During the 1928 and 1929 seasons, the annual game was once again interrupted. A failure between the academies to reach an agreement of player eligibility forced the cancellation. The fixture would resume in 1930 after an agreement was reached and the annual contest has been uninterrupted ever since.
In 1944, Army would win its first National Championship. As number 1 ranked Army defeated the number 2 ranked Navy 23-7.
It wouldn't be until 1983 that the annual game was played west of the Mississippi. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena played host to a 42-13 Navy victory.
Traditionally, Army-Navy Games are tight affairs. This could be seen throughout the eighties and nineties. Between 1988 to 1998, eight of the eleven games were decided by five points or less, with seven decided in the final two minutes. This included the five straight wins by the Army between 1992 and 1996 where the games were decided by a combined 10 points.
A tradition that follows each game that makes this game different is that the players sing both teams' alma maters. The winning team joins the losing team and sings facing the losing team's students. Then the losing team joins the winners on their side of the field to do the same.
The Naval Academy's football program is one of the oldest in the country, starting in 1879.
The academy's first game was played on December 11 against Baltimore Athletic Club, a team made up of mostly players from Princeton, Yale, Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins. The game was played under rugby rules ended without any points being scored.
The Academy wouldn't take the field again until 1882, where they began to receive support from Navy officials.
At the 1893 Army-Navy Game, the Academy would debut their first mascot a live goat named El Cid. El Cid was a gift to the Brigade of Midshipmen from officers of the USS New York. Navy would win the game 6-3 and El Cid was adopted as part of the team and later received the name "Bill."
When the Midshipmen won their lone National Championship in 1926, with a tie against the Army. The honor was shared with Alabama and Stanford due to each team having identical records.
The Army's football program began in November in 1890, after the Military Academy at West Point received the challenge from the Navy.
In 1899, the academy would officially adopt a mule as a mascot, in response to the Navy adopting a goat as their mascot. The mule was chosen due to the animal's historical importance in military operations. The first “official” Army mule, however, did not arrive at West Point until 1936, when “Mr. Jackson,” a former Army pack mule, arrived at the academy.
For many years, Army's teams were known as the "Cadets." The academy's football team also received was nicknamed "The Black Knights of the Hudson", in the 1920s, due to the black color of its uniforms.
In 2000, the Army officially decided to change their mascot and nickname to the Black Knights. Replacing the Kicking Mule and the letter A, with a Black Knight astride a horse, as its mascot.
Army and Navy have faced off on the football field a total of 119 times since the first game in 1890.
To date, Navy has more victories coming out on top 60 times, compared to Army's 52 wins. Despite this Army has seen a bit of a winning streak, being victorious in the last three matchups.
The fixture has also seen seven tied games, over the course of the game's history.
The game itself embodies the spirit of the inter-service rivalry of the U.S. Armed Forces. Both teams along with the Air Force Academy fight for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, given to the winner of the triangular series each year. The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy has been won by Army six times, Navy 11 times, Air Force 16 times, and has been shared four times.
Decades ago both the Army and Navy where serious competitors with other major Division I programs. However, both programs have felt the effects of a growing NFL.
Prior to the Vietnam war military officers could make substantially a lot more money than a professional football player. As the sport has modernized, more athletes have made the decision to attend colleges and programs that offer a better chance to get drafted by the NFL.
Despite this, the academies have been able to recruit smart enough to be able to remain competitive. The rivalry continues to thrive, receiving enough respect to earn its own weekend after the major college conference championship games have been played.
The rivalry still appears to be relevant in the modern era and looks like it won't be anytime soon that it will fade into obscurity and bad ratings anytime soon.