GREATEST RIVALRY IN ALL OF SPORTS | THE ARMY VS. NAVY FOOTBALL GAME

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From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

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The first reported kidnapping of "Bill the goat" was perpetrated one week before the Army-Navy football game of '53. West Point cadets snuck onto the Annapolis grounds, assisted by a West Point exchange student living at the Naval Academy. After locating the goat behind the stadium, the cadets stashed "Bill" in the back of a convertible-- however, their cover was blown when the goat's horns shredded the car's top. The cadets successfully made it back to West Point and presented the goat to the entire Corps at a raucous dinnertime pep rally-- however, many Navy midshipmen refused to resume classes until "Bill" was returned. After the goat's return was ordered by officials from West Point (as well as President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, a West Point grad), the Army cadets staged a mass protest which was posted on the front page of several New York papers as "Goat Rebellion at West Point." The Army football team went on to defeat Navy 20-7.

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"Billy" the goat, under the watchful eye of Naval Academy caretakers.

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Every year since 1890, the Navy Midshipmen and Army Cadets meet in the cold of Early December, to play one of the great games in all of American sports.  I’m hard-pressed to think of any other rivalry in all of sports extending that far back, with as much history, sentiment and anticipation as Army-Navy.

While the football fortunes of both service academies have risen and fallen– the grace, tradition, and style of this game endures.

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Original caption, November 1923-- This photo shows the Navy goat and the Army mule wishing each other good luck, in their own peculiar language, before the game. --- Image by © Bettmann. In 1899, at the Army-Navy Game, the Navy football team appeared with a mascot, a handsome if smelly goat. Army fans looked hastily for a mascot of their own. The Army mule was already legendary for its roughness and endurance, so the mule was obvious. A quartermaster in Philadelphia stopped a passing ice truck, and the big white mule pulling it became the first Army mascot. Dolled up in leggings, a collar and a gray blanket, with black gold and gray streamers fluttering from his ears, this mule met the Navy goat and - according to West Point legend - "hoisted that astonished goat toward the Navy stands to the delight of the laughing crowd." Army won the game too, 17-5. --via The Army Football Club.

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1912 -- The Army Mule at Army-Navy Football Game -- Image by © Bettmann.

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Both the Army and Navy were considered college football powerhouses through the 1940’s – 1960’s, and produced five Heisman trophy winners during that golden age. The Army cheating scandal of 1951 marked the beginning of their slow decline, and both their ranks were further hurt in the longer term by the rise of the NFL.  The service commitment tagged-on after your four year stint became a major pro recruitment disadvantage– as more and more high school football stars dreamed of the big money to be had in the NFL.

I personally don’t believe that watching future pro stars (although there have been some notable greats over the years) is really what Army-Navy was ever about.  The pageantry, patriotism, and overall school spirit displayed by the fine men and women of these illustrious academies makes one proud– and for someone in the design business, it continues to be a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration.

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Nothing like a rousing game of full-contact football in turtlenecks and stripe knitted caps! First Navy football team to play Army, November 29, 1890. Standing left to right: Charlie Macklin, Martin Trench, Noble Irwin, Rufus Lane, Henry Ward, Harry Smith. Second Row: Powers Symington, Charley Emrich, Moulton Johnson, Renwick Hartung. Seated: Henry Pearson, George Laws, Adelbert Althouse, John Beuret.

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The 1910 Navy squad beat Aemy 3-0 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. You Gotta love the old letter sweaters and vintage jerseys-- especially our friend "1912" up in front. This guy appears to be a couple years ahead of his time, or someone at the archive needs to lay-off the hard stuff.

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1923, Annapolis, Maryland -- Annapolis Navy football team sitting wrapped in blankets on the side lines before their classmates. -- Image by © Bettmann.

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Notre Dame football coach, Knute Rockne (right), with Mayor Walker (left, dressed to kill) at the Army-Navy game -- Image by © Bettmann.

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The iconic “NAVY” lettering, and his opponent's striped sleeves, would go on to inspire a thousand fashion designers. The vintage jerseys of this golden era would find their way onto more than a few inspiration boards at the likes of Polo & Tommy Hilfiger.

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Presudent Eisenhower at the 1957 Army-Navy game-- Navy wone 14-0. I have to admit, I miss the days of men dressing up-- even for a sporting event. Mandatory attire was a jacket and tie. When the announcer said "Please remove your hats for the national anthem" -- he meant fedora.

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1962 -- President John F. Kennedy reacts to Army pass that was intercepted by Navy's Walt Pierce and fumbled twice before he finally recovered on the Army 5-yard line in closing moments of game. -- Image by © Bettmann.

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11/26/1963, Annapolis, MD -- Roger Staubach, Navy's spectacular quarterback, is shown at the U.S. Naval Academy, after it was announced that he had won the Heisman Award as the outstanding college player of the year. The five fingers under the "Beat Army" motto indicate that the Middies will be trying for the fifth straight win over Army when the two teams clash on December 7th. The game has been postponed one week because of the death of President John F. Kennedy. -- Image by © Bettmann.

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1964, Philadelphia, PA -- Senator elect Robert Kennedy clutches a program under his arm as he watches the Army-Navy game from the stands of the stadium named after his late brother, and former President, JFK.  President Kennedy had attended the classic service rivalry during the two years he was in office. -- Image by © Bettmann.

1964, Philadelphia, PA -- Senator elect Robert Kennedy clutches a program under his arm as he watches the Army-Navy game from the stands of the stadium named after his late brother, and former President. President John F. Kennedy had attended the classic service rivalry during the two years he was in office. -- Image by © Bettmann.

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–Eli M. Getson

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5 thoughts on “GREATEST RIVALRY IN ALL OF SPORTS | THE ARMY VS. NAVY FOOTBALL GAME

  1. The good ole days…when rivalries were healty and spectators dressed up. Not to mention what great uniforms the cadets are wearing. Great post!

  2. I believe the “1912” refers to the wearer’s year of graduation.

    “The pageantry, patriotism, and overall school spirit displayed by the fine men and women of these illustrious academies…”

    Women were not allowed into the service academies until 1975, and there are those who say that it was a mistake to have done so. Do a search for “Women Can’t Fight,” an essay written by Jim Webb, and read what he has to say. His credentials: USNA 1968; service in Vietnam with the USMC resulting in Bronze Stars, Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, and the Navy Cross (which is second only to the Medal of Honor). A Democrat, he served in the Reagan Administration as Secretary of the Navy and is currently the senior senator from Virginia.

    Which is not to denigrate the achievements of the women in our armed forces; it’s just to point out that men and women are inherently different; that men are uniquely suited to combat and fighting and killing; and that no amount of socialization, indoctrination, or ideology will ever change that.

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