• Exploring American History

Army - Navy America's Game

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

The annual rivalry between the U.S. Naval Academy and West Point exemplifies the character of interservice rivalry. The game is scheduled annually at the end of college football’s regular season. It is also the third and final game for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Since 1972, this trophy has been awarded to the winner of the triangular-series of games between Army, Navy and Air Force.

The two military academies first met on November 29, 1890 and have competed each year since 1930. Considered a foundation of college football, the game was aired on radio beginning in 1930 and since 1945, has been televised every year.

One of the most enduring match-ups in college football, America’s game typically finds the sitting U.S. president in the crowd. It has been hosted by numerous cities over the years, with Philadelphia chosen most often due to the fact it is located equidistant between the two academies. The teams originally played on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, but now meet each year on the second Saturday of December.

Numerous players from the two academies have moved on to become professional players. Roger Staubach (Captain Comeback), who played quarterback for Navy in the 1960s, was inducted into Football’s Hall of Fame in 1985 after retiring from the Dallas Cowboys in 1980. Currently, Alejandro Villanueva, who played for Army in 2010 and later served as an Army Ranger, is an offensive tackle for the Pittsburg Steelers.

What would college football be without traditions? America’s game boasts a number of them at each matchup:

* “Beat Army!” and “Beat Navy!” can be heard, not only at the games, but continues as the cadets/midshipmen move into service to their country. The slogans are also used in the closing of letters graduates write.

* As part of pre-game activities, the two teams are seen to engage into a prisoner exchange. The ‘prisoners’ chosen for the exchange are students spending a semester studying at the rival academy. After the exchange, the ‘prisoners’ enjoy the game in the stands of their home academy.

* At the beginning of each game, only vocalists from West Point and Annapolis participate in singing the national anthem. Recording artists and marching bands are not seen on the field.

* When in attendance, the sitting president participates in the coin toss.

* Following the end of the game, the almae matres for both schools are sung. The athletes first face the stands for the losing team as that school’s song is played. Afterwards, they turn and face the winning team’s spectators for the playing of their song. This tradition birthed the phrase “to sing last” which has become tantamount to winning America’s game. This tradition is important because it serves to demonstrate mutual solidarity and respect between the two schools – whose students may one day fight together on the battlefield.

On December 12, 2020, America’s game took place at West Point for the first time since 1943 and was ‘played in the soup’ as a heavy fog moved in during the competition. Sadly, Navy lost – 15-0. Then again, one could consider it fitting for Army to win since it was the first game at West Point for 77 years. (FYI – the Midshipmen still have a larger tally of shutouts - 20 - than the Black Knights - 11.)

Go Navy! Beat Army!

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