Rivalries in sports tend to define what sport is. Two teams, or organizations, or cities that despise each other so much that when an opportunity arises where the two parties can compete head to head, it usually brings out the worst — and best — in both combatants. The annual Army-Navy football game is one of those rivalries. Dating back to the dawn of the 20th century, the game has featured some of the greatest, and most heated clashes between two sports teams in history.
This isn’t Yankees vs. Red Sox, or Redskins vs. Cowboys, or Lakers vs. Celtics, or even Ohio State vs. Michigan and Auburn vs. Alabama. Army vs. Navy is deeply seeded as a competition between two factions of people who, when not on the football field, are trained to kill and die for the defense of our country. After the game, in West Point or Annapolis, these two factions will go back to being brothers (and sisters) in arms, but for one afternoon in early December, all camaraderie is pushed aside and a different kind of battle is fought. Not with guns, but with carefully drawn plays. Generals and admirals don’t call the shots, a guy on the sidelines with a headset and a laminated card in his hands makes the decisions. It’s a different war altogether, but to anyone who has served in one of those two factions, it is a war.
This year’s war takes place at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. The game, played in the backyard of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, is as close to a Navy home game as there is. Most of the games in the series — which is going into its 115th contest — have been played in Philadelphia, the symbolic “midway” point between West Point, New York — home of the Army Academy, and Annapolis. It wasn’t until recently that the games have been played at other venues.
In 2011, the Army-Navy game was played at Fed-Ex Field in Landover, Maryland, home of the Washington Redskins. It was also been played in New York City. Next year, it will return to Philadelphia before traveling again. But no matter where the game is played, veterans from each branch will show up, or cheer from home. Veterans from two of the oldest branches of armed forces in the United States. The only two branches actually named in the U.S. Constitution.
Army’s head coach, Jeff Monken, puts the game into perspective in a recent article in the Baltimore Sun.
“This is the biggest rivalry in sports, bar none. I’ve been a part of some great rivalries, but nothing takes the place of this one. Just the history and tradition of these two academies, the teams, just what it means to the guys on these teams. It’s a feeling that’s very unique. You can’t describe it unless you’ve been a part of it.”
The rivalry gets heated as the game gets closer each year. In 2012, as reported in the Inquisitr, Army supporters kidnapped the Navy’s mascot, Bill the Goat, before the game. A long standing order has been in place that protects the mascots from any type of shenanigans, yet somehow, Bill was taken and then returned. It was good old-fashioned fun to some, but for others, for those that have played in the game, it was an affront like no other.
When the contest first began in 1901, the teams were powerhouses. In 1944, Army was the number one team in the country, and its battle with Navy that year was legendary. There was much more on the line then, as World War II was still going on and the players knew that they could be shipping out any day to join the fight. These days, it’s very rare that the two teams are ranked in the national polls, and even rarer are bowl appearances on the line. The Army-Navy football game is more about pride. But it’s that pride that makes the Army-Navy game so compelling. The fanfare; the fight songs; the men and women in uniform in the stands; it’s a different kind of pageantry, and one that symbolizes the brotherhood that soldiers develop.
When the last whistle is blown, and the last notes of the victor’s alma mater fades away into the cold, Baltimore night, soldiers and sailors will once again join together in the common cause of defending our nation and our freedoms. But for one day, it will be a battle like no other. It’s Army vs. Navy. And it’s one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
Are you a fan of the Army-Navy game? Are you a veteran of either branch? Sound off below on what the game means to you.
[Image courtesy of PRWeb]