For the 118th time this Saturday, the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy will convene on the same field to battle one another … in football. The Army-Navy game is this weekend in Philly and it’s a big deal.
The Army-Navy game is always a big deal, even if the scholarship era of big-business football has made the actual game itself inconsequential. This season, Army comes into the weekend at 8-3, while Navy — habitually more successful than their opponent over the last decade — comes to Philly at 6-5. Army enters looking for back-to-back wins for the first time in 20 years, breaking a 14-year drought with last year’s triumph. Navy leads the long-standing series with 60 wins to 50 for Army. The teams have tied seven times.
While this isn’t the season finale for either team this year, as Army will play in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl while Navy will play ostensibly a home game in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman, this is the most important game on the schedule for both teams. It’s a really big deal.
Last year’s game was in Baltimore, but the game has come back to Philly through 2020, to be played at Lincoln Financial Field. Of the 117 previous iterations of the game, 86 have been played in Philadelphia — the most of any city by 75 games. New York City has hosted the game 11 times, mostly at the Polo Grounds, while the New York-area has hosted nearly 20 times.
Baltimore has hosted the game just six times, as the teams have faced off in Maryland a total of 10 times throughout history. The game has been played outside of the New York-to-Maryland corridor just twice, in 1296 in Chicago and in 1983, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Location, Location, Location
Philadelphia is located almost exactly between the two schools, or at least as close as any major city with a big enough venue can be.
The trip from West Point to Lincoln Financial Field is 149 miles, with an estimated two hours and 30 minutes of travel. The trip from Annapolis to the Linc is 123 miles, which would take just over two hours.
A rich history in Philly
Army hosted the first game between the two schools in 1890, with Navy hosting the following year. The two alternated hosting for the next two years, then took six seasons off between contests, next facing each other in 1899 at Franklin Field at Penn.
The game was played at Franklin Field for five straight years, with Army winning four of the five, before playing a year in Princeton. The game returned to Philly for six years after, with Navy taking five of those six games, before alternating years with the Polo Grounds.
From 1915 through 1931, Philly hosted the contest just once. The city got the game back from 1932 through 1935 at Franklin Field, before it moved to Municipal Stadium — which eventually became JFK Stadium — in South Philly through 1941.
For the better part of four decades the game was played at that venue, but for two years in the early 1940s, when the game was played on campus at Annapolis in 1942 and West Point in 1943 during World War II.
The final year at JFK Stadium was 1979, when the game moved to the Vet.
The Vet collapse
The Vet hosted the game 17 times, mostly without incident — don’t think too many cadets or midshipmen were locked up in the basement jail — until 1998, the third-to-last year the game was held there. From CBS News at the time:
The game, which Army won 34-30, was suspended for 31 minutes as four ambulances drove onto the field. Seven were expected to be released with injuries such as sprained ankles, necks and backs, said Army Capt. John Cornelio, a spokesman at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
Two more also were in stable condition, but needed more tests, including the one with a broken bone in his neck.
After the incident, the Vet’s “deteriorating conditions” became such a concern for both schools they discussed breaking the contract with the city if better safety provisions weren’t put in place. While the game did return to the Vet the following year, it had been announced before the 1999 game that the annual affair was moving to Baltimore in 2000 to the new home of the Ravens.
Then-PHLCVB president Thomas Muldoon said the game leaving for Baltimore for one year, which was part of the game’s contract, wasn’t a big deal, saying via the Daily Pennsylvanian, that “while the newer stadiums in Maryland and New Jersey offer slightly more profit potential, Philadelphia has more social space for parties and reunions.”
One final game was played at the Vet in 2001, per the contract agreement, before the game returned to Philly again, in the Eagles’ new state-of-the-art stadium two years later.
The Linc years
When the game moved to Lincoln Financial Field in 2003, Army held a 49-47-7 advantage in the overall series. Until last year’s game in Baltimore, Navy had won every contest since, including all 10 at the Linc. History is on the line Saturday, as Army looks to win its first Army-Navy game ever in that stadium. Army has won at the Linc before — they beat Temple last year — but they’ve never beaten Navy there.
Battle of the uniforms
While the game is hugely important to both schools, alumni, current and former service members and their families (#GoNavy), the uniform debate has become just at hotly contested over the last few years.
Navy’s uniforms this season are a tribute to the Blue Angels, with each helmet hand painted to look like Delta Formation helmets.
This year, Army will honor the Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, adorning their special all white uniforms — rare for the Black Knights — with skis on the helmet, jersey and shoes, and the moniker “climb to glory.”
And, of course, the uniforms in the stands matter just as much, as the crowd at the Linc will be nearly split between those enrolled at both institutions, half the crowd in traditional dark blue with the other in gray. And, as always, the winning team will sing their alma mater last, an honor better than any trophy could ever be.