10 Reasons Why the Army-Navy Game is College Football's Best

There is not a more unique and special rivalry in college football than Army vs. Navy

Saturday will mark the 119th meeting between Army and Navy. This meeting is unique in the fact that Navy is 3-9, while Army has its third straight winning season since 1990. The records are of a little importance though. Both teams could enter the game 0-11 and it would still be one of the biggest in college football. Here are 10 reasons why.

 

1. Our National Defense

The United State Military Academy was established in 1802 by an act of Congress and the United States Naval Academy was established in ‘45 through the efforts of Navy Secretary George Bancroft and Congress. Since then, these two schools have produced our nation’s greatest military minds and been vital to our national defense. Like the rest of the country, both schools were shaken to their core by the Civil War as their graduates took sides with the Union and Confederacy, but by 1890, the country was on its way to mending. It was time to move on from fighting one another to playing a recently invented game...

 

2. The First Meeting

Navy started its football program in 1879. Army followed suit in 1890 and the teams met that on Nov. 29 of that year. Navy was 4-1-1 and Army was playing its first game ever. You can imagine how this game went. A crowd of 1,500 spectators at West Point gathered to watch the Midshipmen shut the Cadets’ (now the Black Knights) offense down the entire game. Navy put together a 24-0 victory and in Annapolis, students offered the literal opening shot of this rivalry, a firing of the 24 great guns, before parading the streets. Army won the next year and by 1893, 10,000 spectators were on hand to see Navy eke out a 6-4 victory. After two senior officers almost dueled after the 1893 game, both the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy determined that the game was – at the very least – a major distraction and stopped playing the game. However, the demand for it was so intense that Army and Navy met again in 1899 in a much bigger venue...

 

3. Ten Cities

The rivalry resumed in 1899 in front of a crowd of 25,000 people at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field. The City of Brotherly Love has hosted this game 86 times, and is one of 10 cities to host the event. Other cities include Baltimore, New York, Chicago and Pasadena. No other rivalry – and that includes the Michigan-Ohio State game and the Iron Bowl – could sell out stadiums in other cities the way the Army-Navy game does. Tennessee and Virginia Tech are probably the only two schools that can sell out Bristol Motor Speedway, which they did in 2016, but the Army-Navy game could possibly do the same. If that happened, it would be interesting to see the President or Secretary of Defense walk across the speedway...

 

4. Halftime Walk

Theodore Roosevelt was the first U.S. President to attend the Army-Navy game in 1901. On that day, he walked across the field at halftime to make sure he sat on both the Army and Navy sides of the field. It started the tradition of having the most senior government official walks across the field at halftime to make sure he sits on both schools’ of the field. If the President is not in attendance, then the Secretary of Defense makes the march across the field. This has been especially symbolic during our times of conflict...

 

5. World War II

During World War II, many schools suspended their football programs, but Army and Navy did not and the rivalry had its greatest success. In 1944 and ‘45, Army and Navy were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, with all the national attention focused on these games. Army won both in the midst of claiming three straight national championships from 1944-46. In the early 1960s, national attention would be focused on this game for much more somber reasons...

 

Related: The Army-Navy Game During World War II

 

6. A Time of Healing

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, almost all of the scheduled college football games were moved to the following week. The Army-Navy game was going to be cancelled in accordance with the military’s honoring of the national 30-day period of mourning. However, at the insistence of Jacqueline Kennedy, the game was simply moved to Dec. 7 (President Kennedy regularly attended the game and had planned on being at the 1963 game.). The game turned out to be one of the best of the series. No. 2 Navy, led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, built a 21-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the game. But Army, who was no slouch at 7-2, responded with 52-yard touchdown drive of running plays and then added a two-point conversion to close that lead to 21-15. The Cadets then recovered the onside kick and drove all the way to Navy’s two-yard line, but were unable to put the ball into the end zone before time expired. The thrilling game provided a bit of respite during a very sad period in American history. It also introduced one of sports broadcasting’s most important innovations...

 

7. Instant Replay

CBS Sports Director Tony Verna invented the first instant replay system to use during its broadcast of the 1963 Army-Navy game. Because of technical glitches it was only used once to replay Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh’s fourth quarter touchdown. Unlike today, the replay was shown at full speed and broadcaster Lindsey Nelson had to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!" Nevertheless, televised sporting events quickly improved for the viewers at home. Other changes to the game would make it harder for Army and Navy to compete at the level they once did...

 

8. Bigger. Stronger. Faster

In the last 50 years, professional football has become the biggest sport in the country. During that time, football players have gotten bigger and bigger, making it harder for Army and Navy to compete with major programs. Size requirements vary with each service academy, but to give you an example, a West Point applicant who is 6-foot-6 cannot weigh more than 238 pounds. Juxtaposed with Alabama’s starting five offensive linemen whose average height and weight are 6-foot-5 and 316 pounds, it is easy to see why these schools are not as dominant as they once were. In addition, Army and Navy’s academic requirements are tougher than almost every state school in the United States. For these reasons, these teams have not been as dominant as they have in the past...

 

9. Four Games Since 1963

Both Army and Navy have only played each other four times with winning records since 1963. The first was 1996, where a 9-1 Army team beat an 8-2 Navy team 28-24. The second was 2010, where an 8-3 Navy team beat a 6-5 Army team 31-16. The third was last season, when the 6-5 Black Knights beat the 9-3 Midshipmen 21-17. The fourth will be Saturday when the 8-3 Black Nights play the 6-5 Midshipmen...

 

10. Unprecedented Atmosphere

The passion for this game is unlike any other in college football and a win over one another is more important than a national title. Most importantly, this game is transcendent because of the commitment the students and graduates have made to our national security. That is why if someone cries after his team has lost the Iron Bowl or the Michigan-Ohio State game, they deserve your laughter, but if an Army or Navy alumnus cries over the outcome of Saturday’s game, they still command your respect.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 09:59
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