Skip to main content

The Army-Navy Game During World War II

The Army-Navy Game During World War II

The Army-Navy kept going during World War II, contributing to one of the most significant chapters in the rivalry's long history

The Army-Navy game is as much a part of college football as any rivalry or bowl game. It has received national attention since it was first played in 1890 and has been a stalwart for the sport.

During World War II, many schools suspended their football programs but Army and Navy did not. They continued on, adjusting for and aiding to the war effort, and reached their greatest level of success despite the circumstances. Here’s a quick recap.

Nov. 29, 1941 - Philadelphia

More than 100,000 people packed into Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium in 1941 to see this game. Navy had won two straight games against the Cadets (now the Black Knights) and its only loss that season was to undefeated Notre Dame, who tied Army earlier in the season. In what sportswriters at the time considered to be one of the best contests in the rivalry’s history, Army took a 6-0 halftime lead. Navy responded in the third quarter with two long touchdown drives that clinched the victory. The game was the final one for head coach Emery Ellsworth "Swede" Larson, who was ordered to report to service at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. After the game, Larson said, “This will be the last football game for me for a while. There’s a bigger game coming up and I’m going to be in it.” Eight days later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States was plunged into World War II.

Nov. 28, 1942 - Annapolis, Md.

Only 13,000 people were on hand to see this game because of a decree by President Franklin Roosevelt that only residents within 10 miles of Annapolis could attend. Roosevelt declared that the war effort did not need to be impeded in any way by the train system having to create special routes to cart attendees to the game, which was the norm for major sporting events at the time. The 10-mile rule meant that residents of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, the two largest cities near Annapolis, could not attend. The relatively small crowd on hand saw the Midshipmen dominate the Cadets, not even allowing Army across midfield until the fourth quarter.

Nov. 27, 1943 – West Point, N.Y.

In 1942, more than 120 universities and institutions fielded football teams. In 1943, only 76 teams played and 13 came from military institutions or bases. Seeing how playing football could only benefit combat training, commanders from all four armed services branches allowed these teams to play both collegiate and professional games. And many of these teams were really good. To provide a little perspective here, the Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks, which represented the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School at the University of Iowa, finished the season ranked second in the AP poll. Navy and Army fared pretty well themselves, finishing the season at No. 4 and No. 11 respectively. Once again, the 10-mile rule was in place and only 15,000 attended and once again, the Midshipmen dominated for their fifth straight victory in the series. At the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Midshipmen (also the name for students) screamed in celebration as they listened to the radio broadcast. They then poured out of Bancroft Hall and began ringing Gokokuji Bell, which Commodore Matthew Perry had brought back from his expedition to Japan in 1854. The bell is rung to celebrate victories over Army (The original bell was given back to the people of Okinawa in 1987 and a replica is now its place.).

Army 23, Navy 7

Dec. 2, 1944 - Baltimore

When this game was played, the Allies were on the outskirts of Germany, General Douglas MacArthur had returned to the Philippines and Army and Navy were ranked Nos. 1 and 2. World War II was far from over, but this game would help with the war effort. After conferring with the cabinet, President Roosevelt agreed to move the game to Baltimore’s Municipal Stadium, which was larger, and allowed about 30,000 of the general public to attend. However, there were two conditions: 1) they had to live within 8.3 miles of Baltimore, and 2) they had to purchase a $25 war bond. A crowd of 66,659 watched the two schools battle back and forth in the frigid weather. Army entered the fourth quarter with a 9-7 lead, but scored two touchdowns to secure the game, clinch the national championship and complete the school’s first undefeated season since 1916. After the game, MacArthur telegrammed Army head coach, Earl “Red” Blaik to say, “The greatest of all Army teams---STOP---We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success. MacArthur.”

Related: The Most Patriotic Games in College Football History

Army 32, Navy 13

Dec. 1, 1945 - Philadelphia

The war had ended three months earlier and again, Army and Navy were both undefeated and the top two teams in the country. As in 1941, more than 100,000 people, including President Harry Truman, packed into Municipal Stadium for the game and it was broadcast on television for the first time (only in the New York, Philadelphia and Schenectady areas). Powered by fullback Felix “Doc” Blanchard and halfback Glenn Davis, one of the greatest running back tandems in college football history, Army jumped out to a 20-0 lead. The Midshipmen, who had literally bet their game jerseys, were unable to recover and lost 32-13. At the end of the game, Navy’s Jim Carrington took off his jersey and handed it to Army’s Arthur Gerometta. Army won the national title and Blanchard won the Heisman Trophy. Davis won the award in 1946 and Army would not lose again until Oct. 25, 1947. 

— 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.