In America, football is a sport of rivalries, perhaps more than any other sport in the country. Even if your team has a bad season, beating your top rivalry can feel like success.
Although many fierce rivalries exist, one of the greatest is between Army and Navy. This football rivalry is girded by decades of military tradition. Yahoo! Sports even named it one of the top 25 greatest college football rivalries.
That rivalry continues on Dec. 8 when the teams battle on Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. But how did this intense competition come about? Its history is intertwined closely with our nation’s military history.
The whole rivalry began in 1890, when a Navy football player challenged an Army cadet to a game. Although Navy won, this established the tradition that would carry on today. However, the rivalry was temporarily suspended from 1894-1898, according to an article from mental_floss, due to a near-duel between sides.
“Secretary of the Navy Hillary A. Herbert, and Secretary of War, Daniel S. Lamont, issued general orders to their respective Academies stating that other teams would be allowed to visit Annapolis and West Point to conduct football games, but the Army and Navy football teams were ‘prohibited in engaging in games elsewhere,'” stated this article. “In other words, Army and Navy were restricted to home games and, consequently, from playing each other.”
In 1899, when the incident was resolved, the game was moved to Philadelphia, a neutral spot for both teams. Since then, the match-up has taken place 83 times in Philadelphia; 11 times in New York City; 4 times in Baltimore and East Rutherford and one time in Chicago, Pasadena, Calif. and Princeton, N.J. The teams have also played on their respective home fields several times.
Because both Army and Navy represent sections of the U.S. military, their football rivalry reflects historical events. In 1909, the game was canceled due to the death of Cadet Eugene Byrne in Army’s game against Harvard. Games were canceled twice in World War I, years 1917 and 1918, and also in 1928 and 1929 because Army and Navy couldn’t agree on standards for player eligibility, according to this article. The 1926 game served to inaugurate Soldier Field in Chicago and to dedicate the field to those who served in World War I.
The game also has some inexorable links to war. In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tied the game to a war bond drive, requiring the game’s 70,000 attendees to purchase war bonds along with their tickets,” said the mental_floss article. This game was then known as the “game of the century.”
These days, the fierce games continue, although Navy has won the past 10 games with an average margin of 23.7 points a game. But that doesn’t mean the rivalry will dwindle out any time soon.
Photo courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery