Military and Police

Your Guide to the Army/Navy Rivalry Game Traditions

It’s Army/Navy week! You have two more days until Navy beats Army, sir!

Those words are echoing in the halls at the United States Naval Academy, with the opposite being yelled with equal fervor at West Point this week. Both schools are gearing up for the Army/Navy football game on Saturday, December 8.

The Army/Navy football game is the biggest rivalry game within the service academies (sorry, Air Force). Both schools get into increasingly elaborate shenanigans during the week leading up to the game. Freshmen, also called plebes, can be heard championing Navy or Army skills and getting the entire student body hyped up for the game.

Both schools have seen almost equal numbers of wins and losses during the game’s 117-year history. In the past two years, Army has been victorious following Navy’s 14-year winning streak from 2002-2015. The overall stats stand with Navy leading with 60 wins. Army has won 51 times and the two teams tied 7 times.

Around Campus

Students sneak out in the middle of the night to conduct what they call “recon missions.” Banners made of sheets with painted messages of school spirit can be seen hung all around campus during the week leading up to the game. This practice starts at the beginning of football season and reaches its peak during Army/Navy week.

Students can also be seen singing Army and Navy fight songs just about everywhere around campus—the dorms, the mess hall, and while walking to and from class. The freshmen are especially encouraged to get into the spirit during their daily shouts calling the rest of the students to formation.

On-campus pep rallies are another way that students get into the spirit of the week. At Navy, an Army mule is burned in effigy at Hospital Point, to the sounds of fight songs played by the Drum and Bugle Corps and cheering crowds.

The game has traditionally been played in Philadelphia, a neutral meeting place. Other venues have included Baltimore and New York City. Students from both academies are transported to the game via bus. Upperclassmen, juniors and seniors with their own vehicles, drive themselves to the game.

Game-day Traditions

The entire student bodies from both Navy and Army attend the football game and arrive in the best military fashion. Each school participates in a ceremonial march-on. Columns of students, organized by company and led by senior student leaders, march onto the field. If you have ever been to an Army or Navy football game, you know that the march-on of tomorrow’s warriors is a sight to behold.

The game ball arrives in equally ceremonial fashion. The ball makes its trip to the field carried in the arms of Midshipmen from Navy’s 13th Company. They run through the night to get the ball from Annapolis to Philadelphia following a spirited send-off from the Brigade of Midshipmen.

Did you know that Navy Midshipmen and West Point Cadets have the chance to visit their rival school for an exchange semester? While exchange students from the rival service academy take their fair share of teasing during the week leading up to the game, they actually get to return “home” just before kickoff.

Exchange Midshipmen and Cadets participate in a “prisoner exchange,” where they march to the center of the field and return to their respective service academy section to watch the game.

The game is traditionally attended by the U.S. president, who switches sides during half-time to show support for both the Army and Navy teams. The tradition began with President Roosevelt and continues today.

School Spirit

If you are at the game, you will be treated to home-made videos, or “spirit spots,” created by Navy Midshipmen and West Point Cadets highlighting why their academy is the best and the other is, of course, the worst.

Not there on game day? Just search “Army/Navy spirit spot” on YouTube and watch the next three hours disappear. Enjoy the creativity and ingenuity of America’s next generation of military leaders. Active duty troops get in on the spirit as well. Even staff at the Pentagon have been known to make appearances in spirit spots during Army/Navy week.

The team mascots also make appearances at the game. Navy’s Bill the Goat has been in attendance since 1893 to support the Mids. Army’s Mule has seen a fair number of games, beginning in 1936. Bill XXXVI and Bill XXXVII are expected to be on the Navy side. Ranger III, Stryker, and Paladin stand guard as the current Army Mules.

America’s Game

As heated as the rivalry between the two schools gets, every single student and spectator is reminded that Army and Navy are on the same side in the grand scheme.

Following the game and regardless of the outcome, both schools sing their respective songs. The rival schools respect the tradition of the other, with entire student bodies standing for the duration of both school songs. Both football teams stand to face the student body of both schools during their songs, showing both sportsmanship and respect for the bond that the two schools share.

Victory still comes with its rewards, however. The winning school gets to “sing second” following the game.

The Army/Navy game is a heated rivalry game, a highly anticipated week for students and alumni alike, and an incredible display of school spirit and athletic ability. But above all, it is a meeting of future soldiers and sailors who will support each other as members of the armed forces. The fierce rivalry between the two schools is only eclipsed by the fierce loyalty they show for each other as brothers and sisters in arms.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Katie Begley

Katie Begley is a US Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. In addition to being a military spouse, she is a freelance writer specializing in travel, education, and parenting subjects. Katie has worked in numerous communications roles for volunteer organizations and professionally for a local parenting magazine.

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