Many college football fans would agree that the Army-Navy Game, played every year on the second Saturday of December, is one of the very best rivalry games in the sport. What makes this game so special is that everyone watching has some sort of connection to the game.
Aside from the Olympics, the Army-Navy Game is the most inclusive sporting event there is.
It is literally called America’s Game. Everyone has some sort of connection to game.
Here at Against All Enemies, we will be doing a series of articles discussing what the Army-Navy Game means to various groups of people:
To the Midshipmen/Cadets
To the respective service branches and their active duty members
To the Academy alumni
To college football
To kick off the series, we will begin with what this game means to the students of the respective academies, including the players.
In the beginning...
...you are taught to scream “Go Navy, Beat Army”. I mean literally yell at the top of your lungs. The first day a midshipmen or cadet is required to report to their school is referred to as Reception Day (for Army) and Induction Day (for Navy). Within hours on this day, your hair is cut, you are taught to salute, and you are taught “Go _____, Beat _____”. At the Naval Academy specifically, there are “five basic responses” that you are allowed to use while you are freshman (insert Ma’am as applicable): 1) Sir, yes, sir. 2) Sir, no, sir. 3) Sir, aye aye, sir. 4) Sir, I’ll find out and report back, sir. and 5) Sir, No excuse, sir. The ONLY other thing you are allowed to say unless it is a special circumstances is “Go Navy, Beat Army”. The same is true at West Point, with some minor differences to their “basic responses”, and of course “Go Army, Beat Navy”.
To expand on the frequency in which these phrases are used, the freshman Midshipmen/Cadets, who are referred to as “Plebes” (short for Plebeian), are required to yell (literally) “Beat ___” anytime an upperclassman walks out of their room. Every single time they make a turn in a hallway or stairwell, they must shout the phrase, “Go____, Beat ____.” This is required of every Plebe, every turn, all year long. There are about 1200 Plebes in each academy in any given year. There are about 40 Plebes in each company, who often stick together everywhere they go. So you could imagine 40 Plebes shouting “Go Navy, Beat Army!” running down five levels of stairs at every level.
It’s chaos. But it’s school spirit and it’s beautiful!
As the semester continues...
...things only get crazier. To spare you of all the antics that occur in the spirit of Beating Army or Navy, I will just say the passion and desire to actually beat ‘em only grows as the semester continues.
Additionally, by the Army-Navy Game the love and support for the new season’s football team has fully developed. Since every Midshipmen and Cadet is required to go to every home game of their respective team, they start to learn all the ins and outs of their team. They know every starting player and all of their faults. And remember, unlike most colleges, the football players live with the other students at the school. They go through military training together and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. So the football players are very much part of the student body.
Additionally, the semester’s trials and tribulations of the academies, the stress and final exams, all culminate at the Army-Navy Game. From the Friday before the game, until Sunday evening after the game, nothing really goes on at the respective schools. Everyone is able to get a break from the responsibilities, the studying, and the training. The Army-Navy Game allows the Midshipmen and Cadets to cheer their hearts out for their teams on the field.
The outcome of the Army-Navy Game makes a lasting impact on everyone for the entire following year. One school has bragging rights, while the other lives in the dark. The morale of the school, when the students return from the Winter Break, depends solely upon whether the game was a win or a loss. And this feeling, win or lose, continues until the next year’s matchup. The only group of people who do not hold on to the emotions of the Army-Navy game for longer than a few weeks is actually the players of the teams.
What the game means to the players
The Midshipmen and Cadets who are actually a part of the football teams will celebrate or dwell on the game for pretty much exactly two weeks. However, once the players return from the semester’s break, it’s back to business. Last year’s seniors are retired from college football and the new team is begins to set their new culture.
From high school, many of the players are recruited by both Army and Navy. They take recruiting visits to both schools and ultimately decide the team of which they want to be a part. Once the players join the team after their indoctrination summer, they start lifting weights and conditioning with the team during fall training camp. The weights in the weight room say either “Beat Army” or “Beat Navy”.
The players go through all of the season learning what it means to be an Army or Navy football player. But then comes Army-Navy week, and everything changes. Practices are more intense. Coaches are all wound up. It’s a different environment entirely.
The game comes, and the players start to realize that all eyes are on them. Literally, they are the only FBS football game on that day. ESPN’s College GameDay is there, and millions are watching. This is what the entire season has been for: winning this game. And the nerves set in.
The game comes and goes. Everyone finishes the game as the physically and emotionally exhausted. For everyone but the seniors, they are now back to where they started a year ago.
Off-season workout are motivated by one of two things: 1) Winning again, or 2) Not losing again. On the last sprint up the hill, in the dead heat of summer, nobody thinks about how they lost to *insert team here*, or how they want to beat *insert team here*. All anyone can think is “There’s no way we are losing to them this year”. Them is obviously Army or Navy. You may ask, “What about Air Force?”. Nobody cares. I mean they care a little...but not really.
The Army-Navy Game, America’s Game, means everything to everyone associated the the academies. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful rivalry in all of college football.