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The Army-Navy Rivalry: A perspective from a lifelong Army fan and former athlete

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A year’s worth of smack talk from both sides comes down to one game.

NCAA Football: Army at Navy Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Army-Navy Game, or “America’s Game,” is fast approaching and both teams have finally revealed their custom uniforms for the contest. Navy will be honoring their Heisman Trophy winners and powerhouse teams of the 1960s with a throwback look while Army will be paying tribute to the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division, past and present. And with the game just under a week away, I’d like to offer some insight as to what the game means from the two lenses through which I’ve experienced it - as a fan, and as an athlete.

A Rivalry as Big as Any Other

A vast majority of Army fans are bred, not born. I happen to be an exception. You see, most cadets and graduates from West Point grew up cheering for one side of an inter-state or other conference rivalry. Some of my closest friends from USMA are still huge fans of various other schools, such as Ohio State, Oklahoma, Iowa, Alabama, etc. Not me - my Dad was a 1990 West Point grad, so the phrase “Beat Navy” rang through the halls of various duty stations I called home as I grew up, long before I arrived at West Point.

To me, Army-Navy was (and still is) just as big as Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, or any other big time college football rivalry you can name. I sometimes have disdain for fans who claim that their rivalry “isn’t a rivalry anymore” because their side has lost a few years in a row. I have this disdain because I remember staying up late to watch the Army-Navy game as a hopeful 10-year-old with my Dad in Garmisch, Germany and experiencing bitter defeat for 10 straight years before I even entered West Point (and watched another four losses firsthand).

But, West Point does a fantastic job of inculcating Army fandom and a strong distaste for Navy in all of its cadets and graduates. From memorizing songs and cheers like The Rocket, Sons of Slum and Gravy, and On Brave Old Army Team to a slough of Army-Navy week festivities, cadets get fired up for at least four straight years before going on to smack talk any Navy grads they might meet in their future military careers after graduation.

While my feelings and animosity behind the words “Beat Navy” have fluctuated from pre-West Point to being a cadet, and now as a veteran, I feel that the Army-Navy game is truly unique. Part of that uniqueness is the fact that most players on both sides will ultimately go on to serve their nation in harms way, so I truly do respect Navy, their players, and their graduates.

However, it’s a rivalry game - and both institutions are committed to producing leaders who will go on to fight and WIN our nation’s wars. So while respect is due, and players should conduct themselves with class during the game, Army should play the way they will fight. That demands intensity, animosity, and violence of action. And that naturally bleeds into how Army fans act on the eve of the game. The respect is there, but you don’t win in sports or in war by being nice to the other guy.

So, despite my pro-Army bias being held in check somewhat by virtue of working with Navy and Air Force writers here on Against All Enemies, I bleed black and gold and I will be rooting for Army to crush Navy for the fourth year in a row!

A Part of Tradition and History

I was fortunate enough as a cadet to have experienced the Army-Navy rivalry from a second point of view - as an athlete. At the start of my plebe (freshman) year, I discovered West Point’s ACHA D2 ice hockey team, affectionately referred to as the “Club Hockey Team.” While it wasn’t the NCAA D1 team I had hoped to play for, the Club Hockey Team gave me an opportunity that skating for the D1 team never could - a chance to be a part of Army-Navy rivalry history.

First-ever Army-Navy hockey game. 2013 at Annapolis.

2012 was the first year that Army’s Club Hockey Team competed in the ACHA, and both of Navy’s hockey teams competed in the ACHA as well (ACHA D1 and D2). This paved the way for the first-ever Army-Navy ice hockey game in 2013. We took on Navy’s D1 team and despite losing 6-4, it was incredible to realize how cool it was to not just be a part of the rivalry tradition, but to actually make history.

Being a player and actually competing against Navy also gave me a feeling of agency. While the football team lost all four years while I was a cadet, the Club Hockey Team could beat Navy and I could take pride in that. And we did. Playing for the Club Hockey Team afforded me the experience of scoring a goal at Madison Square Garden against Navy as a Firstie (senior). And after beating Navy’s D2 team twice, we finally beat Navy’s D1 team for the first (and so far, only) time in 2016.

Army’s ACHA D2 Hockey Team celebrates first program win over Navy’s ACHA D1 Hockey Team in 2016.

I love being an Army fan, and I will continue to watch the Army-Navy football game religiously, but the rivalry is taken to a whole new level once you actually compete in it. You’re not just willing the team to victory from the stands, you’re willing yourself and your teammates to victory during every shift and every second of the game. You lay it all out on the ice to sing second and carry the pride of having beaten Navy, your biggest rival, with you for the rest of your life.

I will always treasure the memories and stories from playing on the Club Hockey team, but I will treasure even more my teammates with whom I beat Navy and made history with.

Beat Navy!

In case you haven’t noticed, I take the Army-Navy game and rivalry very seriously, and I’m far from the only one. In fact, I may or may not have rushed my wife and newborn daughter home from the hospital to ensure we made it home in time for the 2016 Army-Navy game (the year Army finally broke the streak). The rivalry gets crazy. Just as crazy as any other college football rivalry, and probably crazier in some regards.

I imagine that some of the other writers here on Against All Enemies may have similar sentiments since a few of them also played and experienced the Army-Navy rivalry firsthand as athletes. One aspect that is special about the game and rivalry is that it’s not just about the two schools. They represent and pay tribute to the soldiers, sailors, and Marines serving in their respective branches. From uniforms to spirit videos during the game, it’s about more than just the game.

That being said, Go Army Beat Navy!