Why the Army-Navy Rivalry Is Still One of College Football’s Best
Each year, there is only one game that ends the college football regular season. That's the annual Army-Navy game played in late November or early December between two of our country's three military academies. It also represents one of the greatest college football rivalries of all time.
While the action on the field is intense, what makes the Army-Navy game so special is that it's about so much more than football and the tradition that goes with it. And that's what has made it appeal to sports fans who may not even have a rooting interest in either team.
Even when you take the emotional aspect out of it, the game has objectively featured some ballers on both sidelines — a total of five Heisman Trophy winners have played in the game.
Here's a look at what makes the Army-Navy football game such an amazing part of not just college sports but also part of our American sporting lives.
Who Leads the All-Time Series Between Army and Navy?
The first Army-Navy game was played on Nov. 29, 1890, in West Point, New York — with a 24-0 win by Navy, the team that leads the all-time series 62-53-7.
The biggest break in playing the game was a two-year absence in 1928 and 1929, but it has been played every year since 1930 in a variety of locations, with the majority of the games happening in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 2020, the game was played in West Point for the first time since 1943. It has only been played once on the West Coast when it was held in Pasadena, California, in 1983.
Beginning in 2021, the game was scheduled to be played in a different location for five consecutive years; East Rutherford, New Jersey (2021), Philadelphia (2022), Foxborough, Massachusetts (2023), Landover, Maryland (2024) and Baltimore, Maryland (2025).
When Army-Navy Football Stood Above the Rest
From the game's inception in 1890 through 1962, the Army-Navy football game was routinely played with national championship implications.
Navy won its only national championship in 1926, and Army won three consecutive national championships from 1944 to 1946. After 1963, the game has kept its panache because of the military academy aspect, but the product on the field has left quite a bit to be desired — it was 33 years before both teams entered the game with a winning record again in 1996. In the last 60 years, there have only been four times when both teams had winning records entering the game — 1996, 2010, 2016 and 2017. Brutal.
Army-Navy: A History of Heisman Trophy Winners
The Army-Navy game has featured the Heisman Trophy winner five times in its history. No team featuring a Heisman Trophy winner has ever lost the Army-Navy game.
- 1945 Doc Blanchard, RB, Army: Army enters the game ranked No. 1, defeats Navy 32-13 and goes on to win the national championship.
- 1946 Glenn Davis, RB, Army: Army enters the game ranked No. 1, wins 21-18 and wins its third consecutive national championship.
- 1958 Pete Dawkins, RB, Army: Army enters the game ranked No. 5 and wins, 22-6. It's the last time Army will win the game for five years.
- 1960 Joe Bellino, RB, Navy: Navy is ranked No. 7 and wins the game 17-12.
- 1963 Roger Staubach, QB, Navy: Navy is ranked No. 2 and wins the game 21-15.
The President Who Played in the Army-Navy Game
One U.S. President has played in the Army-Navy game — Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President, was a starter at halfback and defensive back for Army in 1912 when the Black Knights lost to Navy 6-0. It was also the last year of Eisenhower's athletic career, as he tore his knee in a game against Carlisle University while trying to tackle legendary Carlisle running back Jim Thorpe.
"Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed," Eisenhower said at a luncheon for the Republican National Committee on Jan. 6, 1961. "My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw."
Army-Navy Was on TV Before Most People Had a TV
The Army-Navy game has been televised by either ABC, CBS or NBC every year since 1945 when less than 5,000 U.S. families had a television in their homes.
No piece of technology has proliferated as quickly as televisions did — by 1951, 12 million U.S. families had a black-and-white television, and by 1955, half of the U.S. population, which was roughly around 163 million, had one in their homes.
As television evolved, so did the Army-Navy game. Since 2014, ESPN's ultra-popular College GameDay show has been at the game.
What Is the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy?
The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is what the three military academies — Navy, Army and also the Air Force Academy — in the U.S. play for every year.
And when it comes to the big prize, Navy and Army are woefully behind. The trophy wasn't even established until 1972, and despite not winning it for the first time until 1972, Air Force owns the most Commander-in-Chief's Trophies of all time with 23, trailed by Navy with 16 and Army with nine.
Air Force already has the trophy locked up for 2022 by sweeping its two games against Army and Navy for its first Commander-in-Chief's Trophy win since 2016.
The Army-Navy GOAT: Roger Staubach
There can be only one GOAT when it comes to the Army-Navy football game.
The greatest player to ever come out of a military academy was former Navy quarterback Roger Staubach, the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner. "Captain America" went 2-1 against Army in his career, including a game in 1963 that was delayed one week following the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. It was played in front of 102,000 fans on Dec. 7 in Philadelphia — and also happened to be the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Staubach went on to play 11 years in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls as the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and was selected to both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFL 100th Anniversary Team.
Staubach wasn't just a winner on the football field. Through a series of adroit investments dating back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, he had an estimated net worth of $600 million in 2022.
Which Presidents Have Attended the Game?
There have been 10 sitting U.S. Presidents who have attended the game since 1901, and we are on a hot streak of Commanders-in-Chief who have gone to the game with five consecutive Presidents now finding their way to the game — George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Will current President Joe Biden make it six in a row? He went as Vice President in 2012 ... but that doesn't count. Keep the streak alive, Joe!
Most Notable Army-Navy Games
In regard to the outcome of the actual games themselves, the most notable Army-Navy games came in 1944 and 1945 when the teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation. Navy won both of the games, and both times the Midshipmen went on to win the national championship.
In 1893, the Army-Navy game featured the use of what's considered to be the first football helmet. When doctors told Navy's Joseph Mason Reeves that another hit to the head would result in possible permanent intellectual incapacitation or death, he commissioned an Annapolis, Maryland, shoemaker to create a helmet made out of leather for him to wear.
Navy's Domination: By the Numbers
Navy's domination in the game is a fairly recent thing, but the Midshipmen hold most of the significant records in the games along with having the lead in the all-time series.
Navy owns the biggest win in the series — a 51-0 victory in 1973. They also own the longest winning streak in the series, winning 14 consecutive games from 2002 to 2015.
Army, however, has three recognized national championships to none for Navy. They also have three Heisman Trophy winners to Army's two, and Army has 24 players in the College Football Hall of Fame, while Navy only has 19.