While college football has numerous traditional rivalries that attract nationwide attention, only the Army-Navy game can truly be called “America’s Game.”
The game is unique due to its long history, spectacle, tradition and the sense of national pride and patriotism it instills. The game is also special because those who play the game due so simply for the love of the sport, most without any hope or aspiration of playing professionally. While for sixty minutes the two teams are heated competitors, players on both sides know that once the game is over they will all become teammates in the defense of our nation.
But beyond that, this game can claim more great football moments than any other rivalry. The series began in 1890 when Navy challenged Army; the Midshipmen had a team since 1879, and with the Black Knights squad playing their first season Army was easily defeated. West Point took to the game of football quickly though, and won the following season. The ferocity of the rivalry became apparent almost immediately, and the series was suspended for five years by Presidential decree after an admiral and a general nearly got into a duel after the 1893 game.
The College Football Hall of Fame has numerous artifacts on display from this series. Displayed in the AT&T Game Time Rivalries Exhibit is the letter sweater of Army’s Edgar Garbisch and the football he used to drop kick four field goals in Army’s 12-0 win in 1924. Also in the exhibit is a special 1962 Navy helmet; in response to Army’s “Chinese Bandit” defense, Navy imprinted the side of their helmet with Chinese lettering the phrase: “Beat Army.” On the front of the helmet is a pirate “Jolly Roger” flag, placed there due to the legend that a ship flying under that flag never lost a battle.
The 1926 game was one to remember and the Hall has a ticket from the contest. Fans enjoyed the dedication of Chicago’s Soldier Field and a comeback by Navy to tie the game on their way to their only self-proclaimed national title. In 1946, it was Army’s turn on the national stage. West Point halfback Glenn Davis won the Heisman trophy, but a close game against a 1-8 Navy team denied the Cadets their third consecutive title.
Navy has dominated the series of late, with the Midshipmen having won the past 12 meetings. They lead the series 58-48-7.
Kent Stephens is the curator and historian at the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience. Kent has been a part of the Hall staff since 1990 when it was located in Kings Island, Ohio. He relocated with the Hall to South Bend, Ind., and moved to Atlanta in 2013, becoming the only member of the staff to serve at all three locations.