13 historical facts you probably don’t know about the Army-Navy game

size0 13 historical facts you probably dont know about the Army Navy game

President Harry S. Truman tosses a coin in the air before the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, Dec. 2, 1950, as the captains of the Army and Navy teams watch. (National Archives)

By Carrie McLeroy, Soldiers, Defense Media Activity

On December 9, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy will meet on the gridiron for the 118th time. A game that steeped in tradition is bound to have some interesting details associated with it. Here are a few you may not know.

1. The Army and Navy have faced off a total of 117 times. To date, Navy has 60 wins, Army has 49. There have been seven ties.

2. Cadets and midshipmen played the first Army-Navy football game Nov. 29, 1890 on “The Plain” at West Point. Navy had been playing organized football since 1879 and defeated the newly established Army team, 24-0.

3. The 271 members of the Corps of Cadets each contributed 52 cents to pay half of the Navy’s traveling costs for the 1890 game.

4. Although today we know the game as an annual tradition (and it has been such since 1930), there have been 10 times when the Army-Navy game was not played.

It’s said that the longest interruption, which lasted from 1894 to 1898, came about after an argument between an Army general and a Navy admiral almost resulted in a duel following the 1893 game.

The game also wasn’t played in 1909. That year, Army canceled its remaining games after Cadet Eugene Byrne died from an injury sustained in an October game against Harvard.

Twice during World War I, in 1917 and 1918, games were canceled on orders from the War Department. And in 1928 and 1929, the academies could not reconcile player eligibility standards.

5. On Nov. 27, 1926, the game was held in Chicago for the formal dedication of Soldier Field in honor of the American servicemen who had fought in World War I.

6. Going into both the 1944 and 1945 games, Army and Navy were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Army won both games.

7. The tradition of mules as mascots for Army dates back to 1899, when a quartermaster officer decided the team needed a mascot to counter the Navy goat and chose a white mule used to pull an ice wagon.

However, the first “official” mule was a former U.S. Army pack mule named “Mr. Jackson” that arrived at West Point in 1936. Since Mr. Jackson, there have been 17 “official” Army mules.

“Buckshot,” the only female of the bunch, arrived at West Point in 1964, a gift from the Air Force Academy. Today, three mules serve as Army mascots: Raider, Ranger II and General Scott.

8. Instant replay made its American debut in the 1963 Army-Navy game.

9. A 1973 episode of “M*A*S*H” referenced a fictional Army-Navy game that ended 42-36 Navy. To this day, no Army-Navy game has ended with that score. The radio announcer in the episode says the game is the 53rd Army-Navy game. That game was played in 1952; Navy won, 7-0.

10. The Rose Bowl is the only site west of the Mississippi River to host the Army-Navy game — it did so in 1983.

11. Only six Army-Navy games have been held on the campus of either academy. Two of those games were during World War II, one in 1942 and the other in 1943.

12. New York’s Polo Grounds holds the record for the most games hosted outside of Philadelphia, although the last game played there was in the 1920s.

13. Following each game, players sing both teams’ alma maters. The winning team joins the losing team and sings facing the losing team’s students. Then the losing team joins the victors on their side of the field and sings the winner’s alma mater to its students. This act is a show of mutual respect and solidarity.

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Information for this article came from various Army Heritage and Education Center documents, West Point Athletics, and the articles “When Army and Navy meet, there is no other game with deeper foundations or greater prestige” and “The First Army-Navy Game.”

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