Army-Navy Football–the history and traditions

| December 6, 2017
Rams Head


For 118 years, the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen have been battling it out on the gridiron. 2017 is no different and on Saturday, they will meet once again in Philadelphia to see who will come away with the coveted Commander in Chief Trophy. Last year, Army snapped a 14 year losing streak and won against a brutally injured Navy team 21-17. This year, Navy is a bit more rested, and less injured and is looking to avenge the loss.

The game, and the week leading up to the game is filled with tradition. From a pep rally, to a ball run, to a prisoner exchange and more.

If you are not familiar with the steeped history–read on.

Pep Rally

The US Naval Academy held a pep rally in advance of Saturday’s Army-Navy Game. Held on Hospital Point in Annapolis, the rally featured the USNA Drum and Bugle Corps, the USNA Cheerleaders, the USNA Football team, the Commandant and Superintendent, and of course the Brigade of Midshipmen.  An Army mule was burned in effigy to fire up the crowd.

 

A Bit of History

December 9, 2017 marks the 118th time that the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy and the Black Knights of the Military Academy will meet in competition on the gridiron. Navy’s record currently stands at 60 wins, 50 losses, and seven ties.

Midshipmen and cadets first clashed on the football field in 1890 with Navy beating Army 24-0. It was in 1893 that a live goat made his debut as a mascot at the fourth Army-Navy game. The USS New York dropped anchor off Annapolis and the ship’s mascot, a goat bearing the name El Cid (The Chief), was brought ashore for the service clash. The West Pointers were defeated for the third time 6-4, and the midshipmen feted El Cid along with the team. It was in 1900 that the goat was first named Bill after an 11-7 victory in Philadelphia. The current Academy mascots are Bill XXXVI and Bill XXXVII.

Games were not played from 1894-1898 due to a purported incident between a Rear Admiral and a Brigadier General which caused the Secretaries of the Navy and War to issue orders that Army and Navy were prohibited from engaging in games at locations other than the service academies. The annual series resumed in 1899 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, a neutral site.

Army cancelled their season in 1909 after the death of a Cadet in their game against Harvard.

Games were suspended in 1917 and 1918 during World War I by order of the War Department and again in 1928 and 1929 due to player eligibility issues. Since then, the game has been played every year.

The first Army-Navy game was played in 1890 at West Point and the second at Annapolis one year later.In 1899, Philadelphia’s Franklin Field became the game site. The “City of Brotherly Love” has dominated as host city for the Army-Navy game since that time. There have been 14 different venues that have played host to the event.

The first president to attend an Army-Navy football game was Teddy Roosevelt in 1905.

Municipal Stadium, renamed John F. Kennedy Stadium in 1964 has housed the game the most times–41 in all–beginning in 1936 and included 35 straight games between 1945 and 1979.

Franklin Field ranks second on the list of Army-Navy game sites with its total of 18, followed by Veterans Stadium with 17, Lincoln Financial Field with nine and the Polo Grounds in New York City with nine. “The Vet” first hosted the game in 1980 and did so through 2001 with but five exceptions. Army battled Navy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA in 1983; at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ in 1989, 1993, 1997, and 2002; and at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in 2000, 2007, 2014, and 2016.  This year’s game will be held on December 9th at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Running The Game Ball

Since 1982, the Midshipmen of the 13th Company have run the game ball from Bancroft Hall to the playing field. Originating in a desire to get the “unlucky” company off the yard, the Army-Navy ball run has evolved into a highly spirited event, demonstrating pride and enthusiasm of the entire Brigade of Midshipmen as well as their excitement and support for the Army-Navy football tradition. This year, the Mids will leave Bancroft Hall at 7am on Friday, December 8th and will deliver the ball to Lincoln Financial Field on December 9th just before the game.

Prisoner Exchange

In 1975, an Exchange Program was instituted with the US Military Academy.Selected Midshipmen and Cadets spend a semester of their second class year (junior) in “enemy territory.” On the day of the Army-Navy football game, the Mids and Cadets return to their alma mater for the duration of the game during a “prisoner exchange.” On opposite sides of the field, the Brigade Commander and the First Captain stand in front of their Color Guards with exchange students lined up behind the Color Guards. At an appointed time, the exchange students file out from behind the Color Guards and cross the field to join their respective Academy in cheering on their football team.

The Victory Bells

he Academy’s “Victory Bells” flank the steps of Bancroft Hall, the home of the Brigade of Midshipmen. On the left is the Japanese Bell, a replica of the bell presented to Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1854 (the original was returned in 1987 at the request of the Governor of Okinawa). To the right is the Enterprise Bell which was brought to the Academy in 1950 from Fleet Admiral “Bull” Halsey’s flagship USS Enterprise, the most decorated flagship in World War II. Each time Navy defeats Army in Varsity Football, the Enterprise Bell is rung from the time the results are known until the team returns. During the team’s reception, the Navy score is rung on the Japanese Bell by the team Captain(s), Coach, Superintendent, and Commandant, followed by each team member ringing the bell once.

Bill The Goat

Long before midshipmen began tossing the pigskin around the site of old Fort Severn, goats were an integral part of Navy life. Over 200 years ago, livestock was kept aboard some sea-going naval vessels to provide sailors with food, milk, eggs and, in some cases, pets.

One legend about the first association of the goat with Navy football tells of a pet goat who died at sea while on board a Navy ship. The affection for the goat was such that the officers decided to save the skin of the animal and have it mounted upon arrival in port.

Bill the Goat

Two young officers were entrusted with the skin when the ship docked in Baltimore. On the way to the taxidermist, the ensigns dropped in on their alma mater where a football game was in progress. With them — for lack of a suitable storage place — was the goat skin.

While watching the first half of the game, one of the officers came up with an idea for some half-time entertainment. When half-time arrived, he romped up and down the sidelines cloaked with the goat skin barely covering his blue uniform. Such ungoatlike antics brought howls of laughter from the midshipmen, and the Navy victory that day was attributed to the spirit of the late, lamented goat.

It was not until 1893, however, that a live goat made his debut as a mascot at the fourth Army-Navy game. Again, it was young naval officers who supplied the mids with their sea-faring pet. The USS New York dropped anchor off Annapolis and the ship’s mascot, a goat bearing the name El Cid (The Chief), was brought ashore for the service clash. The West Pointers were defeated for the third time, and the midshipmen feted El Cid along with the team.

The first service match of the 20th century brought out both teams’ traditional mascots for the first time. The mids again borrowed the goat from the USS New York and decked him out in a fine blanket with a gold “NAVY” emblazoned on both sides. On the opposite side of the gridiron, the Army mule was attired in West Point colors and bore on one side the words “No Ships for Me,” while on the other flank was “I’m Something of a Kicker Myself.”

That game in Philadelphia ended with an 11-7 victory for Annapolis and added prestige for the goat. On the return trip to the Naval Academy, the goat was led on a victory lap through the train and did not leave the mids until they reached Baltimore. It was then that the goat was dubbed the now celebrated name “Bill.” The name was borrowed from a pet goat kept by Commander Colby M. Chester, Commandant of Midshipmen from 1891-1894 and the first president of the Naval Academy Athletic Association.

The next year a new goat, named Bill II, was called upon to assume the role of Navy mascot. Along with him, however, were two easily spooked cats who ran for the nearest exit when released from their bag. Navy lost again and goat advocates protested against the joint attention the cats received.

In 1905, the fifth goat, a large angora animal from Princeton, N. J., was given the name of Bill III and bestowed with the duty of bringing victory to the Navy, who had lost the last four years to Army. That year the teams deadlocked 6-6.

The following year, another goat wore the blanket, and it was this mascot which was destined for fame. Originally called Bill, this goat was dubbed “Three-to-Nothing Jack Dalton” after the star midshipman who kicked the field goals that helped Navy defeat Army 3-0 for two successive years.

In 1912, plans were made to honor the goat which had acted as mascot for the previous seven years. Late in November, “Jack” was measured for a new blue and gold blanket, but one week later (November 20) he was stricken with colic and died.

Elaborate plans were made for a funeral, but it was decided instead to have his skin mounted. “Three-to-Nothing Jack Dalton” can be seen today in the foyer of the Academy’s Halsey Field House, mounted in a glass case, reared on his hind legs in a fighting pose.

A brown goat was enlisted into mascot service in 1914, and his wicked temper earned him the name of Satan. Luck seemed to be on Satan’s side, as he was the only goat allowed out of the state during a livestock quarantine to attend the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. But Satan’s luck was short-lived, and disgrace was heaped upon him when his esteemed blanket was taken away after Navy’s defeat that year.

Finding a goat that could bring victory over Army was beginning to look like an impossible task. To solve this problem, the following ad was run in an Annapolis newspaper in 1916: “WANTED: the meanest and fiercest goat possible . . . Would like to see same before purchasing.”

Navy got what it wanted: a mean goat and a victory over Army. He was called Bill VI.

Bill the Goat
Bill VIII was a large, white goat with a wicked eye. With horns painted blue and gold, the goat went to New York for the West Point contest. Given every amenity to insure victory, he was given an entire room filled with straw on the twenty-second floor of a hotel. Bill VIII victoriously returned to Annapolis with the mule’s blanket and remained with Navy for several more seasons.

After World War II, the Navy turned to an angora named “Chester” for goatly guidance. Named after Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the midshipmen changed the mascot’s name to Bill XIII. Rather ominously, he died on the eve of the 1947 game with Army.

His successor, Bill XIV, was presented during the emergency by an Annapolis barber. A loyal mascot, Bill XIV was a frequent target of kidnapping by rival schools. Another of the Navy’s most famed goats, he had a 5-5-2 record over Army and a twelve-year reign, the longest of all previous goat mascots.

Since that time there have been a number of goats who served as the honored mascot of the Academy, and several of them have unusual stories.

In 1968 Bill XVI, a gift from the Air Force Academy, died of accidental poisoning from weed killer sprayed too closely to his pen.

His successor, Bill XVII, met the same fate three years later.

Bill XIX and Bill XX died of natural causes after each served three years of faithful service, in 1975 and 1978 respectively.

Bill XXI led the midshipmen to their best record in years, which included a 23-16 victory over Brigham Young University in the 1978 Holiday Bowl. He is also credited with two Navy wins over Army, which then brought the competition to 37 wins apiece for the two arch rivals.

Bill XXXIII and Bill XXXIV retired after the 2015 football season.

Bill XXXV died in August 2016 due to illness.

Bill XXXVII joined the Naval Academy family in the late fall of 2016.

The current Bill the Goats are Bill XXXVI and Bill XXXVII. Both will attend the 2017 Army-Navy Football Game.

The 118th Army-Navy Game will be on Saturday, December 9th at 3:00pm and will be aired on ESPN.  The current record for Navy against Army stands at 60-50-7.  We understand that President Donald Trump will not be in attendance this year. Please be sure to follow Eye On Annapolis for live updates from Philly including our Twitter feed and Facebook page.

 
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About the Author - John Frenaye

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for more than 15 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news–and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009.

John’s background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.

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