For one-hundred and fifteen years, one football game has encapsulated the hearts of people across the United States of America. For one-hundred and fifteen years, possibly the greatest rivalry in professional sports has been formed. For one-hundred and fifteen years, on the second Saturday in December, people have gathered from across the continent to watch as the United States Military Academy Football Team – also known as Army – takes on the United States Naval Academy Football Team – also known as Navy – in a battle for bragging rights between the two main branches of the American Armed Forces.
The tradition continued on Saturday afternoon when the Army Black Nights (4-7) faced the Navy Midshipmen (6-5) in Baltimore, Maryland. Navy had a much more successful season than Army, but both teams had lost their games to Air Force, meaning that the Falcons had already won the three-way rivalry between the branches of the American Armed Forces, taking home the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy.
Navy came into the game heavy favourites, having beaten Army twelve times in a row on the day of the rivalry. The Midshipmen had a successful season, sitting over five-hundred after six wins against fairly talented teams. Navy even gave the star-studded Notre Dame Fighting Irish a run for their money earlier in the season, despite eventually losing 49-39. Due to their successful season, Navy clinched a berth in the Poinsettia Bowl on December 23. After blowout victory last year, Navy looked to extend their win streak as heavy favourites, but it wouldn’t be easy playing an inspired Army side.
Despite coming into the game was heavy underdogs, Army had plenty of incentive to win the all-important rivalry matchup. After losing twelve straight to Navy, the Black Nights had a chip on their shoulder heading into Baltimore. Despite this, they knew they were heavily outgunned by a Navy side who had played much better throughout the entire season. Army had only won four games all season, while losing nine, and many expected the Midshipmen to blow out the Black Nights Saturday afternoon.
Early in the game, Army leaned on their rushing attack to generate some offence. Despite not gaining any offensive points early, they did shift the field position battle in their favour, and their defence performed extremely well against a talented Navy offence. Navy was forced to an early two-and out as Army’s defence held strong. It was three minutes in when we received the first points of the game. With Navy lining up to punt, Army broke through the Naval blocking protection and got their hands on the football as it came of the foot of the Navy kicker. The ball was picked up and the blocked kick was returned for an Army touchdown to give the Black Nights a 7-0 lead.
Throughout the majority of the second half, the teams displayed power and physicality in a well played and entertaining defensive matchup. It was late in the second quarter when the score and momentum swung in Navy’s favour. With Army threatening to increase their lead, the Black Nights opted to go for the first down on a risky fourth and inches play. At first, it appeared that Army had succeeded in crossing the first down marker and moving the chains, but the officials announced that Navy had called a timeout before the play had begun, and Army was forced to replay the down. On their second attempt, the Navy defence held strong, as the Midshipmen took over on downs. When asked after the game about the timeout he called, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said, “if I told you who told me to call that timeout, you wouldn’t believe me…the Man Upstairs.” At that point, the pendulum swung in Navy’s favour, as the Midshipmen drove down the field to score a late first half touchdown to tie the game at seven apiece heading into halftime.
The third quarter was largely uneventful, with both defences holding strong, but Navy was able to tack on a field goal to take a 10-7 lead over an Army offence that was yet to record one passing yard throughout the first three quarters. Navy made their lead commanding when they ploughed across the goal line early in the fourth to give themselves their second touchdown of the game and a 17-7 lead against an Army offence that had not yet proven that they could move down the field offensively.
Down by ten points, the Army offence showed some skill in their passing game as they drove down the field late in the fourth quarter in an attempt to make the game a one-score contest. After the Navy defence forced Army into a fourth and long situation, the Black Nights opted to try for a fifty-two yard field goal off the foot of Daniel Grochowski, who had already missed a forty-eight yard attempt earlier in the game. Grochowski however, silenced the critics as he sent his kick straight through the uprights, closing the Navy lead to 17-10 with under two minutes to go.
Needing a touchdown, Army attempted an onside kick. The kick bounced along the ground, but Army was unable to get to the ball first as Navy fell on the pigskin to take over possession and put the nail in the coffin on their long time rivals. Navy was able to close out the victory, as the Midshipmen improved to 7-5 on the season, winning their thirteenth straight game against Army. Navy will face San Jose State in just a little over a week when they meet the Spartans in the Poinsettia Bowl.
The reason why the Army-Navy game has been such a special event in sporting history, is because the Army and the Navy have an inseparable bond. In times of war, the two institutions fight for one shared cause. The members of the Army and the Navy understand that in times of fighting, they keep each other alive. They are two closely bonded brothers, who defend each other in an equal cause against oppression and injustice. The reason why the Army-Navy game is so special, is because the bond is so strong. Like any two brothers, the Army and the Navy have a rivalry. Like any two brothers, the Army and the Navy fight. Like any two brothers, one will sacrifice itself to save the other. Within two institutions which rely on each other for survival, there is one day where they contest, where they fight, and where their rivalries showcase themselves in a battle for eternal bragging rights.