Every Army-Navy football game is marvelous and memorable, as more than 80,000 spectators will discover Saturday at FedEx Field. Brigades of Cadets and Midshipmen marching in. Flyovers by screaming jets. And often the presence of the Commander in Chief, who changes sides at halftime to avoid any impression of bias.
Yet some confrontations have been more significant than others. The 112th meeting (and first in the Washington area) certainly will qualify if Army wins. The Black Knights have lost nine straight in this recently lopsided series, all by double-digit margins.
For the most part, however, the service academies have fought fiercely and evenly in what Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo says "isn't the biggest rivalry in college football — it's the biggest rivalry in sports." Before Navy's current surge, Army led the series 49-46-7. And you can bet the Black Knights will rise again, sooner or later.
Meanwhile, here are some of the most memorable matchups in the only college football game whose outcome truly matters to our generals, admirals, soldiers and sailors around the globe:
• 1890 — Navy, which had been playing the sport for 11 years, clobbered Army 24-0 in the Black Knights' first game ever. USMA cadet Dennis Michie got the series started by pestering his father, Peter, the superintendent of cadets, and Gen. John Wilson, academy superintendent, until they agreed. Dennis and the other players collected 52 cents from each cadet at West Point to pay Navy's expenses for the trip to upstate New York. No wonder Army's football stadium is named for Michie, who died eight years later in the battle of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War.
• 1901 — Just 11 weeks after assuming the presidency when William McKinley was assassinated, Theodore Roosevelt became the first president to attend an Army-Navy game (grainy films of him crossing the field at halftime can be found on YouTube). Army won 11-5, but the violent style of play in that bareheaded era was hardly "bully" to Teddy. A few years later, he threatened to ban the sport in colleges unless the rules were changed to reduce injuries and fatalities.
• 1948 — Although both academies had ranked among the nation's best teams during World War II, Navy lost its first eight games and was a three-touchdown underdog against unbeaten Army. Yet the Mids rallied to tie in the fourth quarter as halfback Bill Hawkins ran for a touchdown and then batted down a pass by Army quarterback Arnold Galiffa on the final play.
• 1950 — In perhaps the biggest Army-Navy upset, coach Eddie Erdelatz's 2-6 Mids ended Army's 28-game winning streak 14-2 as unheralded quarterback Bob Zastrow accounted for both touchdowns. While Army remained a football power under famed coach Earl "Red" Blaik after the war, Navy won just seven of 44 games from 1947 to 1950 and was a three-touchdown underdog. The gloom that enveloped Army that day grew even deeper the following spring when 37 football players were among 90 cadets dismissed from the academy for cheating.
• 1963 — Star quarterback Roger Staubach sparked Navy to a 21-15 victory in a game postponed one week by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a Naval officer during World War II. A grieving nation eager for any diversion also witnessed the first use of instant replay in a sports event after Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh ran 1 yard for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. As the tape rolled across the screen, NBC announcer Lindsey Nelson told the vast audience, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is not live! Army has not scored again!"
Of course, the series has produced many other notable games over 12-plus decades, and another might be due Saturday as two losing teams (Navy 4-7, Army 3-8) seek a triumph that always makes the season a success in one respect.
But regardless of team records, the Army-Navy game itself is never a loser.
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