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Cancelled by President Grover Cleveland. Restored by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt — the Army-Navy football game is in its 130th year.

First playing on the Plain at West Point on November 29, 1890, the meeting set the tone for the rivalry with both teams meting out heavy punishment. Navy’s captain, Red Emrich was knocked unconscious twice during the game but continued to play, while Army quarterback, Kirby Walker, was also knocked unconscious twice and had to be carried off the field. 

From there the intensity of the rivalry grew, coming to a head during the 1893 game. After the achingly low score of 6-4, the stands erupted in several bloody melees. To make matters worse, an incident between a rear admiral and a brigadier general nearly led to a duel after the Navy victory.

At this point, President Grover Cleveland stepped in and banned the contest indefinitely, and for the next five years the rivalry was defused.

However, in 1897 Roosevelt deftly sought to bring back the match. In a letter to the Secretary of War Russell Alger, under President William McKinley, Roosevelt wrote, “I should like very much to revive the football games between Annapolis and West Point.”

(Special Collections & Archives Department, Nimitz Library, United States Naval Academy)

Roosevelt outlined that “if the authorities of both institutions agreed to take measures to prevent any excesses such as betting and the like, and to prevent any manifestations of an improper character — if as I say all this were done — and it certainly could be done without difficulty — then I don’t see why it would not be a good thing to have a game this year.” Alger and McKinley concurred, and the series resumed in 1899.

World War I would interrupt the rivalry twice — the games were suspended in 1917 and 1918. But during World War II, the game interrupted the war. In 1944, after no. 1 ranked Army beat no. 2 ranked Navy 23-7, Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik received a telegram from the Pacific: “The greatest of all Army teams—STOP—We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success.” It was signed MacArthur.

So this year give thanks to the Man in the Arena — and whoever you’re pulling for, make sure to guard your goat and your mule.

(Go Navy)

This year’s game will be the 121st meeting between the two. Kick-off is set for 3 p.m. EST on CBS.


*Article updated on December 10, 2020.