July 24, 2014

Army, Navy make first trip inside Washington Beltway

navy
Quarterback Ricky Dobbs #4 of the , and , jumps into the crowd after their 17-3 victory over the Army on December 12, 2009 at in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(December 11, 2009 – Photo by Drew / North America)

(PhatzRadio / / AP) — Over the 121 years since first squared off in football, the game has been played on the academies’ campuses, in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Pasadena, Calif., and, most often, Philadelphia. Conspicuous in its absence: Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital and home to the Pentagon.

That century-long anomaly ends Saturday when the Black Knights and Midshipmen meet at Field in Landover, Md. Though not in Washington, the stadium is inside the Capital Beltway and qualifies by association. The site’s novelty and proximity to so many members of the military have added an element to this year’s game.

“I’m surprised it has taken this long, but it’s fitting and appropriate that this game be played in our nation’s capital,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “It’s closer to Annapolis than , but there is such a strong military community here that appreciates us and what we represent.

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“It’s going to feel like a for both of us. … There is a special connection between both of our institutions and Washington, and it’s exciting to be able to acknowledge that through this game.”

Army-Navy game sites

When the Army-Navy game comes inside the Capital Beltway for the first time, the Washington D.C. area will join Chicago, Pasadena, Calif., and Princeton, N.J., as one-time hosts of the annual game. Philadelphia, because of its position roughly equi-distant between the two academies, has hosted the majority of the games.

Here’s a history of the other Army-Navy sites:

82 Philadelphia
11 New York
4 Baltimore
4 East Rutherford, N.J.
3 Annapolis, Md.
3 West Point, N.Y.

Philadelphia has hosted 83 games, driven more by geography than anything else.

“Both sides are very sensitive to either one getting any kind of an edge,” said freelance journalist and historian Jack Clary, who has written three books on the series. “The issue of neutrality was very much sitting in the middle of the pot, and Philadelphia was roughly equidistant from the two academies.

“In the earliest years, the only venue really suitable in Washington was old Griffith Stadium. But it was too small and too close to Annapolis. Of course, for several years the game was played in New York City (11 times, plus four in nearby East Rutherford, N.J.), very close to West Point, and nobody seemed to mind that.”

The combination of population and location along the Eastern Seaboard has led the game’s organizers to a rotation of sites that includes Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore in addition to Washington, D.C. A crowd of more than 85,000 is expected.

The Army-Navy exception

The Bowl Championship Series’ Twitter account reflects its philosophy: @EveryGameCounts. Every game, that is, except Army vs. Navy.

The academies announced in 2008 that they would play their annual game after the final BCS standings were released as part of a deal with CBS. That means the game does not figure in the formula that determines teams in the national title game and helps qualify others for major bowls.

BCS executive director Bill Hancock said then the decision to eliminate the Army-Navy game was made because of the potential impact the game could have on title-game pairings. An element used by the six computer ratings incorporated in the BCS is how a team’s opponents’ opponents fair. There could be many connections in a given year.

The statistical difference seems small, but at one point a few years ago, TCU and Boise State were in the hunt and just 0.0013 apart. At the time, Army and Navy had played Air Force, which had played TCU, and Army had played Hawaii, which had played Boise.

“It definitely could have an effect,” Jeff Sagarin, whose computer ratings run in USA TODAY and are part of the BCS formula, said then. “But there are so many things that could happen.”

Sagarin added that the bigger impact could come if a top team actually played Navy and another top team played Army.

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Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo appreciates the symbolism of being a relative stone’s throw from the Pentagon: “That’s pretty cool, bringing the two service academies here to compete. I know our players are excited to have the opportunity to play the game here for the first time.”

Both schools will have their traditional pep rallies Friday at the Pentagon, Navy in the morning and Army in the afternoon. The academies’ bands, cheerleaders and mascots will entertain personnel and make the rounds of high-ranking Pentagon officials, perhaps delivering a good-natured barb to the opposing side.

Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, predicts the game’s location will lift it to new levels.

“It is only fitting that America’s service academy rivalry be played just miles from our nation’s Capital, where so many famous monuments serve as a reminder of the great willingness for service and sacrifice these Navy Midshipmen and Army Cadets represent,” Greenert said in an e-mail. “What better place to display our proud tradition?

“With so many active-duty military and veterans serving in the region, we are guaranteed to have unprecedented levels of camaraderie and support. I’m really looking forward to seeing the motivated Midshipmen, and I can’t wait until we beat Army!”

Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno sees a different outcome but shares Greenert’s appreciation of what the game represents.

“With 112 years of tradition on display, Army-Navy is the most revered rivalry in all of collegiate sports — no other compares,” Odierno said via e-mail. “These cadets and midshipmen put their hearts and souls into a competition that forges the principles needed in battle — trust, teamwork, discipline, physical and mental toughness.

“They know they are truly comrades in arms and that our nation’s future security relies on their joint courage, commitment and interdependence. Go Army, beat Navy!”

Unlike last year, when both had bowl games to play, Saturday will end their seasons.

“There is a finality to it this year that makes it a little more special,” Niumatalolo said. “This is always our biggest game of the year, and even though that significance didn’t change, you knew you had one more to play. For so many players in both programs, this is it.”

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