Navy football will host Air Force on Sept. 11, 2021 with the annual service academy rivalry game commemorating the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States.
Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk and Air Force counterpart Nathan Pines jointly announced the news Tuesday morning. The game, which will broadcast nationally by CBS Sports, was originally scheduled for the first weekend in October.
“We will use this nationally televised opportunity to reflect on the meaning of our freedom and the competitive spirit of our nation,” Gladchuk wrote in the news release. “Two service academies coming together to display our strength of unity and our determination to forever persevere.”
Pine wrote in the release that playing the game almost a month earlier than normal was the “appropriate move for our country” and will also serve as a celebration of the armed forces.
“The game will be a fitting way to showcase the amazing future leaders of character from both academies on national television on this solemn anniversary,” Pine wrote in the release. “I would like to thank everyone involved for their cooperation and willingness to help make this a reality.”
It will be just the third time the two schools have played in September and the earliest the two schools have ever met.
Gladchuk said the decision was “obvious” as soon as the 2021 calendar showed that Sept. 11 fell on a Saturday. Neither Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo nor Air Force counterpart Troy Calhoun had any problem with playing the rivalry about a month earlier than usual.
“This game is always very important and a source of pride for two branches of the military,” Gladchuk said. “We can use this game to highlight the strength and resolve of an entire nation in response to the events of 9/11.”
Gladchuk said the traditional Navy home game experience will be enhanced to include numerous other elements to properly recognize the somber anniversary. “It will be orchestrated in a very respectful and extremely patriotic manner,” he said.
Navy will open the 2021 season at home Sept. 4 against Marshall. That contest is also meaningful as it commemorates the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that devastated the Marshall football program.
Jack Lengyel, longtime athletic director at Navy, was hired as head coach to rebuild Marshall football after 37 players and numerous support personnel were killed when the plane crashed into a hillside two miles away from Tri-State Airport in Kenova, West Virginia.
Gladchuk said Navy will honor Lengyel for the “indelible influence and impact” he made on the Marshall football program. Lengyel’s role in resurrecting the football program in the wake of the tragedy was highlighted in the movie “We Are Marshall” starring Matthew McConaughey.
Next year’s Army-Navy game will also commemorate 9/11 and is being played Dec. 11 at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Several Army-Navy game events will be held in New York City, including the traditional Friday night cocktail party that is tentatively scheduled to be held on Ellis Island in the shadow of the State of Liberty.
Navy’s other nonconference contest during the 2021 season will be held Nov. 6 on the road at Notre Dame.
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