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We’re at the Army-Navy game – here’s what leaders told us

The Army (left) and Navy (right) uniforms for the 2021 Army-Navy game, displayed aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum media row presented by USAA. (Photos by Liz George)
December 10, 2021 and

On Friday, ahead of the 122nd Army-Navy Game between the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, American Military News sat down for interviews with leaders from both sides to get their take on the rivalry game on Saturday.

Aboard the USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, American Military News interviewed Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith, in addition to West Point Dean of Academics Brig. Gen. Shane Reeves, and his son and yearling West Point cadet Charles Reeves.

The Navy Side

The outcome of the Army-Navy Game can have a critical impact on the academic year for students from both service academies. If their team wins, life can be much easier at the academy for first-year students. If their team loses, the pressure first-year students feel at the academy can ratchet up.

“It has the biggest impact on morale,” Buck said. “It just seems to put a spring in the step of the Midshipmen if they come home with a victory over Army in football. It also can ease up a little bit of the difficulty that the first years Cadets or Midshipmen have at their respective academies. It’s a big deal. It’s bragging rights.”

Smith, acknowledging Annapolis’ 3-8 season so far, said, “The Navy is going to be the underdog. It’s okay to underestimate us. The greatest thing in the world to be is underestimated. I think you can see our potential in the way we played Temple. There have been three victories this year, but frankly, the way we played Temple, I think, is the model for what you’re going to see when we play Army.”

Beyond the outcome of the game, Buck noted an important aspect of the rivalry is building on some of the leadership skills that lend to military service.

“This game is huge,” Buck said. “America’s game epitomizes what both academies stand for, and that’s producing men and women of character, of grit, of resilience. They’re brothers and sisters in arms 364 days of the year. We’re going to fight together, serve together, bleed together. This one day, we come together on the gridiron and we’re going to compete just very, very aggressively against one another. We do it for the love of the game, but we also do it for the love of our country.” 

The Army Side

While most teams focus on their overall records for the season, for the cadets and midshipmen nothing is more important in the season than winning the rivalry game. For both Annapolis and West Point, much of the focus for their season is on how they play against one another.

“This game is a grind, you know, both teams come in and they could be – Navy or Army – could be number one in the nation or the team who hasn’t won a game in three years, but both teams come in and play their hearts out,” Charlie Reeves said. “You never really know, it’s always a toss-up about who is going to come out on top.”

Another unique aspect of the game for both academies is their shared mission towards military service.

“All of the Cadets at West Point, and the Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, these are really special young people who have opportunities and options and they’re drawn to the idea of service,” Gen. Reeves said.

“It’s one of the most humbling parts about my job, is I’m surrounded by these young people who value more than anything some of the ideals that underly the academy – duty, honor, country – as well as the Army,” Gen. Reeves said. “We talk about these and they seem like a cliche, but we talk about loyalty, duty and respect and selfless service, and honor, integrity and personal courage. The cadets believe in that and they’re not inspired by personal gain. They’re not inspired by money. What they’re inspired by is the opportunity to serve their nation.”

The historic matchup game kicks off on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. ET. and is available to watch on CBS.