The Army-Navy football game is a major rivalry not only for West Point and Annapolis but for the military branches they represent. The rivalry has carried over 122 games since 1890, making it one of the oldest rivalries in the history of football itself.
In many ways, the annual rivalry game between service academies is more important to them than their overall records or performance at other bowl games later in the season. A win in the rivalry game is one of the few things that can relax the strict academy lifestyle for first-year students while a loss often means the rest of the school year gets even stricter.
Given the high stakes, this game has naturally given way to a number of popular traditions. As part of their traditions, both academies began creating special uniforms just for the big rivalry game, beginning in 2012.
Here is every custom Army/Navy football uniform since 2012:
Army 2021 – United We Stand
Last year, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point players donned a uniform honoring the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and Task Force Dagger. The task force is comprised of the U.S. Army Special Forces units who were among the first in Afghanistan to hunt for the Al Qaeda terrorists who helped plan the infamous terrorist attacks.
The Army helmets bore the numbers 91101 in tribute to the date on which nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. The jerseys bore the Special Forces motto “De Oppresso Liber” (“To Liberate the Oppressed”) and the emblem of Task Force Dagger.
Navy 2021 – Fly Navy!
The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis honored the Navy’s aviation career paths and its F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets for the 2021 Army-Navy game.
The Navy helmet featured a specially painted Super Hornet. The uniform also features U.S. Navy aviation roundels throughout and the patch for the Strike Fighter Wing, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
Army 2020 – Tropic Lightning
West Point’s 2020 uniforms honored the 25th Infantry Division, known as the “Tropic Lightning Division.” The division earned distinction in jungle warfare fighting in World War II. Members of the subordinate 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” also participated in a bayonet charge in the Korean War, for which their leader Cpt. Lewis Millett earned the Medal of Honor.
The football helmets carried the 25th Infantry Division’s lightning insignia, and the wolf head insignia of the 27th Infantry Regiment. The uniforms included a “Tropic Lightning” name tape and the wolf head insignia on the shoulder.
Navy 2020 – 175 Years
Annapolis commemorated the 175th anniversary of the U.S. Navy’s founding in 1775 for its 2020 rivalry uniform.
The helmet and shoulders of the uniform included a marbled blue and white pattern reminiscent of the ocean. The uniforms also included either a patch of the 4th Marine Regiment or the USS Wisconsin (BB-64).
Army 2019 – First Team!
West Point honored the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division which was the first to widely use helicopters to mobilize and rapidly deploy troops during the Vietnam War.
The helmets included the cavalry’s crossed sabers insignia, while the jerseys included the 1st Cavalry Division’s horse shoulder emblem.
Navy 2019 – Forged By History, Bound By Brotherhood
Annapolis honored their own school’s history and traditions on their 2019 Army-Navy game uniforms. The uniform honored the academy’s first Heisman trophy winner, Joe Bellino, who won the 1960 Heisman and went on to play for the Boston Patriots. Bellino had passed away earlier that year.
The uniform also honored Annapolis’ other Heisman winner, Roger Staubach, who won the 1963 Heisman. Staubach served in the Vietnam War before playing professionally for the Dallas Cowboys.
Army 2018 – Big Red One
West Point paid tribute to the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Big Red One” on their 2018 rivalry game uniforms. The division is famous as being the first permanent division of the active Army, the first fight in World War I and the first to use combined arms operations.
The football helmets included the division’s iconic red 1 patches. The jerseys feature the black lion emblem of the division’s subordinate 28th Infantry Regiment and insignia representing the 28th, 26th, 18th and 16th Infantry Regiments.
Navy 2018 – Bill The Goat
Annapolis paid tribute to its mascot “Bill the Goat” on its 2018 rivalry game uniforms. The academy named the goat as their honorary mascot ahead of the fourth-ever Army-Navy game in 1893. The goat has come to symbolize the Army-Navy rivalry in another way, as West Point cadets hold a tradition of trying to steal Bill before the big game.
The football helmets featured Bill on the side, while the jersey is inspired by the trim of the blanket popularly worn by Bill.
Army 2017 – Climb to Glory
West Point took their 2017 rivalry game uniform inspiration from the 10th Mountain Division. The division was established during World War II and played a key role in defeating Nazi German forces who controlled the mountains of Northern Italy.
The football helmets feature an emblem resembling the division’s crossed ski pins. The jersey features alternatingly feature the patches of the 85th, 86th, and 87th Mountain Infantry Regiments, and the 126th Mountain Engineer Battalion. When crossed, the football uniforms gloves form the 10th Mountain Division’s crossed dagger emblem.
Navy 2017 – Blue Angels
The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels air demonstration squadron provided the inspiration for Annapolis’ 2017 rivalry game uniforms. The squadron is comprised of five Navy and one Marine Corps demonstration pilot and travels around the country performing aerobatic maneuvers in tight formations.
The football helmets feature a formation of the iconic blue F-18 Hornet jets of the aerobatic squadron. The jersey includes the Blue Angels squadron shoulder patch and colors that resemble the blue and gold livery of the aerobatic squadron.
Army 2016 – Airborne! All The Way!
The West Point team channeled the fighting spirit of the 82nd Airborne Division on its 2016 rivalry uniforms. The division transformed from a standard infantry unit to an airborne unit during World War II and led parachute and glider assaults in Italy, the Normandy Invasion and Operation Market Garden in Holland.
The football helmets featured a design reminiscent of the camouflage netting worn on World War II paratrooper helmets. The helmets also featured helmet symbols worn by the 504th, 505th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments and the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion. The jerseys featured pocket patches of the 504th, 505th, 507th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments.
Navy 2016 – Beat Army!
Annapolis paid tribute to its 1963 season for the 2016 rivalry game, wearing uniforms inspired by those worn that year, when Annapolis went 9-2 and beat West Point. The 1963 team was coached by Wayne Hardin and quarterbacked by Roger Staubach.
The football helmets were gold with a Navy anchor and “Beat Army” decals. The jersey hem also featured the “Beat Army” motto as did the palms of the gloves.
Army 2015 – Division Honor
In 2015, Army uniforms featured black helmets featuring designs representing 11 different divisions in the U.S. Army, each of which was worn by different player positions.
Quarterbacks represented the 3rd Infantry Division, fullbacks with the 4th Infantry Division, running backs with 25th Infantry Division, tight ends with 7th Infantry Division, offensive line with 1st Armored Division, wide receivers with 82nd Airborne Division, defense line with 1st Calvary Division, linebackers with 10th Mountain Division, cornerbacks with 2nd Infantry Division, safeties with 101st Airborne Division, and special teams with 1st Infantry Division.
Navy 2015 – Damn the Torpedos
That year, Navy uniforms also featured specially airbrushed blue helmets featuring seven types of naval vessels to represent each player position.
Cruisers corresponded to linebackers, destroyers for defensive back, submarines for wide receiver, amphibious assault ships for lineman, aircraft carrier for quarter back, littoral combat ship for running back, and minesweeper for kicker and special teams.
The gloves featured a “DAMN THE TORPEDOES” message, which was also placed down the pants just under a yellow stripe.
Navy 2014 – Don’t Tread on Me
In 2014, the Naval Academy paid tribute to the first Naval Jack flown by the U.S. Navy. The flag featured the 13 red and white stripes typically seen on the U.S. flag, along with a red and yellow rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
The helmets feature the red and yellow snake wrapped around the Naval Academy’s “N and star” logo. The shoulders of the jersey feature the first naval jack and the gloves feature the snake’s head and the “Don’t Tread on Me” motto.
Army 2013 – Old Fuss and Feathers
According to uniform maker Nike, West Point paid tribute to General Winfield Scott on their 2013 rivalry game uniforms. In 1814, Scott led U.S. troops to their first victory on open ground again the British in the war. Scott was nicknamed “Old Fuss and Feathers” for his insistence on maintaining strict military uniform standards.
The soldiers under Scott’s command wore gray uniforms and West Point adopted similar gray uniforms around the same time. The football team’s 2013 uniforms closely resembled those gray uniforms.
Navy 2013 – Don’t Give Up the Ship
In 2013, Annapolis also paid tribute to a War of 1812 leader, Cpt. James Lawrence. During a naval battle with the Brith HMS Shannon, Lawrence was mortally wounded but was remembered for his dying words to his crew “Don’t give up the ship.”
The U.S. Navy commissioned the USS Lawrence in the deceased captain’s honor. The USS Lawrence served as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship in his victory in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie. Perry also flew a “Don’t Give Up The Ship” flag in Lawrence’s honor.
The 2013 uniforms featured naval anchors while the base layer includes the “Don’t Give Up The Ship’ motto.
For the 2012 game, West Point’s football team paid tribute to the Army’s victory in the World War II Battle of the Bulge from December 1944 through January 1945. The battle saw U.S. Army forces repel the last major German offensive of the war.
The numbers and helmet line on the Army uniforms included a map of the Ardennes forest region where the Battle of the Bulge was fought. The uniforms also included patches of various Army units.
The 2012 Navy uniforms featured the traditional blue and gold colors. The uniform base layer paid tribute to the first Naval Jack flown by the U.S. Navy. The flag featured the 13 red and white stripes typically seen on the U.S. flag, along with a red and yellow rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
Numerous players from these two service academies have worn these iconic Army/Navy football uniforms and have gone on to play in the NFL. Here are 10 of the most notable former service academy football players.
10 Most Notable Service Academy Football Stars
Staubach played for the U.S. Naval Academy and won the Heisman Trophy in 1963. The Cowboys picked him for the 1964 NFL draft, but Staubach instead served with the Navy during the Vietnam War. Staubach was able to play for the Cowboys in 1969. Staubach led the team to victory in Super Bowl VI in 1972 and Super Bowl XII in 1978. He was named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player in 1972. Annapolis retired Staubach’s #12 jersey.
Villanueva played for the West Point, before graduating in 2010. Villanueva went undrafted in the 2010 season but was allowed to try out for the Cincinnatti Bengals but did not make the team. Villanueva then went on to serve in the Army as a Ranger, completing three tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire in Afghanistan in 2011. Beginning in 2015, Villanueva played 6 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a final season with the Baltimore Ravens, before retiring in 2022.
McConkey played for Annapolis and helped lead the team to victory in his final college game against Brigham Young University in 1978. McConkey went on to complete his obligatory term of service with the Navy, serving as a helicopter pilot. McConkey signed with the New York Giants as a 27-year-old rookie and began playing for them in the 1984 season. McConkey helped the team win Super Bowl XXI in 1986.
Dawkins played for West Point and was the third Army player to win the Heisman Trophy, before graduating in 1959. Dawkins also played hockey for West Point, and earned three varsity letters in that sport, Dawkins was also a Rhodes Scholar and earned a BA at Oxford in 1962. After his Rhodes scholarship, Dawkins completed Infantry School and Ranger School before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and spent the ensuing 24 years as an Army officer, retiring at the rank of Brigadier General. Dawkins also served as a White House Fellow from 1973 to 1974, where he worked to transition the Army to an all-volunteer force. West Point retired Dawkins’s #24 jersey in 2008 in his honor.
Reynolds played for Annapolis before graduating in 2016. Reynolds was presented the East-West Shrine Bowl Pat Tillman Award in 2016, which is presented to a player who best exemplifies character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service. Annapolis also retired Reynolds’s #19 jersey. Reynolds was allowed to serve in the Navy Reserve after graduating and he currently serves as a cryptologic warfare officer. Reynolds signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2016, then the Washington Redskins practice squad in 2017, then the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 before playing with the XFL’s Seattle Dragons before the league suspended its operations in April of 2020. He continues to serve as a Navy Reserve officer.
Mischak played for West Point. He was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1954 but had to complete three years of Army service before he could play professionally. He began playing professionally in 1957 after he was traded to the New York Giants. He played in the 1958 NFL Championship game against the Baltimore Colts. He also went on to serve as a coach of tight ends for the Oakland Raiders when they won Super Bowl XI in 1977, Super Bowl XV in 1981 and Super Bowl XVIII when they were the Los Angeles Raiders.
Cardona played for Annapolis as a long snapper and saw four wins over West Point during his four years. He signed with the New England Patriots in 2015 and was granted permission by the Secretary of the Navy to continue playing in the 2016 season. Cardona played with the Patriots in three consecutive Super Bowls (LI, LII and LIII), during which they won two (LI and LIII). Cardona continues to play for the Patriots while also serving as a Navy Reserve officer.
Carpenter played for West Point and legendary Army head coach Earl Blaik said he was “the greatest end I ever coached at West Point.” After graduating in 1960 Carpenter went on to serve as an infantry officer, completing two tours of duty in Vietnam. Carpenter’s unit was ambushed in 1964 and he was wounded by enemy fire but managed to take out an enemy bunker with a hand grenade. For his actions, he received the Silver Star (the third highest military decoration for individual acts of valor). In 1966, while leading a company in Vietnam, Carpenter’s unit was attacked by a battalion-sized enemy force. Carpenter organized his company’s hasty defenses and held back the attack, repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire to organize his unit’s defenses and call in air and artillery fire. Carpenter again received the Silver Star, which was later upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross. Carpenter was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982. He retired as a lieutenant general.