American Military News, as well as thousands of U.S. troops, veterans, families and military supporters, traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in early December to watch the Army Black Knights take on the Navy Midshipmen in the annual college football matchup known as the Army-Navy Game. From reporting on the sidelines to encountering Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a restricted area of the stadium, American Military News got an up-close look at what goes on behind the scenes at America’s Game.
USAA became the official sponsor of the Army-Navy game in 2009. As part of their patronage for the game, the military-oriented insurance and financial services company hosts an event called Military Alley at Media Row. During the event, American Military News had the opportunity to interview U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy football alumni, academy superintendents, military leaders, sports commentators and more.
Media Row also features displays for each team’s special rivalry uniforms. This year, the Army team had uniforms that paid tribute to the 1st Armored Division and their defeat of Axis forces in North Africa during World War II. The Navy team uniforms paid tribute to NASA, through which 54 Annapolis graduates have gone on to become astronauts. While both teams provide highlight videos and photos of their special uniforms, being on Media Row offers a unique opportunity to really see them close up and take in all the intricacies.
One item noticeably absent from this year’s Army-Navy game Media Row was the Commander In Chief’s Trophy. Every year, the trophy goes to the winner of a three-way contest between the three main military service academies: the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy. While much emphasis is placed on the Army-Navy game, the Air Force Academy beat both the Army and Navy teams earlier in the season to secure the trophy. This year’s Army-Navy football game was simply a battle for second-place behind the Air Force team.
Here’s a picture of the trophy from when we were at USAA’s Media Row last year.
At The Field
We arrived at Lincoln Financial Field on game day with a few hours to spare. This gave us some time to figure out the layout of the stadium before the crowds started pouring in. It also helped us get all of our getting lost out of the way so we wouldn’t miss much during the game itself.
The Army side had a notable presence outside the stadium on game day, having brought out multiple military vehicles and weapons systems to show off to the incoming spectators. Among those military vehicles on display was the General Dynamics Griffin II Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) system, an armored vehicle that looks like a tank and will bring a 105mm caliber M35 gun to support infantry operations.
The Army also showcased the new SIG Sauer XM5 rifle and XM250 automatic rifle. Earlier this year the Army awarded a contract to procure these weapons as part of its Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) competition. The XM5 and XM250 are slated to replace the Army’s M4 carbine and M249 light machine gun respectively.
I of course took the opportunity to get my grubby fingers on the Army’s newest gear.
After touring the stadium, we got up to the press box.
While it was nice to sit up in the warm press box, we wanted to get a view on the field as close to the action as possible.
As the crowd started to fill in, we went back down to the field.
Before the game, the West Point cadets and Annapolis midshipmen marched onto the field and then began to fill the stands with plenty of time to spare before kickoff. Lincoln Financial Field has a seating capacity for about 72,000 people and while we don’t know the precise attendance, the stadium was packed by the time the game was about to start.
Kickoff was set to take place after 3 p.m. EST and there was a whole flurry of spectacles before the game started.
With minutes to go before kickoff, we got to see both the Navy Leap Frogs and Army Golden Knights parachute teams drop in from the sky.
We next saw an army flyover, featuring a formation with a CH-47 Chinook transport in the lead, two AH-64 Apache gunships on the flanks and UH-60 Black Hawk in the rear.
Only seconds after the Army helicopter flyover, the Navy flew a diamond formation of four F/A-18 Super Hornets.
Once the skydivers landed and the helicopters and Hornets finished their flyovers, the two teams charged onto the field.
One of the traditions in the lead up to the game is for a group of West Point Cadets and Annapolis Midshipmen to swap schools and spend their fall semester at the rival academy. Before the Army-Navy game, these exchange students are returned to their respective schools as part of a mock prisoner exchange.
After the prisoner exchange, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held the coin toss for the kickoff.
We were on the field for the singing of the National Anthem.
After the kickoff, we were ordered off the field and we made our way back up to the press box.
As I was walking off the field after kickoff, I heard the vague shouts of “look, it’s Marky Mark.” I turned to see Mark Whalberg himself walking down the same tunnel. Had I put my hand out, I could have slapped him a high-five. I unfortunately was too busy trying to pull out my phone and snap a picture to actually get the high-five. In fact, I failed both to get a high-five or the picture. First fumble of the game.
Here’s proof of Wahlberg’s attendance at the game so you know I’m not making up this story:
After being kicked off the field after kickoff, we watched for a bit from the press box and kept track of the score.
At halftime we were able to come back down to the field.
While the West Point band played for the crowd at half time, we took the opportunity to take photos with the Cadets and Midshipmen.
The Cadets and Midshipman also showed off the cannons they brought onto the sidelines for the game.
At halftime we even spotted Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley firing t-shirts into the crowd.
The Navy team fired off their cannon for the halftime kickoff.
At about halfway through the fourth quarter, we returned down to the field, planning to see the final moments of the game and the crowd reaction.
After we took an elevator back down to the ground floor and walked through a tunnel inside the stadium to get out onto the field, we noticed an entourage moving down the tunnel in the other direction. After a quick glance we realized the secretary of defense was in the group and we took the brief opportunity to shout a question at him before he walked into an area where the press was restricted.
We got back onto the field with about three minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter. The Navy team had led the game but the Army team scored a field goal with 1:53 left on the clock, tying the game. As the clock ticked down to zero in the fourth quarter, neither team pulled ahead. In all 122 previous games since West Point first invited the Annapolis team up to play in their first head-to-head football game, the two teams had never taken a game into overtime. We got to stand on the field as the game went into overtime for the first time in the history of this rivalry.
Neither side lost any enthusiasm as they cheered their teams through the overtime game.
The game went to 17-17 in overtime. The Army team ultimately won with a field goal, bringing the score to 20-17.
At the end of every Army-Navy game, each school sings their alma mater, with the losing team singing first and the winning team singing after. This is the reason you might hear phrases like “win first, sing second” during the game.
Even before the Annapolis side was prepared to sing their alma mater, West Point Cadets were rushing onto the field.
The West Point side was able to halt the field rush long enough for both sides to finish their customary singing of the alma maters.
After both schools finished singing, the West Point Cadets still remaining in the stands resumed the rush onto the field.