It’s More than Just a Game

Each time Army and Navy play football, as they will for the 100th time next month, the fiercest rivalry in sports is renewed

Next month Army and Navy will play their 100th football game. No national championship will be at stake. No member of either squad will win the Heisman Trophy; few, if any, will be drafted by the National Football League. Yet a crowd of nearly 70,000 will be at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Top military brass and possibly President Clinton will shout like cheerleaders at a high school matchup. Soldiers and sailors around the world and millions here at home will be watching on TV. And if the 99 previous contests are any indication, the two teams will put on one of the best shows of the year, complete with full-dress marching parades, cannon and raucous singing.

There are other great college rivalries but nothing compares with the one that exists between the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. The annual football game between them was inspired by friendship, tempered by wars and sustained by tradition. It has survived presidential censure and intra-service bickering. Over the years the two teams have at various times been national powerhouses and pathetic losers.

Through it all, the success of a season has been measured not by records or reputations but by the outcome of the big game. "Last year we were 3-8," says Army linebacker Adisa King, "but it was a successful season because we beat Navy. I was on an Army team that beat Navy. I can take that to my grave."