The greatest moments in the Army-Navy football rivalry

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

December 11th, 2020

Ask a college football fan to name a notable rivalry, and you'll get a number of answers. Midwestern fans will mention the battles between Michigan and Ohio State. Those in California will bring up USC and UCLA. Southern fans will swear by the Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas.

However, the greatest rivalry of all doesn't have national championship implications and doesn't even take place in a big conference. We're referring to the rivalry between Army and Navy, whose squads battle each another annually in the most intense grudge match in America.

There's a mystique about this game that remains, even if the national prominence of both programs has faded. Games between the service academies have captivated the country and, in the earlier days of college football, sometimes helped determine the best team in America.

Here are the top five moments in the rivalry between Army and Navy!

5. The rivalry goes west (1983)

In 1983, the Army-Navy game was played not in its traditional home of Philadelphia, but at the famed Rose Bowl in California. Both teams were just 2-8 coming into the game, but more than 81,000 people poured into the legendary venue, and many of those were students from the service academies who made the cross-country trip.

The Midshipmen scored on the opening kickoff and were not seriously threatened. Led by running back Napoleon McCallum, who rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown, Navy prevailed 42-13.

4. Army breaks the drought (2016)

Army topped Navy 26-17 in 2001. That would be the last time the Black Knights would beat the Midshipmen for more than a decade, as Navy reeled off a 14-game win streak that lasted well into the 2010's.

2016, however, saw a reversal of fortune for the Black Knights. Spurred by two early rushing touchdowns from Andy Davidson, Army jumped out to a 14-0 lead at halftime. Navy forged back to take a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter, but a nine-yard plunge by Ahmad Bradshaw gave the Black Knights a 21-17 lead they would not relinquish. Army would go on to top Navy in both 2017 and 2018 to trim Navy's edge in the series, which stands at 61-52-7 heading into the 2020 renewal.

3. The game that almost wasn't (1963)

The assassination of President Kennedy rocked the nation and nearly altered the trajectory of the 1963 national championship game. Navy was ranked second in the country behind Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, and Army had a capable squad that boasted just two losses.

Branches of the military are expected to observe a 30-day mourning period, and there was uncertainty as to whether or not the Army-Navy game would be played. The decision was made to move it back a week, and when it was played, the two sides put forth one of the rivalry's most memorable contests.

Navy's Pat Donnelly found the end zone three times, and the Midshipmen led the Cadets 21-7 with 10 minutes to play. Army mounted a furious charge, first getting to within six points and then recovering an onside kick. The ensuing drive fell just a few yards short of the game-tying touchdown, and Navy escaped with its national championship hopes intact.

2. The original "Game of the Century" (1944)

With the world at war in 1944, it's fitting that Army and Navy housed the country's top two college football teams. Due to tremendous public interest, the game was moved from Navy's home field, Thompson Stadium, to the more spacious Municipal Stadium in Baltimore.

Nearly 67,000 people showed up for the contest, which was close through three quarters. Army led by just two points heading into the final stanza, but scored twice late in pulling away to win 23-7. With the victory, Army secured the first of two back-to-back national championships in a run that included three straight undefeated seasons from 1944 through 1946.

1. The tie (1926)

Both Army and Navy looked to clinch a national championship when the two teams met at Soldier Field in Chicago. The game served as a dedication of the venue to American soldiers who served during World War I, and more than 100,000 people paid witness to a classic.

The two teams played each other to a 21-21 tie. While Army's stout defense had shut out five prior opponents, the Cadets had lost to Notre Dame two weeks earlier. Navy, meanwhile, was undefeated, and as a result, the Midshipmen were named national champions.