Army-Navy football game highlights a hundred year long tradition

By Janie Walenda

It’s hard to not be a football fan in a football family.  Every fall my home is filled with the sounds of college football on television.  I don’t mind sitting in the living room while a game is on, and I love hearing my mom or my grandma reacting to the games, but there’s only one game I ever pay attention to. 

Every year in early December, the football teams of the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy face off in the Army-Navy Game, marking the end of the regular college football season.  The game is one of the longest running rivalries in college sports, starting in 1890 and playing uninterrupted since 1930. 

The longevity of the rivalry can be attributed to the constant rivalry between the U.S. military branches.  The Army makes fun of the Navy for being posh, the Navy can’t make fun of the Army because the Army is clearly the best, and everyone makes fun of the Air Force.   The rivalry remains in generally friendly territory, as at the end of the day most servicemembers have respect for all other service members, regardless of branch.  However, that doesn’t stop “Go Army, Beat Navy” from being a common refrain in my household.  

My dad has been in the Army for over twenty years, and that has meant a lot of different things for my family.  It means that upheaval was the norm and not the exception, and that I’m considered lucky for mostly growing up in one place.  But it also means that for every community we leave behind, we are welcomed into a new community of military families who are willing to do life with us, whether it’s for three months or three years.  And it means that once a year, I take myself and my limited football knowledge, sit down in front of a television screen, and cheer on the Army football team.

The Walenda family photo in 2017.

It hasn’t always been easy to root for the Army.  The Navy began a fourteen-year winning streak in 2001, meaning that I spent my entire childhood rooting for a losing team.   It’s not easy to stick up for your team when it’s been losing for fourteen years, especially when the supporters of the winning team are Navy Seals.  But everything changed on December 10, 2016.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch most of the game.  I’d emerge from my room every once in a while, ask how it was going, grab a snack and retreat back.  However, I did emerge right before the end of the game to see Army secure its first victory over Navy in my lifetime.  To celebrate, my dad and I grabbed the “Go Army, Beat Navy” flag we had hanging outside our door, and ran around the neighborhood hooting and hollering.  At least, I think we were hooting and hollering.  But as my dad always says, “Never let an eyewitness get in the way of a good story.” 

A few weeks later my parents would tell us that my dad was going to be deployed to the Middle East again.  He had been deployed for the entirety of my seventh grade year, and would be gone for my freshman year of high school. I don’t remember much about the Army-Navy game in 2017, or any of the years following honestly.  We moved overseas, and the time zones made it impractical to watch the game in real-time.  My mom would record and watch the game the next day, and I would always check the score in the morning, but it wasn’t a huge event.  

Given how much the military community is in a constant state of change, it’s comforting to find the things that will stay the same.  The outposts like the commissary and the Exchange, stores on military bases, look pretty much the same across the majority of bases.  No matter where we live, my family will have pizza and a movie night every Saturday.  As I’ve moved to college, I’ve been separated from these familiar experiences.  I’ve created new routines and found new places to return to.  But I always cherish any opportunity to return to something familiar, which is why I follow the Army-Navy game so closely.

I don’t want to sell myself as a dedicated football fan now.  Last year, I had the game playing on mute on my phone while I was watching “Die Hard” with some friends.  It’s not about me making this game into some Super Bowl level event, accompanied by a watch party and snacks.  It is about finding that connection to my childhood and my family that can be so easy to lose throughout this busy season.  And it’s about beating Navy.

Janie Walenda is a junior Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is overly passionate about animation, caffeine and weirdly enough “Dracula.”

First appeared on cedars.cedarville.edu

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