The Army-Navy game is a big deal. That said, over the course of this 120-year rivalry, it's been important for different reasons.
Through World War II, Army and Navy were two college-football powerhouses, able to hold their own against the likes of Rutgers and Norte Dame. Both Army and Navy have won National Championships, but that hasn't happened for either team since 1946 and 1926, respectively. Currently, across the 117 meetings of these two teams, Navy leads the series 60-50-7, thanks, in part, to a 14-year winning streak that ended with Army's 21-17 win in 2016.
A play from scrimmage during the 2002 Army-Navy game. Navy won, 58-12, after an incident where Army cadets stole the Navy's mascot. (US Navy photo)
Times have changed: Today, Army and Navy aren't regular contenders for the national championship. But even if these teams aren't competing for a national title, the Army-Navy game, which has been played routinely since 1890, is still a big deal. In fact, it's the only game played the weekend after conference championships.
Why is this game so fervently followed? There are a number of reasons outside of exciting football, two of which are unique to this match-up. First, while many Division-I college players eye professional football after graduation, those going to military academies are to fulfill a five-year service obligation. The fact is that most professional teams selecting players in the seven-round NFL draft don't have the luxury of waiting for that service obligation to end.
Although this hasn't stopped some of the greats in the past, including Roger Staubach, Phil McConkey, and Joe Cardona, it's not very likely today. That means that the men on the field are playing purely for the love of the sport, not for a contract down the line.
Dallas Cowboys Hall-of-Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, who threw 153 TDs in a career that began after service in the United States Navy. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Second, what sets the Army-Navy game apart from other college football matches is the fact that the players in this game, at some point in the next four years, will be defending our country. Each year, first-class cadets and midshipmen storm Lincoln Field in Philadelphia, ready and willing to play for pride, while they're just months away from joining a military still fighting a global war on terror.
All will serve bravely and, unfortunately, some of them may even make the ultimate sacrifice. In July 2010, former Army quarterback Chase Prasnicki was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. The Army-Navy game is just as much a celebration of the brave, young service members that defend our home as it is a celebration of sport. That is why the Army-Navy game is such a big deal.