The Army-Navy football game highlights a century-old tradition

By Gianni Wallenda

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

Each 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 college football regular season. The game is one of the longest-running rivalries in college sports, beginning in 1890 and having been played continuously since 1930.

The rivalry’s longevity can be attributed to the constant rivalry between the US military branches. The Army makes fun of the Navy for being fancy, the Navy can’t make fun of the Army because the Army is obviously the best, and everyone makes fun of the Air Force. The rivalry remains generally in friendly territory, as most service members ultimately 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 father has been in the military for over twenty years and that means many different things to my family. This means that cataclysm is the norm, not the exception, and that I consider myself lucky to have grown up mostly in one place. But it also means that for every community we leave behind, we welcome a new community of military families willing to live with us, whether it’s for three months or three years. And that means once a year I take myself and my limited football knowledge, sit in front of the TV screen and cheer on the Army football team.

Photo of the Wallenda family in 2017.

It has not always been easy to support the military. Navy went on a fourteen-year winning streak in 2001, meaning I spent my entire childhood rooting for a losing team. It’s not easy to stand 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.

To be honest, I didn’t watch most of the game. I would come out of my room every now and then, ask how he was, grab a snack and retreat back. However, I showed up just before the end of the game to see the army secure its first victory over the navy in my lifetime. To celebrate, my father and I grabbed the “Forward, Army, Defeat the Navy” flag that was hanging outside our door and ran around the neighborhood yelling and screaming. At least I think we screamed and screamed. 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 father would be deployed to the Middle East again. He was assigned for my entire 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 subsequent years, to be honest. 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 big event.

Given how much the military community is in a state of constant change, it’s comforting to find things that will stay the same. Outposts like the store and the exchange, the stores on military bases, look pretty much the same on most bases. No matter where we live, my family will have pizza and movie night every Saturday. Since I moved to college, I was separated from these familiar experiences. I created new routines and found new places to return to. But I always appreciate any opportunity to go back to something familiar, which is why I follow the army-fleet game so closely.

Now, I don’t want to sell myself as a dedicated football fan. Last year I played on mute on my phone while watching Die Hard with friends. It’s not about turning this game into some sort of Super Bowl-level event complete with a viewing party and snacks. It’s about finding that connection to my childhood and my family that can be so easy to lose during this busy season. And it’s about beating Navy.

Gianni Wallenda is a junior global business specialist and A&E editor for Cedars. She’s too into animation, caffeine, and oddly enough, Dracula.

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