Army-Navy Football Game, Despite Wartime Conditions, is Played Anyway

 
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Army-Navy Football Game, Despite Wartime Conditions, is Played Anyway

Thompson Stadium, on campus of U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis MD
Pictured is the 1942 Army-Navy game; Severn River in the background
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: November 28, 1942

For today, we will take another stroll down memory lane for previous incarnations of the Army-Navy football game. My loyal readers know that from time to time, I spotlight the military and college – or pro – football. So, here's another installment.

Background

Formerly played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Army vs. Navy on the college gridiron has now been allocated the second Saturday of December, so that it does not conflict with any of the Division I conference championship which are normally played the previous weekend. This essentially makes it the final regular-season game of each college football season.

The game is considered a college football institution. It has aired nationally on radio since the late 1920s, and has been nationally televised every year since 1945. It has been broadcast on CBS since 1996, and that network's current contract runs through 2028.

With only a few exceptions, the game has been played in the American Northeast, usually in Philadelphia, PA (the game has been played in some venue in this city 86 times since 1893). But the 1942 game would break a number of traditions surrounding the annual tussle.

Run-up to the 1942 Army-Navy Game

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, believing the game was important for national morale, suggested that the 1942 game be played in Annapolis, at Thompson Stadium, on the Navy campus in an effort to conserve transportation resources due to World War II, with the 1943 game scheduled to be played at West Point NY, site of the U.S. Military Academy. The game would be radio broadcast around the world.

President Franklin Roosevelt issued a decree that only residents within 10 miles of Annapolis could attend. Roosevelt declared that the war effort did not need to be impeded in any way by the train system having to create special routes to cart attendees to the game, which was the norm for major sporting events at the time. The 10-mile rule meant that residents of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, the two largest cities near Annapolis, could not attend. The only exceptions were Academy employees, girlfriends of midshipmen, and a limited number of members of the press. Those who received tickets were required to sign a form stating that they lived inside the radius and that they would not resell the tickets.

Another consideration was the wartime rationing of gasoline and rubber tires, which encouraged people not to take long or frivolous trips because of the war effort.

The imposed restrictions meant the West Point Corp of Cadets, with the exception of two cheerleaders, would not be permitted to attend the game. Thus, the Naval Academy's superintendent ordered all third- and four-year midshipmen to serve as the Army cheering section, while the other half would root for the Mids. They took instruction from cheer books sent down from West Point. These cheer books featured humorous illustrations of goats braying like mules and cartoons of midshipmen cheering with fingers crossed.

Not far from the superintendent's residence, Thompson Stadium – the site of the game – sat on the edge of Spa Creek, on the present site of Lejeune Hall swimming complex. Construction of the 12,000-seat stadium was completed in 1912. According to Naval Academy lore, it was built with steel originally intended to construct war ships but diverted to the academy to serve as the foundations of the grandstands.

As game day approached, the underdog Navy team practiced along the shores of the Severn River with canvas walls stretched along the sidelines to ensure secrecy. "Jimmy," a stand-in Army mule was secured from a farm just outside of Annapolis and was set to patrol the Cadet sidelines. The night before the game a Navy pep rally was held on Farragut Field, but no bonfire was lit due to wood rationing.

Gameday: Army-Navy Football

The day of the game brought equally surreal scenes to the Annapolis waterfront. Representatives from the federal Office of Price Administration, charged with enforcing rationing, inspected cars in the vicinity of the stadium to ensure none had improperly carried fans to Annapolis.

President Franklin Roosevelt telegrammed both teams, mindful that "the graduates of the two academies are engaged, shoulder to shoulder, in the grim game of war. Throughout the world, they are knitting … the ties of comradeship which they first formed on the playing fields of the homeland."

Navy's football team entered the season-ending game with Army sporting a 4-4-0 record, all four losses by shutouts.

Army & Navy co-captains Alan Cameron (left) & Henry Mazur (#45) prepare for the coin toss; Image courtesy of http://goldenrankings.com/footballdidyouknow7.htm
Army & Navy co-captains Alan Cameron (left) & Henry Mazur (#45) prepare for the coin toss
Image courtesy of http://goldenrankings.com/footballdidyouknow7.htm

On November 28, 1942 the Army-Navy game was played in Annapolis for the first time since 1893. The crowd, estimated at 10,000 to 12,000 people, saw the Midshipmen dominate the Cadets, not even allowing Army across midfield until the fourth quarter.

Navy backup halfback Joe Sullivan opened the scoring with a short touchdown run in the second quarter. Hillis Hume set up the other touchdown with an interception deep in Cadet territory midway through the third stanza. Hal Hamberg proceeded to hit Ben Martin with an 18-yard scoring strike. Hume clinched the win with another interception of Army quarterback Doug Kenna at the Navy seven-yard line. When the final whistle blew, Navy turned back Army, 14-0.

The game has not been played in Annapolis since.

Some of the action from the 1942 Army-Navy game; Image courtesy of http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/army-navy-1942-story.html
Some of the action from the 1942 Army-Navy game
Image courtesy of http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/army-navy-1942-story.html

Aftermath

The following year, Navy would travel to West Point to play the Cadets, with the same travel and ticketing restriction as the 1942 game. The final result was a 13-0 triumph by Navy. The next six years would see Army dominate the rivalry, going 5-0-1, with the Cadets extending their dominance over Navy by 27-19-4.

Footnote #1: This year's Army-Navy tussle will again take place in Philadelphia, at Lincoln Financial Field. The game will remain in Philadelphia through 2020. Then, in 2021, the game's site will be located at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford NJ, -- 10 miles from the site of the World Trade Center – for the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.

Footnote #2: In addition to the usually Army-Navy rivalry, the winner of this year's game will be awarded the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Both the Midshipmen and the Black Knights have defeated the Air Force Falcons earlier this season.

Footnote #3: Going into the 118th playing of the Army-Navy game, the Midshipmen lead the Black Knights by 60-50-7. Army is looking to build on last year's 21-17 victory over Navy, breaking the Midshipmen's 14 game winning streak.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.