The U.S. military's annual mother of all battles is once again coming to TV screens across the globe as the Army Black Knights meet the Navy Midshipmen on Dec. 8, 2018 in Philadelphia. Along with more than 100 years of history, the game comes steeped in traditions that range from the usual smack talk between fans to events that can only be found when Army plays Navy.
Almost all American sporting events feature the National Anthem, many games get a U.S. military flyover, and every sports rivalry is characterized by fans going above and beyond to demonstrate their team spirit. The Army-Navy Game has all of those, except this game gets a flyover from two service branches and fans in attendance willing to break strict uniform regulations to show their spirit.
Along with the traditions typical of every other sporting event, the Army-Navy Game comes with the added traditions of two military academies that are older than the sport they're playing, of military branches whose own traditions date back to the founding of the United States, and a unique culture developed through the history of American military training.
And despite the intense rivalry, it's all in good fun.
1. The Prisoner Exchange
Before the game kicks off, seven West Point cadets and seven Annapolis midshipmen will march to midfield in Philadelphia to be returned to their home military academies. These "prisoners" were sent to their rival service academies in the Service Academy Exchange Program, which sends students from each of four service academies (along with West Point and Annapolis, the Air Force Academy and the Coast Guard Academy also participate) for the fall semester.
The prestigious, competitive exchange program began its semester-long life in 1975 and has remained the same ever since. Each academy sends seven sophomore students to the other academies. The "Prisoner Exchange" allows the visiting cadets and mids to sit with their team's fans.
2. The Army-Navy Drumline Battle
At the Army-Navy Game, there's more confrontation than just what happens on the football field. Before the game, the bands representing each branch engage in a drumline – one as much about showmanship as it is about skills with the sticks.
3. "The March On"
Before the kickoff of every Army-Navy Game, the cadets of the U.S. Military Academy and the midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy take the field. No, not just the teams playing the game that day, the entire student body — thousands of people — march on the field in the way only drilled and trained U.S. troops can.
4. "Honoring the Fallen"
Every Army-Navy Game is going to see one loser and one winner. No matter what the outcome of the game, the players sing both teams' alma maters. The winners will join the losing team, facing the losing side's fans. Then, the two groups will do the same for the winning team. It's a simple act of respectful sportsmanship that reminds everyone they're on the same side.
To date, this tradition hasn't caught on across college teams, but it might be happening as we speak. The Navy team invites every school it plays to sing "Navy Blue and Gold" after the game, and sometimes they do, like in 2014, when the Ohio State Buckeyes joined in.
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