I'm sitting at USAA's Army-Navy Media Row in Boston, Massachusettes, for the 124th Army-Navy game presented by USAA, with tears in my eyes. I just finished interviewing USAA's CEO Wayne Peacock about what the Army-Navy game means to America, the importance of community, and everything he and the incredible team at USAA are doing to Face the Fight to end veteran suicide. The energy in the room is electric; sportscasters broadcasting live, Medal of Honor recipients conducting interviews, hundreds of veterans flooding the halls, Rob Gronkowski giving away vehicles to military families in need, all in preparation for "America's Game." At Media Row, I've sat down with everyone from the Secretary of the Army (who, btw, is a total badass) to an 81-year-old TikTok influencer (looking at you, PatrioticKenny!) and I can't help but feel overwhelmingly grateful. Army-Navy is truly the best event in sports and you will not change my mind.
Here are 8 reasons I'm right:
1. The reunion
My flight landed at almost midnight Thursday night but the party was still going when I rolled into the hotel. As I walked into the lobby and saw so many familiar faces, it felt like coming home. Friends I haven't seen in years, colleagues I only see at Army-Navy; the camaraderie is second-to-none. The reunion is truly the best part. Watching Army buddies reunite who haven't seen each other since their time in service; crusty sailors drinking beers, reliving their glory days at the Naval Academy; so many veterans come together for this once-a-year event. There's something poignant about being around people who "get it," who know each other's war stories, who have their own to tell (and the tales get a little bigger and better each year), and, let's be honest, who are relentless in their teasing.
2. The uniforms
Show me a sporting event that has more thoughtful and meaningful uniforms. According to the Army-Navy website, the 2023 Army West Point uniforms for the 124th Army-Navy Game tell the story of the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division during the opening phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and the Marne Division’s participation in the initiation of offensive operations in Iraq, the longest and most rapid armored advance since the Second World War. The 3rd Infantry Division’s success hinged upon its ability to seize and maintain the initiative against a determined adversary in harsh and unforgiving terrain. The Dogface Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division accomplished this feat through the clear application of the U.S. Army’s characteristics of the offensive: surprise, concentration, audacity, and tempo.
The Navy's uniform is flooded with Eclipse Navy (UA's darkest shade of navy blue) to mimic the covert design of a submarine hull. The uniform was purposefully designed to embody the submarine force's nickname: Silent Service. The overall design was intended to be simple and utilitarian to convey the stealth purposes of a submarine's design.
3. The history
This is the 124th meeting of the two teams, making it one of the oldest rivalries in college sports (some of those Ivy leaguers beat us out, but Army-Navy is still better). Navy leads the series 62–54–7, but Army is on a one-game winning streak after last year's double-overtime victory. Fun fact: in the 1893 game, Navy Midshipman (and later Admiral) Joseph Mason Reeves wore what is now considered the first football helmet, after a doctor told him one more kick to the head could result in serious brain trauma or death. Reeves commissioned a local shoemaker to make him something to protect his noggin, and thus, the helmet was born. Don't see that innovation in other games. You're welcome, brains everywhere.
4. The prisoner exchange
Every year, selected juniors from both academies study at the other institution. Think study abroad, but just a few states away. Following their semesters away, they're "returned" at the prisoner exchange before the Army-Navy game. For these mids and cadets, it's such an emotional moment as they come home, to the cheers of thousands of their peers and fans.
5. The Spirit Spots
The spirit spots put out by each Academy are hilarious taunts at the other school. This year's Army video:
This year's Navy video:
And throwback to one of our all-time favorites by the incomparable Rylan Tuohy:
6. The ball run
Each Academy runs a game ball from their respective campuses to the game. This was a littttttle bit easier when the game was in Philly - turns out Boston is pretty far from Annapolis - 463 miles to be exact. According to USNA, the run will be split into 8-12-mile legs with runners running between one and four legs each over the full route, anywhere up to 48 miles per runner. The game balls are presented on the field by each school prior to kickoff.
7. "Sing second"
At the end of the game, both teams' school hymns are sung. The winning team stands with the losing team and faces the losing student section while their song is sung, and then the losing team goes with the winners to sing the winner's song with their student section. "Sing second" is a rallying cry for alums and students, alike.
8. What it means
The Army-Navy game is everything to the students, to the alums, and should be, to the country. Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts explained, "It's all about service. Everybody who’s out there has raised their right hand. Everybody who is on the field will be rolling the dice for everybody who is watching." Retired Navy Captain Bill White of USAA elaborated, "We all know the players will leave the field and go out and serve our country, but so will every member of the marching band. Every cheerleader. Think about that: every cheerleader on the field will die for you." Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth agreed. "It's about the fact that there are these incredible young Americans, who no matter which team they're on, have signed up to serve their country," she said. Wayne Peacock shared, "We became the presenting sponsor in 2009. It really was born out of an opportunity to showcase the game and bring it back to life. It was about telling the story about patriotism and leadership. Every year, the ability to be in the presence of the mids and cadets in formation, it brings to life the scale of what Army-Navy is all about. It gives you the sense of power of our U.S. military. Boston is where patriotism was born. Being here on the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party is so symbolic. Army-Navy is about showcasing America's best and brightest. It's about showcasing this next generation of leaders. It's bigger than football."