Much like the city of Philadelphia itself, the annual college football match-up between the U.S. Military and Naval Academies, colloquially known as the Army-Navy Game, has a storied history that echoes that of the city in which the match has been held more than any other. Since the Army-Navy Game’s inception in 1890, Philadelphia has hosted the match a record 81 times, far surpassing its nearest competitors, New York (11) and Baltimore (4). After the rivalry’s first four matches incited passionate reactions and a near duel between two officers in 1893, the Army-Navy Game was suspended for five years until Philadelphia was selected as a neutral site for the game in 1899. Roughly equidistant from both West Point and Annapolis, Philadelphia was considered a prime location, as organizers hoped relocating the game away from the campuses of either academy would diffuse tensions and encourage good sportsmanship. Throughout the early 20th century, the Army-Navy Game was held at Franklin Field on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania before moving to Municipal Stadium, later John F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, in 1936 and later Lincoln Financial Field in 1980.
Newspaper accounts from the turn of the 20th century describe the Army-Navy Game as a city-wide event, with hotels and homes bedecked in the blue, yellow, and gray of West Point or the blue and gold of Annapolis, while citizens and tourists alike flooded the streets of Philadelphia carrying badges and pennants to show their allegiance to either academy. The players themselves, accompanied by marching bands and their respective mascots, the Navy Goat and Army Mule, processed through the streets up to Franklin Field, which consistently exceeded its seating capacity. Ticket scalpers were common and by 1934 were charging as much as $75 for choice seats, a blemish on the event that later inspired a Congressional investigation. Traditionally, the Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of War attended as representatives of their respective departments and the game also drew many governors, mayors, and other political notables. In addition, the game was also a significant event on the East Coast social calendar, as special luncheons and dinners, including a Naval Academy alumni dance at the Bellevue-Stratford hotel, surrounded the match and the box seats occupied by socialites and dignitaries were chronicled in the New York Times society pages.
Inevitably, Franklin Field struggled to accommodate the sheer number of people who desired to attend the Army-Navy Game and the search for a new location with larger facilities threatened to move the match out of Philadelphia. In 1905, the Army-Navy Game took place at Osborne Field on the campus of Princeton University, but transportation problems involving the local train lines rendered Princeton a less desirable option moving forward. The Army-Navy Game returned to Philadelphia and Franklin Field from 1906-1912 before relocating to the New York Polo Grounds in 1913. The Polo Grounds then became a favored site for the game for the rest of the decade and thereafter the Army-Navy Game was periodically played at other sites as well, including Chicago’s Soldier Field and New York City’s Yankee Stadium. Notably, the variety of venues, which continued into the mid-1930s, was considered more equitable to both sides after representatives from West Point argued that holding the game in Philadelphia every year favored Annapolis, which generally had an easier time commuting to Franklin Field.
In 1936, Philadelphia mayor-elect S. Davis Wilson proposed hosting the Army-Navy Game at Municipal Stadium, a 100,000 seat stadium located at the far southern end of South Broad Street that was originally built for the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition. The first Army-Navy Game at Municipal Stadium drew a capacity crowd that included First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Pennsylvania Railroad ran 35 special trains direct to the stadium out of a fleet of 105 locomotives put in service especially for the event. In the years that followed, Municipal Stadium became the favored venue for the Army-Navy Game, which also saw Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Ford in attendance over the years. President Kennedy especially took an active part in the game, conducting the coin toss at the start of each match and parading across the field at halftime. Following President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, officials considered canceling the Army-Navy Game, but the match was eventually held on December 7 at the express request of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The following year, Municipal Stadium was renamed John F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in honor of the late President and the President’s brother, Bobby Kennedy, attended the Army-Navy Game with his family to mark the occasion.
John F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium continued to host the Army-Navy Game until 1980, at which time it moved to neighboring Veterans Stadium and ultimately to Lincoln Financial Field. By the time the match relocated to Veterans Stadium, the Army-Navy Game had declined in national importance and the crowd of 60,470 who attended the game in 1981 was the lowest crowd recorded since 1943. Still, the Army-Navy Game remains a legendary event in American sports and a notable part of Philadelphia history, as captured so vividly in the collection of photographs now displayed on PhillyHistory.org.
“102,000, East’s Largest Football Crowd, Will See Army-Navy Classic Today.” New York Times, November 28, 1936.
“Army-Navy Game.” 26 July 2010. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army%E2%80%93Navy_Game (Accessed 6 August 2010).
“Army-Navy Game History: Rivalry History.” Philadelphia’s Official Army-Navy Website 6 August 2010 http://www.phillylovesarmynavy.com/RIVALRY-HISTORY (Accessed 6 August 2010).
“Army-Navy Game Postponed to November 7; Usual Ceremonies Will be Eliminated.” New York Times, November 27, 1963.
“Army Triumphs Over Navy in Football.” New York Times, November 29, 1903.
“Army Versus Navy: A Dimming of Splendor.” New York Times, November 29, 1975.