This year, the 117th Army-Navy game was played with Army winning for the first time in 14 years, renewing the rivalry between the two service academies that started in the late 1800s. These two programs are full of tradition, and this game has several as well, including the frequent attendance of United States presidents.
President-elect Donald Trump was on hand for this year’s game, continuing a long standing tradition that began with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. Presidents spent one half on Navy’s side of the stadium and the other on Army’s.
It’s not clear whether President Trump’s attendance as “President Elect” was the first time this has happened.
When did this tradition begin?
The president to start this was Theodore Roosevelt, all the way back in 1901. The 26th President of the United States took a train to Philadelphia, according to the Washington Post, and arrived right before kickoff.
“The President’s silk hat was on his head scarcely five seconds from the time he entered the grounds until he had taken his seat, so continuous was the ovation,” The Post reported.
Roosevelt also started the tradition of switching sides at halftime.
Army first, then Navy, with the secretary of defense doing the opposite. This was to ensure at least one leader was on each side during the game. Here’s Roosevelt crossing the field in 1901, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Below is a detailed itinerary for this moment, as well as Roosevelt’s plans for the whole game
So what other presidents have gone to the game?
Since Roosevelt, eight have attended. So President-elect Trump could technically be the ninth, although he obviously hasn’t been inaugurated yet.
Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge attended in 1913 and 1924, respectively.
Then came Harry Truman, who holds the POTUS record for seven attended Army-Navy games. What’s interesting is that Truman, a former Army major and reserve colonel, didn’t switch sides every year. But because he attended the Army-Navy game each year while in office (1945-53), he could alternate which cheering section he sat with from year to year.
Photo via The Washington Post
Here’s a list of presidents after Truman, according to Navy.
1961: John F. Kennedy – Navy, 13-7
1962: John F. Kennedy – Navy, 34-14
1974: Gerald Ford – Navy, 19-0
1996: Bill Clinton – Army, 28-24
2001: George W. Bush – Army, 26-17
2004: George W. Bush – Navy, 42-13
2008: George W. Bush – Navy, 34-0
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tommy Gilligan/Released
2011: Barack Obama – Navy, 27-21
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Vice President Joe Biden, whose son served with the Army in Iraq, has also attended several times.
America’s 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the only one to have played the game, which he did in 1912 for Army. The only other U.S. presidents to graduate from either school were Ulysses S. Grant, who graduated from West Point, and Jimmy Carter, who did so from the Naval Academy.
Wait, so have President-elects attended, like Trump?
This part is a little murky, but it sounds like he’s at least the first President-elect on record to attend. The Washington Post says “it’s unclear” whether or not Trump is technically the first.
The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy
The Commander-in-Chief's trophy was created by Air Force General George B. Simler, and it is given to the three-way service academy rivalry’s winner each year. It was first awarded in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, and it has been personally awarded by the president on a number of occasions. This year, Air Force has already won it.
Here’s President Obama:
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Heading into Saturday, Navy holds a 14-game win streak in the series, which dates back to 2002. Attendees should be in for an entertaining affair, as this appears to be the year that Army could end the streak, given Navy losing starting quarterback Will Worth to injury last week against Temple. The line is currently at only 5.5 points in favor of Navy, according to OddsShark. Army is wearing some sick all-black unis, and Navy will sport these “BEAT ARMY” threads.
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