Michie Stadium will host a really totally different Military-Navy sport at West Level
Instead, the game will be played at Michie Stadium at the West Point post in New York, arguably the most scenic football stadium in the country, but which only hosted the Army-Navy once – in 1943 during World War II.
There will be approximately 9,000 spectators at the stadium – including approximately 4,300 from the Corps of Cadets and 4,300 from the Brigade of Midshipmen. Each school is allowed to have around 200 VIPs watching from luxury glazed boxes after they came to the Thayer Hotel, known as the father of the academy, that morning at the Thayer Hotel, just behind the gate named after Sylvanus Thayer.
The two sporting directors – Army’s Mike Buddie and Navy’s Chet Gladchuck – debated the possibility of postponing the game last June when it emerged that the pandemic would have a huge impact on the college football season.
“We had two goals that were absolute,” said Buddie. “The first was to play the game. If we could just play one game all season, we’d have to find a way to play Army-Navy. The second was to make sure the brigade and corps could participate in the game. “
It was the second target that brought about the change of venue. As the season progressed, it became increasingly clear that local protocols would make it difficult to get very many people into the stadium. Officials in Philadelphia let Buddie and Gladchuck know in October that they were virtually certain the game was to be played in an empty or nearly empty Lincoln Financial Field.
Then the question arose of where to play.
In the end, the only answer was Michie Stadium.
Any other venue, including the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, is subject to local protocols. Michie Stadium is located on an army post, so it is a US government installation that is not subject to local protocols. The Navy Stadium, on the other hand, is about 1 mile from Gate 8 of The Yard. It is located on land that is part of the state of Maryland and is therefore subject to local protocols. Having played several home games this fall, the brigade was banned from the Navy’s final home game against Tulsa last week.
“The fact that it was going to be our home game probably made the decision for Chet and me easier,” said Buddie. “But even if it had been Navy’s home game, there would have been no other choice. It might have made that conclusion a little harder for us. “
“Home game” in Army-Navy jargon means the team wear home uniforms, occupy the larger locker room in the NFL stadium where the game is played, and march on the field first – nothing that directly affects the game . The number of tickets is evenly distributed for both teams and the roar changes from one side of the stadium to the other.
It won’t be any different this year. The Corps of Cadets will sit on the stadium’s home team side. the brigade opposite. For every Army VIP added to the invitee list, the Navy added one of its own.
“The only advantage we will have is that our players don’t have to travel,” said Buddie. “But for the Navy players, it won’t be so different from a normal year.”
Buddie and Gladchuck debated whether the players’ families should enter the stadium – something they clearly wanted to do, if it was at all possible. In the end, they decided against it for two reasons. “Because our players are so far away, a lot of families would have to travel by plane to get to the game,” said Buddie. “That was a problem.”
The other was more basic. Michie Stadium is winterized after Thanksgiving, which means the lines on the upper deck are closed. “I’m sure the family members wouldn’t have minded going down three levels to use the bathroom,” said Buddie. “But they would have to interact with the students when they get there.”
After the decision was made on October 23 to move the game to West Point, the logistics had to be put together: a hotel for the Navy team; Testing for everyone in the mail; Alerting the secret service, which is always planning the president (or possibly the president-elect this year) to come to the game – and figure out how to tell those who couldn’t come why they can’t.
The more than 4,000 members of the brigade will take the bus from Annapolis to West Point on Saturday morning “super early”, according to the Navy Public Affairs Office.
Your goal will make this game stand out after more than 75 years of neutral fields. For safety reasons, the Army-Navy Games in 1942 and 1943 were played on home fields: The Navy’s Thompson Stadium, located in the courtyard, was the venue for the first year; Michie Stadium closest.
The idea of playing on one of the two home fields disappeared after the Second World War because the game was too big – and the potential for money to be made too big. It has since been played in Philadelphia (for most of the years), the Meadowlands, Baltimore, Pasadena, California, and Washington – counting Prince George’s County as Washington.
In 1999 Sports Illustrated chose Michie Stadium as the third largest sports venue in the world – behind only Yankee Stadium and Augusta National Golf Club. Personally, I would place Michie in front of these two places. It’s fantastically scenic. Both the Lusk Reservoir and the Hudson River are visible from the stadium’s home page, and towering trees dominate the view beyond the north end. Most important is the quality of the people who play their home games there.
That will be the case again on Saturday – for both teams. The game should be competitive. During a 14-season stretch from 2002 to 2015, Navy (under coaches Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo) dominated the series so much that the game lost some of its luster as it was often good in hand before the start of the fourth quarter. That began to change in 2014 when the Army hired Jeff Monken – a former assistant to Johnson at Navy and Georgia Tech – and flipped the program.
This strange fall, the Mids are 3-6 and struggling to find an effective quarterback. Last year’s starter Malcolm Perry now plays for the Miami Dolphins. Niumatalolo tried to replace him on this side from Roger Staubach. The Army has also used a variety of quarterbacks – six total – but that’s mostly due to injuries. The Black Knights, who wiped out nine of the twelve games in their original schedule by the coronavirus, are 7-2, but have not played nearly as challengingly as Navy.
All of the Army and Navy traditions are expected to be in place on Saturday: the demonstrations; the parachutists; the flyovers; and, of course, playing Alma matters at the end of the game.
It won’t feel like that. It won’t be the same. But it will be Army-Navy. And there is still nothing like it in sport.