November 27, 1926 The Army Navy Game

As the result of a friendly wager and Navy’s 10-17 loss in the 2018 game, acting SECNAV Thomas Modly announced this week, the planned construction of the Navy’s newest Destroyer. The “USS Jeff Monken” will be named after the 37th head coach, of the United States Army’s football program.

Sometime during the 1893 football season, a navy doctor told Midshipman Joseph Reeves that another kick to the head could result in “instant insanity”, even death.

Reeves commissioned an Annapolis-area shoemaker to build him a leather covering, thus making himself the father of the modern football helmet. Years later, this man of the battleship era became an ardent supporter of naval air power. Today, Admiral “Bull” Reeves is widely known as the “Father of Carrier Aviation”.

The naval academy’s football program is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1879.  The canvas jersey of that year is believed to be the first college football uniform.

First Army Navy Game
The First Army-Navy football game was played at West Point on Nov. 29, 1890, with the Navy squad achieving a 24-0 victory. (Baltimore Sun File Photo)

The Army got into the game the following year, when Navy challenged Army cadets in what was then a relatively new sport. 271 members of the corps of cadets pitched in 52¢ apiece to pay for half of Navy’s travel expenses, for that first game in 1890. That first game was played on November 29, ending in a humiliating loss for the cadets at West Point, 24-0.

The Black Knights had their revenge the following year, defeating Navy at Annapolis, 32-16.  The two teams met some 30 times between 1890 and 1930, before the game became an annual event.

f6a9fada734c536df7c1bc53796bb8f3.jpgThe two met in Chicago on November 27, 1926 in a National Dedication of Soldier Field, as a monument to American servicemen killed in the War to end all Wars.

More than just inter-service “bragging rights” are at stake. Only 17 schools can boast of having winners, of the prestigious Heisman Trophy. Army and Navy, combine for five.

West Point and Annapolis fielded some of the best teams in college football, during the first half of the 20th century. In 1944 and ’45 with the country at war, Army and Navy entered that final game of the season,with perfect records. Army finished both seasons, undefeated.

Fun Fact:  “A 1973 episode of “M*A*S*H” referenced a fictional Army-Navy game that ended 42-36 Navy. To this day, no Army-Navy game has ended with that score. The radio announcer in the episode says the game is the 53rd Army-Navy game. That game was played in 1952; Navy won, 7-0″.  H/T army.mil

Today, size and weight restrictions combine with a five-year military service commitment, while dreams of NFL careers draw some of the best football talent away from the service academies. Since 1963, only four seasons have seen both teams enter the Army-Navy game with winning records. Yet, the game remains a college football institution, receiving radio coverage every year since the late 1920s, and broadcast on national television, since 1945.

The first instant replay in American football history made its debut during the 1963 Army–Navy game.

The Army-Navy game may be the purest such event in all of college sports. These young men play for the love of the game, knowing the next few years will lead not to careers in business or sport, but to the United Sates military.

Army-Navy-702.jpegFive-year post-graduation military service commitments preclude the NFL career aspirations of most Army-Navy game veterans, but not all. Notable exceptions include Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Roger Staubach (Navy, 1965), New York Giants Wide Receiver and Return Specialist Phil McConkey (Navy, 1979), and (then) LA Raiders Running back Napoleon McCallum (Navy, 1985).

President Dwight Eisenhower earned the distinction of being the only future President in history to play the Army-Navy game in 1912, alongside future General of the Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and teammate, Omar Bradley.

Eisenhower_Football
The 1912 squad at West Point included Dwight D. Eisenhower (3rd from left) and Omar Bradley (far right)

The only game ever played west of the Mississippi was the Rose Bowl of 1983, earning the DoD Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire’s not-so-coveted “Golden Fleece” award for blowing $100,000 to transport cadets, midshipmen and mascots, to Pasadena.

How I miss those days when government pretended to look out for our money.

With capacities of only 38,000 and 34,000 respectively, Army’s Michie Stadium and Navy’s Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium are far too small, to hold the assembled crowd. Out of 117 games, only six have been played on either campus. Two of those (1942-’43), were due to WWII travel restrictions.

The Army-Navy game was canceled in 1963, part of a 30-day period of mourning, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Knowing her husband to be a big fan, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy requested the game go on.  Quarterback Roger Staubach lead his #2 nationally ranked team to a 21-15 Navy victory.

kennedy-army-navy-game.jpg

For most seniors, the “First Classmen” of either academy, the Army-Navy game carries special meaning. Some may go on to play in a bowl game, but for most, this is the last regular season football game, each will ever play. In times of war, they and others like themselves will be among the first to go, in defense of the country.  Some won’t come back alive.

The game is particularly emotional for this reason. Despite intense rivalry, it would be hard to find a duel in all of sports, where the two sides hold the other in higher regard.

The game is steeped in tradition. As opposites cheer them on, each side takes the field in a spectacle of precision drill, unmatched in any venue outside the military. After the game, teams assemble to sing the almae matres to the assembled students and fans of each institution, ‘On Brave Old Army Team’ and ‘Anchors Aweigh’.

The first such serenade is always performed for those of the losing academy, hence the coveted position of “singing second”, signifying the victor of this, the oldest sports rivalry in service academy history.

Respect and tradition is all well and good, but such rivalries do not come without a share of debauchery. During junior year, selected “Middies” and Cadets attend courses with the opposite military academy. On game day, each is restored in a “prisoner exchange”, returning from their semester in “enemy territory”.

Goats have a long history with all things maritime, having gone to sea since the age of sail and eating all manner of garbage and other undesirable food in exchange for which, she provided companionship, milk and butter. British explorer and naturalist Sir Joseph Bank’s nanny goat was the first creature two-legged or four, to circumnavigate the planet, twice.

merlin_147402201_bce4c286-d05a-4837-8f3a-3fc6f35661ea-articleLarge
A Navy goat and Army mule meet at the 1924 Army-Navy football game.Credit…U.S. Naval Institute

Navy had multiple mascots during the early years, including a gorilla, two cats, a bulldog, and a carrier pigeon. Legend has it a beloved goat once died aboard a Navy cruise.  Two ensigns cavorted about wearing the skin during half-time, before making their way to the taxidermist.

Navy won that game.  A live goat named “El Cid” (The Chief) appeared at the fourth Army-Navy game, in 1893. Navy won that game too, the third victory of those first four games. Small wonder that Billy goats have been the Navy mascot, since 1904.

The 2016 matchup was attended by “Bill” the Goat #XXXVI and his backup, Bill #XXXVII.
Small wonder too, why Army cadets will go to any length, to kidnap that goat. The first such kidnapping of the modern era, took place in 1953.

The pre-dawn raid of November 5, 1995 resulted in the ‘goatnapping’ of the entire stable, of Navy mascots. The Pentagon was notified, and the goats returned under a joint Army/Navy policy, prohibiting the “kidnapping of cadets, midshipmen or mascots”.

Cadets pulled off the caper in 2002, disguised in Grateful Dead T-shirts. “Operation Good Shepherd” launched in 2007, to kidnap Bill #XXXII, XXXIII, and XXXIV. The whole thing was posted, on You Tube.

Only the Army would mount a military operation, to kidnap a goat.  Only the Navy would contact the Pentagon, to get him back.

The Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot decided in 1899, that Army needed a mascot. Army Mules have a long history going back to George Washington, “Father of the American Mule“.  The first was a white mule, used to haul an ice wagon.   Virginia pack mule “Mr. Jackson” (named for “Stonewall”) became the first “official” mascot, in 1936.

Mr. Jackson served twelve years, the first of seventeen Army mules. Only one, “Buckshot”, was a female.  The “Mule Corps” currently consists of two Percheron crosses:  “Ranger III” and his half-brother “Stryker” and a half-thoroughbred called “Paladin”.

merlin_147431586_fb2dfc7c-7dec-4a74-9943-2d48f00f41b3-superJumbo
Senior commanders at the Naval Academy, including the superintendent, Rear Adm. Thomas Lynch, second from left, and the commandant of midshipmen, Capt. Michael Haskins, center, posed in 1991 with the Army mules that midshipmen had abducted from West Point. H/T New york Times

Always the last regular-season game in Division I-A football, the next two Army-Navy games are scheduled in Philadelphia. The game will then move to Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey, to mark the twenty-year anniversary of the Islamist terror attacks on the World Trade Center. The 2022 game moves back to Philadelphia, marking the 91st time Army and Navy have played there.

To date, Navy leads Army in the series 60-49-7, with the Black Knights ending Navy’s 14-game winning streak in 2016. The 2019 edition is scheduled for December 14, at Lincoln Financial Field.

navy-angels-uniform-1-1200As the brother, son and grandson of Army veterans going back to the Revolution and beyond, have no doubt who I’ll be rooting for.  ‘Beat Navy’.

December 24, 1822 A Right Jolly old Elf

Santa Claus may be the most powerful cultural idea, ever conceived.  This year, Christmas sales are expected to exceed one Trillion dollars.  Not bad for a 2,000-year old saint, best remembered for gift giving with no expectation of anything in return.

The historical life of St. Nicholas is shrouded in legend.  Born in modern-day Turkey on March 15, AD270, Nicholas was the only child of rich parents who died in a plague, leaving the boy a wealthy orphan.

St. Nicholas going to school
1689 fresco depicts St. Nicholas, giving to a school

Nicholas was raised in the Christian faith and became an early bishop in the Greek church. One of many stories concerning the bishop’s generosity involves a destitute father, unable to raise a dowry sufficient to marry off his three daughters. On two consecutive nights, Nicholas crept up to the man’s window, and dropped a small sack of gold coins. On the third night, the man stayed up to learn the identity of his secret benefactor, only to be asked to keep the name, secret. 

St. Nicholas saving the Three Maidens
St. Nicholas saving the Three Maidens, Decani monastery, Kosovo

Saint Nicholas passed on December 6 in the year 343. He’s entombed in a marble cathedral dedicated to his name, in Myra.

320px-Intocht_van_Sinterklaas_in_Schiedam_2009_(4102602499)_(2)
The “Sinterklass” of the Netherlands, rides a white horse

Nicholas is remembered as the patron saint of whole nations and cities such as Amsterdam and Moscow, revered among the early Christian saints and remembered for a legendary habit of secret gift-giving.

Some ideas take hold in the popular imagination, while others fade into obscurity.  The “Three Daughters” episode made it into nearly every artistic medium available at that time, from frescoes to carvings and windows, even theatrical performances.

The Patron Saint not only of sailors, but of ships and their cargoes, the seas were the internet of the day, and the story of St. Nick spread from the Balkans to Holland, from England to Crete.

Krampus-340x540The Feast of St. Nicholas took hold around the 6th of December.  Children and other marginal groups such as old women and slaves could receive gifts, but only by demanding them.  The secret giving of gifts appeared sometime around the year 1200.

On the continent, legends of St. Nicholas combined with Pagan traditions and developed in quirky directions, including an evil doppelgänger who accompanies St. Nick on his rounds.  As early as the 11th century, the Krampus may be expected to snatch bad little tykes away from parts of Germany, Austria and the Alpine villages of northern Italy, never to be seen again.

In eastern Europe, the witch Frau Perchta “The Disemboweller” was said to place pieces of silver in the shoes of children and servants who’d been good over the year, and replace the organs of the bad ones, with garbage. Yikes.

In French-speaking regions, Père Fouettard (Father Whipper) accompanies Père Noël on gift-giving rounds, dispensing beatings and/or lumps of coal to naughty boys & girls. In some German speaking regions, the malevolent Schmutzli accompanies Samichlaus, with a twig broom to spank wicked children.

Never mind Santa Claus. The Schmutzli is watching.

Samichlaus_Schmutzli_Rentiere1
Samichlaus and the Schmutzli

The “Little Ice Age” of the 13th century, led to a proliferation of chimneys.  Windows and doors were the things of thieves and vagabonds, while the chimney led directly to the warm heart of the home.  St. Nick made his first gift-giving appearance via the chimney in a three daughters fresco, painted sometime in 1392, in Serbia.

800px-Scrooges_third_visitor-John_Leech,1843
The Ghost of Christmas present as illustrated by John Leech, in Charles Dickens’ classic, a Christmas Carol

St. Nicholas was beginning to be seen as part of the family outside of the Church, which is probably why he survived what came next.  Saints reigned in the Christian world until the 16th century, when the Protestant reformation rejected such “idolatry” as a corruption of Christianity.

Whatever you called him:  Sinterklaos, Saint-Nikloi or Zinniklos, St. Nick went away entirely in England and Scotland during the time of Henry VIII, giving way to the spirit of Christmas cheer in the person of one Father Christmas.  England would no longer keep the feast of the Saint on December 6.  The celebration moved to December 25, to coincide with Christmas.

Protestants adopted as gift bringer the Baby Jesus or Christkindl, later morphing into Kris Kringle.

Puritan arrivals to New England rejected Christmas and everything with it, as “un-Christian”.  In 1644, Massachusetts levied a fine of five shillings, on anyone observing the holiday.

Santa_Claus_1863_Harpers
Santa Claus 1863, by Thomas Nast

Sinterklaas survived the iconoclasm of the Reformation in places like Holland, transferring to the 17th century settlement of New Amsterdam:  what we now know as the new world port city of New York.

Sinterklass blended with Father Christmas, to create a distinctly American Santeclaus, which began to take hold in the 19th century.

The Christmas “celebrations” of the period, looked more like Mardi Gras than what we know today.  Drunk and rowdy gangs wandered the streets of New York, Philadelphia and the cities of the northeast, something between a noisy mob and a marching band.  Men fired guns into the air and banged or blew on anything that would make noise.  Mobs would beat up the unfortunate, and break into the homes of the “upper classes”, demanding food and liquor.

New York philanthropist John Pintard, the man responsible for the holidays celebrating the fourth of July and George Washington’s birthday, popularized an image first set forth by Washington Irving, in his satirical story A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, depicting St. Nicholas bringing gifts to good little boys and girls, and switches with which to tan the hides of bad kids.

220px-MerryOldSantaThe unknown genius who published and illustrated A Children’s Friend in 1821, first depicted “Santa Claus” not as a Catholic bishop, but as a non-sectarian adult in a fur lined robe, complete with a sleigh inexplicably powered by a single reindeer, coming in through the chimney not on December 6, but on Christmas eve.

An anonymous poem believed to have been written on December 24, 1822 and later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, began with the words: “T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house“…

A Visit From St. Nicholas“, better known by its first line, gave us the first description of the modern Santa Claus and a tool for domesticating the occasion, agreeable to law enforcement for calming the rowdy streets, to manufacturers and retailers for selling goods, to the church to make way for a family friendly day of worship and to parents, to control unruly children.

Goody_Santa_Claus_1889
Goody Santa Claus 1889

The “Right Jolly old Elf” took his modern form thanks to the pen of illustrator and editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast, creator of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant and scourge of the Tammany Hall political machine which had swindled New York city, out of millions.

The idea of a Mrs. Claus seems to come from a poem by Katharine Lee Bates of the Cape Cod Curmudgeon’s own town of Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Today, the author is best known for her 1895  poem “Pikes Peak”, later set to music and widely known as “America the Beautiful”.

Tonight, NASA may be expected to track Santa and his sleigh drawn by eight reindeer, though none are any longer, all that tiny.  Santa Claus will appear around the planet. Regional variations include Santa’s arriving on a surfboard in Hawaii.  In Australia, he’s pulled by six white kangaroos.  In Cajun country, Papa Noël arrives in a pirogue, drawn by eight alligators.

69c173c1af76a36f2aae98f4dfe183b6

Santa Claus may be the most powerful cultural idea, ever conceived.  This year, Christmas sales are expected to exceed one Trillion dollars.  Not bad for a 2,000-year old saint, best remembered for gift giving with no expectation of anything in return.

Fun fact:  Today, the port city of Bari on the Adriatic coast of Italy is remembered for the WW2-era mustard gas accident, which spawned the discovery of modern chemotherapy drugs. A thousand years earlier, city fathers feared growing Muslim influence over the tomb of Saint Nicholas, and went to retrieve his remains.  Find him, they did.  Saint Nicholas’ large bones were removed and brought back as holy relics to Bari, where they remain, to this day.  Smaller fragments were removed during the 1st Crusade and brought back to Venice, or enshrined in basilica from Moscow to Normandy.  According to one local antiquarian, the “Tomb of Saint Nicholas” in Ireland, is probably that of a local priest.

Feature image, top of page:  Hat tip GP Cox.  I don’t know where you got it, but I Love this image.  Merry Christmas and all the best for a healthy and prosperous New Year to you and yours, from Mr. & Mrs. Cape Cod Curmudgeon.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.