Saturday, December 1, 2007

Tradition surrounds Army-Navy game

Frederick N. Rasmussen | Back Story
December 1, 2007

In an article in yesterday's Sun, sports columnist Rick Maese recounted the age-old Army-Navy game tradition of West Point cadets slipping into Annapolis to capture a couple of the Naval Academy's mascot goats.

Today's Army-Navy clash at M&T Bank Stadium will be the fifth time the two military academies have played the game locally.

The first time was 1893, when they met in Annapolis, with Navy winning, 6-4. Thirty-one years later, when they took to the field at the old Municipal Stadium on 33rd Street in Baltimore; this time, Army trounced Navy, 12-0.

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who thought the game would give a war-weary nation a positive boost, linked it to a war bond drive. The 70,000 fans attending the game, again at Municipal Stadium, were required to purchase war bonds with their tickets.

After Army beat a powerful Navy team, 23-7, Gen. Douglas MacArthur cabled West Point head coach Col. Earl H. "Red" Blaik from his Pacific base: "WE HAVE STOPPED THE WAR TO CELEBRATE YOUR MAGNIFICENT SUCCESS."

When the game was last played in Baltimore, in 2000 at what was then PSINet Stadium, Navy won, 30-28.

There is another tradition associated with the game that may or may not be as well-known as the kidnapping of Navy goats: the ringing of two bells on the steps of Bancroft Hall on the campus of the Naval Academy.

On the steps of Bancroft Hall is the ship's bell from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise - the "Big E," World War II's most decorated ship.

The carrier fought in the war from its beginning, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, to May 14, 1945, when a kamikaze attack off Japan destroyed its forward elevator and killed 14.

The extensive damage required the ship to withdraw from active duty and sail for Puget Sound Navy Yard for repairs. It was there when the war ended on Aug. 15, 1945. The carrier was decommissioned in 1947 and scrapped in 1960.

The ship's bell arrived at the Naval Academy in 1950 and sits on a stand that was donated by the Class of 1921. It is rung continuously, beginning when the final score of the game is known until the team returns to Bancroft Hall.

The other bell that is also rung in the post-game ceremony - and it's rung only if Navy defeats Army - is the Japanese Bell.

The 1456 Japanese temple bell was presented to Commodore Matthew C. Perry by the regent of Lew Chew, now Okinawa, during his 1854 voyage to the Far East.

The tradition began in 1900, after Navy returned from Philadelphia, where it had beaten Army, 11-7. The team's jubilant captain bonged out the winning score on the Japanese Bell.

James W. Cheevers, senior curator of the Naval Academy Museum, said in an interview with The Trident, the academy's newspaper, that the original bell was returned to Okinawa in 1987, as part of an effort to restore to the island some of its cultural items, many of which were destroyed during World War II. The current Japanese Bell is a replica.

There is another tradition that held that Naval Academy football teams pulled down window shades as they traveled by train through Baltimore - to ward off bad luck - but it has fallen into disuse. If the teams travel through Baltimore nowadays, it's aboard a bus.

When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was filming Navy Blue and Gold, an eminently forgettable 1937 film starring Jimmy Stewart, Robert Young and Florence Rice, a scene in the movie portraying Baltimore in an unfavorable light came to the attention of G.H. Pouder, vice president of the Baltimore Association of Commerce.

The disputed scene, according to Pouder, showed the Naval Academy football team en route to battle Army passing through the city on board a train with all of the car's shades pulled down.

"The team doesn't do this. It's the regiment of midshipmen, and not the team, which pulls the shades down," reported The Evening Sun.

The scene continues with a Pullman porter informing the players they are missing the sights of Baltimore, and he begins raising the shades.

"Members grab him and tell him that it is bad luck to look at Baltimore on the way to an Army game. The porter, in order to give the city a break, tells them that may be so, but they are missing about the best-looking girls in the country," reported the newspaper.

When the Naval Academy, which was required to approve the scene, refused to do so until the city gave its approval, the cinematic contretemps dropped squarely into Pouder's lap.

After checking with academy officials regarding the superstition, Pouder told film officials that it was "still strong among the Navy boys," reported the newspaper.

Pouder said he didn't really mind the original scene after all, but MGM, in a public relations gesture, agreed to rewrite the lines describing the scene's action as "just an old Navy custom," which did not in any way reflect on the city.

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Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun

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