“Yesterday’s football game between Annapolis and West Point is the first instance on record of competition between the two national institutions. In army and navy circles it is looked upon as the beginning of a series which will vie in importance with any of the great intercollegiate matches.”
-The New York Times, November 30, 1890
One of the cooler things that has been showing up on the internet is an expanding collection of newspaper archives, going back about as long as there has been a press. Way easier than poring through leather volumes of periodicals or blinding microfiche in Nimitz Library, I find it enjoyable to read how historic events well-known to us today were portrayed to the public when they actually happened. Curious about how the sinking of the MAINE was reported the day after? You got it. How did she do in sea trials? Got that too. It’s a glut of information, if you want it, as well as a certain drain of time.
Of course, all this gives us is another angle from which to blather about Navy sports. Especially given the prominent role Navy played in the early years of collegiate athletics, there is a potential windfall of material out there most of us have never seen. In that vein, I think it would be fun to inspect well-known events in Navy sports history through the words of the journalists of the day. And what better place to start, than the very first Army-Navy game?
Wax your moustache, call for your pipe and your bowl, and loosen your high rise trou. This was Navy Football in 1890.
“When victory finally perched on the maroon and white colors of the Naval Academy … “
We won the cheering competition, apparently:
A group of naval sympathizers … gives in startling chorus this cry: “Rah, rah, rah! Hi, ho, hah! U. S. N. A! Boom, siss, bah! The Navee!” There is so much of this cheer and it is given so vehemently that the army looks frightened for a moment. At this point however the West Point team appears. … It is greeted with a rousing “Rah, rah, rah! U. S. M. A!”
Gonna have to keep our ears perked to hear if Keenan calls any of these audibles this season:
“Splice the mainbrace!” shouts the Captain of the navy, and immediately a hole is made in the army’s centre. “Tack ship!” is the cry, and off for the end dashes a half back. “Wear ship!” and off goes another for the other end. “Anchors in sight!” “Veer chains!” “Reef topsails!” and “Savez the Bobstay!” are other examples of this marvelous code of signals caught during the game.
I’m guessing RADM Luce would not have been cool with filling in Dewey Basin for a sports field:
In a recent paper before the United States Naval Institute Rear Admiral Luce severely deprecated the tendency of men in the navy to resort to sport on shore. He pointed out that there was too much baseball and too much football; that instead of finding recreation in boat sailing, rowing, swimming, and the like the young naval apprentice and officers generally found it more congenial to seek sport on land. The Admiral believed the navy tended too much toward the military.
(Don’t look at me, I passed my kayaking class.)
And finally, it looks like NAAA has had our athletes’ backs from day 1:
Another thing that struck terror in the heart of the army was the announcement in confidence from the navy that the discipline at Annapolis had permitted the football team to eat hot beefsteak for supper, a privilege not accorded to any other naval cadet. Such consideration and co-operation on the part of a Faculty almost unnerved the army, but it grittily determined if it must die it would die in the glory of doing its utmost to avoid defeat.
Verily, there shall be hot beefsteak for all.
There’s a lot of humor in articles from this time period, and more than enough hyperbole. But one can’t help but be struck by how interchangeable some of the themes are from that era to ours. The struggle to find balance between brains and brawn, Athens and Sparta in training midshipman? At least 124 years old it seems. Institutional policies affecting the competitiveness of the respective service academies against one another? It started with the menu for evening meal. Intense alumni interest in the running of affairs at their commissioning source? “Every officer in the [Army], it is said, will take this defeat directly to heart, and no matter what Col. Wilson’s personal ideas may be on the subject, it is believed impossible for him to resist, even should he feel so desirous, the temptation to bring these two teams together again.”
Everything old is new again.