Army-Navy Football Game Still On (For Now) Despite Philly Ban on Large Gatherings

Posted on July 17, 2020 - Last Updated on September 15, 2020

The Army-Navy game this year, scheduled for Dec. 12 in Philadelphia, will be like no other contest since the rivalry began in 1890.

This says a lot given that the teams have played 116 times, including 90 times in Philadelphia, a geographically neutral site about midway between Annapolis, MD, and West Point, NY.

Possibly the only football game both teams play all season

There is a possibility that the only football game the Army and Navy teams play this year will be the contest against each other.

“There are still some unanswered questions, but I think the attention will not slow down,” said Johnny Avello, director of sportsbook operations for FanDuel.

While it’s still early, Avello puts Navy as the favorites by 4.5 points and pegs the total game score (over/under) at 42.5 points.

This game means more to them than any other,” added Avello, who also talked about the game’s enduring appeal.

Mattias Stetz, COO of Rush Street Interactive, operator of BetRivers.com, expects interest to remain as high as — if not higher than — in the past, even without spectators.

“In this new normal, almost all sporting events are taking place without crowds in the stands. With events like the UFC, we are seeing higher TV ratings than ever before, and the betting action is following suit. We expect the same for the Army-Navy game. Sports bettors will enjoy the thrill of the game regardless [of] if there is a crowd or not.”

Unanswered questions about Army-Navy game

But as to unanswered questions, many remain.

Just for starters, Army and Navy’s regular Patriot League season just got canceled. However, the league gave the service academy teams the latitude to play others on their schedules at their discretion.

For now, each team still has games, including high-profile nonleague matchups, on their slate. Army, for instance, is set to play Rice and Oklahoma. Navy has a game still scheduled against Notre Dame. Decisions about those games remain pending, but the games are in jeopardy.

Philly just banned large gatherings through February

Assuming the Army-Navy game goes off as scheduled — that’s still the plan for now, despite Philly just this week banning most large-scale events through the end of February — it is likely to have no spectators, or at most, a limited number of spectators, due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

Since the beginning, the rivalry has not played out on the gridiron just 10 times, including during the last global pandemic, the 1918 Spanish Flu.

But that was due to WWI, not the flu. In America, that pandemic had its epicenter in Philly following a patriotic parade.

The game was also notably called off for four years in the 1890s when an admiral and a general had a kerfuffle that nearly ended in a duel.

Eager to play despite all else

Officials at both academies are eager to hit Lincoln Financial Field, where they first played in 2003.

Navy leads with a record of 62 wins to Army’s 52. Last year, the Midshipmen won 31 to 7 with President Donald Trump in attendance. There’s no word yet about the president attending this year. Trump was the 10th sitting president to attend.

Mike Buddie, West Point’s athletic director, told the Military Times:

“I have no idea what that game may look like once all necessary safety measures are put in place to guard against the pandemic, but if there’s only one game played in the country this year, we fully expect it will be the Army-Navy game.”

Scott Strasemeier, Navy’s senior associate athletic director for sports information, told the Military Times:

“Really our only statement right now is we plan on playing the game in Philadelphia on Dec. 12.”

Army-Navy game may happen with no spectators

The Army-Navy game has never been played without spectators, which for now is the plan.

Lauren Cox, a spokeswoman for Philly Mayor Jim Kenney, explained where things stand from the city’s perspective this week:

“We are collectively exploring various scenarios for hosting ‘America’s Game‘ on December 12th as scheduled and working to ensure a safe and successful event for those involved — though it will likely look different than it has in the past.”

How many may be allowed to attend the game at the Linc, which is also home to the NFL’s Eagles, remains unsettled for now, Cox explained:

“Currently, in the initial modified Green Phase, the City of Philadelphia prohibits outdoor events involving more than 50 people. These restrictions do apply to Lincoln Financial Field. However, this is a fluid situation, and this policy is under constant review.”

But if conditions don’t change, no audience would be allowed at the face-off.

The game is a huge tourist draw for Philadelphia, traditionally with filled hotels, packed restaurants and events during the lead-up.

Betting interest high

DraftKings’ Avello thinks to allow no spectators would be a shame.

Much of the enduring rivalry is off the field and based on tradition, with Cadets and Midshipmen dropping to do pushups, singing their rival schools’ songs, saluting each other and the like.

Avello explained:

“The game is full of tradition, of interest to viewers at the field, bettors and watchers of the broadcast.”

He said he is “keeping fingers crossed there are fans in the stands,” or at least students from both academies present to add to the competition.

Interest in the game is always high, said Avello, because it is isolated from the regular season and stands apart from the many lesser postseason bowl games.

Typically, it is a low-scoring defensive game, he pointed out.

Navy has a “great team” but a new quarterback, whereas Army has a returning QB, which should make for a tighter game, Avello added.

With the advent of online sports betting in PA, last year was the first time wagers could be placed during the game from the field.

Presidents routinely attend

The presidential tradition of attending the contest began in 1901 with Teddy Roosevelt.

The tradition has continued with these presidents attending the game over the years:

  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Calvin Coolidge
  • Harry S. Truman
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Gerald Ford
  • Bill Clinton
  • George W. Bush
  • Barack Obama
  • Donald Trump
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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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