By DAN GELSTON
PHILADELPHIA — Army’s Jarrett Mackey hears the same order each day he walks around the barracks at West Point.
Beat Navy and bring home the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
“Every single time I pass them, it’s, ‘Army-Navy. CIC. Let’s go,’” Mackey said. “I wouldn’t say it puts more pressure on us, but it’s time. Let’s do this. We almost need to do it. We’ve got to get out there and get the win. It’s been way too long.”
Try 11 years.
The Army-Navy series is not only the most patriotic rivalry in sports, it’s turned into one of the most one-sided. Navy has won 10 straight, doubling the previous winning streak of either team in a series that stretches back to 1890. It only seems like the Black Knights haven’t won in 122 years. Army last beat Navy in 2001 at Veterans Stadium. The Vet has since been toppled.
So has Army’s all-time lead in the series.
Mackey, a junior defensive end, wants so badly to be part of the class that ends the Middies’ dominance. That alone, is incentive enough. But for the first time in nearly two decades, there is more on the line than just bragging rights.
Winning this game usually makes a season, but this one would mean more than most. The winner today (10 a.m. HST, CBS) leaves Lincoln Financial Field with the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy, awarded to the team with the best record in games among the three service academies. Army and Navy each defeated Air Force, putting the prestigious trophy up for grabs in the regular-season finale for the first time since 2005. Army (2-9) hasn’t hoisted the CIC trophy since 1996. Navy (7-4) won it a school-record seven straight seasons through 2009 before giving way Air Force the last two seasons.
“We didn’t win much, but we won just enough to bring a little extra drama to this game,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “From the moment these guys got to West Point, every building and everybody’s front door says, ‘Beat Navy’ and ‘Beat Air Force.’ There is so much on the table for them.”
Billed as “America’s Game,” the Linc will be stuffed with Cadets and Midshipmen standing, bouncing and cheering the entire game. Beating Army has become an annual tradition for Navy. None of the Mids want to be associated with a team that ended the streak.
“They’re getting closer and closer,” Navy linebacker Brye French said. “The 10 wins have been awesome. But this year is even bigger than all those because it actually means something with the CIC.”
Navy’s 27-21 win last season was the tightest margin since the winning streak started. The Mids won by a combined 74-3 score in 2007-08 and four times over the last decade the Black Knights failed to score more than six points. Army lost its 49-46-7 series lead during this decade of football futility.
The Black Knights did beat Air Force 30-22 on Oct. 27 to at least squeeze their way into the rare position of playing for the trophy. That ended Army’s 13-game losing streak in service academy games.
“I think beating Air Force brings just a little bit extra to the equation,” Ellerson said. “We’ve had a tough year but that gives us some confidence you might not otherwise see because of that win and that common opponent.”
Navy beat Air Force 28-21 in overtime in early October to steer toward the trophy for a record 13th time.
“I think we’re both grateful we have an opportunity to play for it,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
There’s more football left for Navy after today’s tradition-filled spectacle. The Mids play Arizona State in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Francisco.
Yes, the outcome and the trophy are important for each side, but this is a game about more than the final score. The run-heavy contests are rarely a treat to watch. But the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets marching into Lincoln Financial Field — complete with a military flyover — are the moments that make this game one to savor.
“Playing football is the best part of our day,” Army QB Trent Steelman said. “It’s a struggle for a lot of other teams across the nation. It’s our time to get away from everything else that’s going on in life.”
For Navy, that escape comes in a tough time for the program. The Midshipmen have been worried daily over the health of third-string quarterback Ralph Montalvo. Montalvo was in a medically-induced coma after he was critically injured in a car accident near his home last on Thanksgiving night.
His family posts updates at caringbridge.org/visit/rafimontalvo/journal. On Thursday, the journal read, “He stuck his tongue out at us when asked to do so on several occasions. We continue to pray that he will wake soon.”
Montalvo was scheduled to travel to Philadelphia and dress for the Army-Navy game before the accident. The Mids will show support for Montalvo by wearing a sticker that says “Rafi” on the back of their helmets.
“The parents are wonderful people and they’re hanging in there,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s a typical academy kid, just a wonderful young man, wonderful American.”