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Navy Football Has A Long History In Philadelphia

Nov. 1, 2017

For a second consecutive week, Navy prepares for a homecoming.
This isn’t about a home game. This is a love story, a decades-long affair between one out-of-state college football team and the city of Philadelphia. In the vernacular of today, the city of Brotherly Love and Navy’s Brotherhood are besties.
Game No. 142 in Navy’s long history of playing in Philadelphia takes place Thursday, when the Midshipmen travel to Lincoln Financial Field to meet Temple in a crucial American Athletic Conference game for both schools. The number of Navy football games played in Philadelphia is staggering and begs the question: has any city played host to an out of state team more than Philadelphia has for Navy?
Like a runner stretching to victory at the tape, Navy wins barely eclipse the losses – they’re 68-65-8 (.510) all-time in Philly – but this relationship isn’t just about records. More important is how the aura of Navy football and playing in Philadelphia promotes the program to the nation at large and the recruiting fields Navy mines annually.

Trending to the Top

During the streak of 14 straight wins over Army from 2002-15, Navy’s popularity soared, bringing unprecedented attention to the success of the Midshipmen and the city of Philadelphia. That 14-game win streak includes a 10-0 record over the Black Knights at Lincoln Financial Field.
This interest expanded further when the game was moved to the second weekend in December in 2009.
In the past 15 years, the index measuring Navy football popularity per Google Trends has seen a demonstrable uptick during each Navy season. The crescendo is the Army-Navy game, most often played in Philadelphia. During the last five seasons, Navy football’s winning streak against Army coincided with some remarkable national interest. It began in 2012, when Army’s Trent Steelman fumbled a snap as the Cadets were marching for the winning score. Navy recovered to save the 11th straight win in the series. Keenan Reynolds’ fourth victory over Army in 2015 created another large spike, and even Army’s 2016 victory – the first over Navy in 15 years – created an additional surge in national attention directed towards Navy’s football exploits.
“According to Google Trends data from the last five years, there’s an equal amount of search interest in the Army vs. Navy rivalry as there is in the Michigan vs. Ohio State football rivalry,” says Sue Zoldak, owner of the Zoldak Agency, a digital public affairs firm in Washington, D.C. that specializes in grassroots and social media. “This is probably an unexpected statistic for the average or casual college football fan who incorrectly assumes that Army vs. Navy is for a niche audience. Obviously, Navy’s success is the most important factor in the program’s popularity, but also the repetitive nature of Army-Navy and playing that game most often in Philadelphia in the 3 p.m. mid-afternoon time slot. The annual nature of time and place and opponent matters a lot,” says Zoldak.
“When you take at the Google Trends data by state, what stands out is the online interest in most of Navy’s key recruiting hotbeds outside of the Midwest. This speaks to Navy’s success driving popularity in the program and in the program’s biggest game of the season,” Zoldak says.

The Nation’s Game

True, the easy fruit to reach for in the Philadelphia story is the Army-Navy game – it’s been played there a record 86 times. The Midshipmen own 44 wins in Philadelphia in the Army-Navy series. Much of this success occurred at Municipal Stadium, renamed JFK Stadium after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Navy won 14 games at Municipal Stadium and another eight after it was renamed as JFK Stadium. Besides the 10 wins at Lincoln Financial Field, seven wins over Army took place in Franklin Field and the other five came at Veterans Stadium.
The first known game Navy played in Philadelphia was 1899, when Army defeated the Mids, 17-5, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, which at the time was the Roman Coliseum of college football.

Still in use as the home of the Penn Quakers since 1895, Franklin Field was constructed for $100,000 with seating for 24,000, the first Army-Navy game was hosted there in 1899. The stadium was significantly expanded in 1922 and remains the home of the Penn Relays, the nation’s spring showcase for top-flight prep and collegiate track & field athletes. The National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles called Franklin Field home from 1958-1970, and it hosted 18 Army-Navy games from 1899-1935.

Navy played five other games at Franklin during this period. In 1921, Navy met Penn State, dropping a 13-7 decision. In 1928, Navy played as the road team against Penn and hosted Princeton, winning each game. In 1929, a loss to Penn was followed by a win over Dartmouth. These were two seasons when Army and Navy refused to play each other over a player eligibility dispute, and Navy used the already-contracted date to play host to another Ivy League school.

In 1936, greater seating capacities and move lucrative rental obligations moved the Army-Navy game into Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium. But Navy continued to visit Franklin Field on a yearly basis to play Penn. From 1927 to 1960, Navy played Penn 34 times, winning 18 and tying three others (.573). Notable within this streak in the period from 1946-1953, when Navy was 0-7-1. That futility ended quickly when Eddie Erdelatz took over the wheel in Annapolis, and Navy would go 6-0-1 through 1960, when Penn fell off Navy’s annual schedule.
Overall versus Penn, the Mids were 19-16-3 at Franklin Field, adding to Navy’s already-strong following in Philadelphia.

The Irish Rivalry

Navy and Notre Dame have met nine times in Philadelphia – all Navy home games – and while all but one of those games resulted in a loss, the 1960 victory was part of a landmark milestone for the program.
First, Navy defeated Air Force in Baltimore, 35-3, on Oct. 15. Traveling to Philadelphia two weeks later, the Midshipmen outmuscled the Irish, 14-7. A little more than a month later, the Mids returned to Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium to defeat Army, 17-12. Navy legend Joe Bellino secured the Heisman Trophy with the win and the Mids clinched a berth in the Orange Bowl.

The victory made Wayne Hardin, who took over as head coach for Erdelatz in 1959, the first Navy coach to earn victories over Air Force, Notre Dame and Army in the same season. It wouldn’t be until 2007, when Paul Johnson broke the 43-year losing streak to Notre Dame, that Navy would defeat all three rivals in the same season again. Ken Niumatalolo would do the same in 2009.
The Linc
Tomorrow night in Philadelphia the Mids will play their 13th game at Lincoln Financial Field as the Mids take on Temple in an 8 PM kickoff on ESPN.  It's hard to imagine another neutral site that has been so kind to one team as the Mids are 12-0 all-time in the Philadelphia Eagles stadium, going 10-0 against Army and 2-0 against Temple.


~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Navy Football: Return to Glory, which released Oct. 9 from the History Press. It is available at all major retailers, in addition to iBooks and Amazon.



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