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USNA History and Traditions (Summer 2013)

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From the first athletic competition played on the gridiron in 1879 to Navy's recent triumphs, several events, people, rivalries and personalities have shaped the entire Naval Academy athletic program. Below is a look at just some of the history and traditions that make Navy one of the most storied programs in all of collegiate athletics.


"Anchors Aweigh" was written by Lt. Charles Zimmermann, Musical Director of the Naval Academy in 1906, with the lyrics provided by Alfred H. Miles of the Class of 1906, as a fight song for the 1907 graduating class instead of the usual class march Zimmermann had composed for previous classes. The song made its debut at the 1906 Army-Navy game, and when the Midshipmen won the game, the song became traditional at this game. It gained national exposure in the 1920s and 1930s when it was heard on the radio and was in a number of popular movies. In 1997 a one-hour documentary on the history of Navy football, titled "Anchors Aweigh for Honor and Glory," was produced by NFL Films. The film was deemed a success by both critics and fans alike. Here are the words:

Stand Navy down the field, Sails set to the sky,
We'll never change our course, So Army you steer shy.
Roll up the score, Navy, Anchors Aweigh,
Sail Navy down the field, And sink the Army,
Sink the Army Grey


The first recorded use of a goat mascot for Navy athletic teams was in 1893 when an animal named El Cid (The Chief) was turned over to the Brigade by young officers of the USS New York. El Cid helped Navy to a 6-4 triumph over Army that year. Two cats, a dog, and a carrier pigeon have also enjoyed brief reigns as the Navy mascot, but goats have served without interruption since 1904. Bill XXXIII and XXXIV are the current mascots. They are taken care of by 15 goathandlers made up of five midshipmen from the first, second and third classes. The goathandlers undergo rigorous training prior to handling Bill on the field.


This song was written in 1923 by Cmdr. Roy DeS. Horn, USN (Ret.) with music composed by J.W. Crosley. Following every home athletic competition, the team faces its fans with their hands on their heart and sings the following:

Now, colleges from sea to sea
May sing of colors true;
But who has better right than we
To hoist a symbol hue?
For sailors brave in battle fair,
Since fighting days of old,
Have proved the sailor's right to wear
The Navy Blue and Gold


From the bridge of the famed World War II aircraft carrier, it has been a part of the Naval Academy tradition since 1950. The late Admiral Harry W. Hill, then Superintendent, was instrumental in bringing the "E" Bell to Annapolis. It rings during special ceremonies when Navy scores a majority of victories over Army in any one of the three sports seasons. The bell also rings during Commissioning Week for those teams that beat Army and have not participated in a previous bell-ringing during the academic year. The bell is stationed in front of Bancroft Hall.


"I Believe That We Will Win" is one of the most popular sports chant in the country, and while often replicated, the chant can trace its roots back to the Naval Academy.

In 1998 at the Naval Academy Preparatory School, Jay Rodriguez was tasked to come up with a cheer for his platoon. He began by chanting the word "I" and then asked his classmates to chant it back. He then said "I Believe" and again asked them to chant it back. This continued until the full phrase of "I Believe That We Will Win" was completed and it was then repeated multiple times in unison while everyone jumped up and down. The chant made its sporting event debut at the Army Prep vs. Navy Prep men's basketball game in Newport, R.I. that year.

The following year, Rodriguez was a plebe at the Naval Academy and he taught the chant to classmate Corey Strong, a member of the cheerleading team. During Navy's 19-9 win over Army at the 1999 Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, Strong led the Brigade of Midshipmen, over 4,000 strong, to a stirring rendition that helped the chant reach a new level of prominence.

Midshipmen have since been performing the chant at football games and other sporting events in the closing minutes of games in which a Navy victory is imminent.


The word midshipman first appeared in English in the 17th century in the form of the word midshipman to designate those men who were stationed "amidships," i.e. in the waist or middle portion of the vessel, while on duty. By 1687, however, the second 's' had been dropped to give the current form of the word. Midshipmen were originally boys, sometimes as young as seven or eight, who were apprenticed to sea captains to learn the sailor's trade.

In the early days of the American Navy, midshipmen trained aboard ship until they were eventually commissioned as ensigns. With the founding of the Naval Academy in 1845, it became possible, as it still is, for a midshipman to enter the Navy directly from civilian life. The name of students at the Naval Academy changed several times between 1870 and 1902, when Congress restored the original title of Midshipman, and it has remained unchanged since.


The familiar Native American figurehead facing Bancroft Hall and Tecumseh Court has been an Annapolis resident since 1866. Originally, the figurehead of the USS Delaware was meant to portray Tamanend, the great chief of the Delawares. It developed that Tamanend was a lover of peace and did not strike the fancy of the Brigade. Looking for another name, Midshipmen referred to the figurehead as Powhatan and King Philip before finally settling on Tecumseh, the fierce Shawnee chieftain who lived from 1768-1813. The original wooden statue was replaced after some 50 years in the open weather by a durable bronze replica, presented by the Class of 1891. It is considered a good-luck "mascot" for the midshipmen, who in times past would throw pennies at it and offer left-handed salutes whenever they wanted a 'favor,' such as a sports win over West Point, or spiritual help for examinations. These days it receives a fresh coat of war paint and is often decorated in various themes during football weeks and other special occasions such as Commissioning Week.

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