A Civil War

Army vs. Navy Tag - A Year Inside College Football's Purest Rivalry


By John Feinstein

Formats and Prices




$7.99 CAD



  1. ebook (Digital original) $5.99 $7.99 CAD
  2. Trade Paperback $20.99 $26.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 25, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Feinstein follows the Army and Navy football teams through the 1994 season, culminating with an account of the dramatic December face-off, and brings to life one of the oldest and most heated rivalries in American sport.


Begin Reading

Table of Contents



Copyright Page

In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at permissions@hbgusa.com. Thank you for your support of the author's rights.


PEOPLE often ask me how I come up with ideas for the books I write—whether I have a system of some kind, or does my publisher make recommendations, or am I trying to write about every sport in existence until I finally get to tae kwon do.

The answer is none of the above. It is far more random than that. I can, however, tell you the exact moment when I knew I wanted to write about the Army-Navy rivalry.

It was in 1990, the year I first went to see the Army-Navy game. I'd made trips to see both Army and Navy play while growing up, and of course I'd watched many Army-Navy games on television over the years. But this was the first time I'd seen the real thing, live.

The game was everything I had expected: intense on both sides, with emotions on a ragged edge as the fourth quarter wound down. It didn't have the kind of melodramatic finish that has become, it seems, a tradition in recent years, but it was one hell of a football game.

When the game ended, I watched as the players on both teams shook hands and, in some cases, exchanged hugs. Nothing special there. But then I saw something I had never seen in all those years of watching the game on TV. Together, all the players walked to the end of the field where the Brigade of Midshipmen sat on one side, the Corps of Cadets on the other. Since Army had won the game, they walked first to the Navy side. And then they stood, together, hands on hearts, while the Navy band played "Blue and Gold." Then they all walked to the other side of the field and stood at attention while the Army band played "Alma Mater."

As I watched, a chill ran right through my body. This was the year that American troops were in the Persian Gulf preparing for what would become, six weeks later, Desert Storm. It occurred to me that the seniors on these teams might in the not too distant future be teammates in a battle far more important than any football game. That's when I knew I wanted to write this book.

Football coaches love to equate themselves with military leaders and talk about battles in the trenches and going to war. At Army and Navy, the players understand the difference between football and war. That doesn't mean they play any less hard or care one bit less. If anything, they play with even more commitment than players at other schools. But as much as the players want to beat each other, as important as it is at both schools to win that football game, there is a bond between the players and their schools like no bond between any other rivals in sports. Army and Navy players have fought together in wars, have died together in wars, and will almost certainly do so again in the future. There is also a shared experience: only a cadet can truly appreciate what a midshipman goes through; only a midshipman has a clear understanding of life as a cadet. That's why there's no rivalry like Army-Navy.

So, at exactly 6 A.M. on the morning of October 25, 1995, nearly five years after my first Army-Navy game, I drove my car through the Washington Gate of the United States Military Academy. Overhead, stars were everywhere. It would be a cold, clear day when the sun came up, but that was still an hour away.

As I steered slowly down the dark hill to the parking lot behind the building that houses the athletic offices, it was impossible not to notice that the place was already full of life. There were cadets everywhere, some of them out for a morning run, others making their way back to the barracks area for morning formation. Clearly, the day at West Point begins long before the sun shows up to make it official.

After I had parked my car, I walked over the "Beat Navy" Tunnel and past the statues of Colonel Sylvanus Thayer (the founder of West Point) and General Douglas MacArthur (known to the cadets as "MacStatue") and then along the edge of the Parade Ground. In front of me, every room in the cadet barracks was ablaze.

My memories of the West Point Parade Ground go back to boyhood, when my parents and I would make the drive from New York City to see a game in Michie Stadium. Watching the cadets go through their military paces before the game always seemed thrilling. My assumption then was that the cadets found it just as thrilling as I did.

Of course now I knew different. Saturday mornings at West Point are regarded as a giant headache. There is Saturday morning room inspection, the most stringent inspection of the week; putting on full dress uniform for the parade; returning to the barracks to get into a different uniform; then, if your regiment has been selected that week, having to march onto the football field before kickoff. For those of us watching, it all seemed great. For those performing, it was extra work in a life already filled with work.

I sat down on the steps of the mess hall, which are a few yards from yet another statue—George Washington on a horse—to await my escort for the day, Army football team senior cocaptain Jim Cantelupe. I had told Cantelupe I would meet him at 6:15. I was ten minutes early. At 6:10, Cantelupe appeared. This wasn't surprising. Army cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen are never late. More often than not, they're early.

Cantelupe has a very unmilitary mischievous smile and he was wearing it as he approached. "Just couldn't wait to get here, could you?" he said.

"I figured I'd be in trouble if I missed formation," I answered, ducking as the doors behind me opened and plebes started pouring out of them. Plebes are expected to be lined up and already in formation by the time the upperclassmen report at 6:25. That means they start showing up at 6:15, after they have carried out their morning duties, which usually include making certain that every upperclassman in the company has a copy of the New York Times on the step when the door is opened in the morning.

"Plebes are usually up by five-thirty, sometimes earlier," Cantelupe said as we made the short walk to where his company—H-3, aka "The Hurricanes"—was forming. There are thirty-six companies at both West Point and Navy, each with about 110 to 120 members. As we walked up, one of Cantelupe's fellow first classmen was ripping a plebe for failing to deliver the newspapers on time.

"Not only do I expect the New York Times waiting for me when I get back from breakfast," he was yelling, "I expect you to be able to tell me everything that's in it!"

"Yes sir."

"Will this ever happen again?"

"No sir."

"For your sake, I hope not."

Cantelupe watched the scene with a bemused grin on his face. "The guy's a jerk," he said, nodding at the first classman. "Most of us, by now, we don't want to give the plebes a hard time. It's something you grow out of."

At precisely 6:25, all the company commanders made their morning announcements: haircut inspections were the highlight of the list. Cantelupe, standing at the back of the formation, wasn't really listening.

"I've been up at this hour almost every day for four years now," he said. "You'd think you would get used to it, but you don't."

Looking around at the entire Corps of Cadets, it occurred to me that Cantelupe and his teammates on the Army football team had to be the only Division I football players in America who were awake at that moment. Two hundred and fifty miles away, Navy's players would just be rolling out of bed for their 7 A.M. formation and, two time zones away, the cadets at Air Force wouldn't be up for their 7 A.M. mountain time morning formation for another few hours.

Only at the military academies do athletes routinely wake up at 6 A.M. and worry about things like haircut inspections. The difference between playing football at the military academies and at the other 103 Division I schools was probably best explained by Fred Goldsmith, a onetime Air Force assistant who is now the coach at Duke.

"At every other school in America, the hardest part of any football player's day is football practice," he said. "At the military academies, the easiest part of a football player's day is football practice."

It has become de rigueur in recent years to put down the Army-Navy game. After all, what used to be college football's most glamorous national rivalry hasn't involved a Top Ten team since the 1960s. The last Heisman Trophy winner from either school was Navy's Roger Staubach, and that was in 1963. According to the critics, only tradition keeps Army and Navy on national TV every year; and the people at Air Force constantly ask why, when their football team has dominated both schools for the last dozen years, people are still fascinated by Army-Navy.

Although Army-Navy may not decide national championships anymore, it means just as much to the players as it ever has—perhaps even more now than in days of greater glory. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the seniors know that the Army-Navy game—always the final game of the season for both teams, barring bowl appearances—is their last football game. Once every decade or so, someone will go on to the pros after military service, but that is the rare exception.

Everyone thinks that their rivalry is the best, the most special, the one that stands above others. But Army-Navy is unique. It is played with the fervor of people who know they are doing something that they love for a final time, that they are closing a chapter in their lives. And it is played by teams who try to crush each other for three hours, then stand at attention together when the game is over.

It is also the tradition and the uniqueness of the scene inside the stadium that makes the rivalry unique. After all, it is the only college football game played each year that is attended by the entire student body of both schools.

But it is more than that. For all their flaws, West Point and the Naval Academy still represent what this country can be. When we look into the faces of the cadets and the mids, we see the future. We see potential. We see, in most of them, a willingness to die so the rest of us can go on living the way we have for the past 220 years.

There is no questioning the fact that in their long histories—194 years at Army, 151 years at Navy—there have been scandals and very serious problems. There still are. During the 1995–96 school year, the Naval Academy was beset by one controversy after another. Drug arrests in the fall were followed by a series of embarrassments in the spring that included one active mid and several ex-mids being involved in a car-theft ring; another accused of molesting a two-year-old child; another accused of sexual harassment. In August, fifteen midshipmen implicated in the fall drug investigation were expelled. Five others were court-martialed. They represented less than one-half of one percent of the brigade. And yet, everyone at the academy would agree that the episode was a huge embarrassment.

What's more, the suicide last May of Admiral Jeremy (Mike) Boorda, the Chief of Naval Operations, rocked the entire military, from President Clinton down to the lowest-ranked plebes at the Naval Academy.

Whether Boorda killed himself because of an impending controversy over his right to wear medals given only to those who have been in combat or because of reasons that went beyond that may never be known. What is known is that he was a popular leader and had given a rousing speech at the academy only two weeks before his death. In fact, he had been scheduled to present diplomas to the class of 1996 at graduation on May 24.

Instead, his death cast a shadow over what should have been a glorious day for the 916 graduates. All the speakers felt compelled to invoke Boorda's name and to imply that he somehow died a hero, but the words sounded hollow.

Just prior to Boorda's death, an academy professor wrote a scathing piece in the Washington Post tracing the recent problems of the entire navy back to a lack of leadership and integrity at the academy. He insisted most mids were perpetually unhappy. He was right in part—all mids are unhappy at some point in their four years at the academy. If they weren't, they wouldn't be breathing.

In contrast to the last major scandal at the academy, the electrical engineering cheating fiasco of 1992–93, football players were not involved in any of the '95–96 troubles. Even so, there are still many who believe that the lowering of academic standards at both Army and Navy in the name of winning football games is wrong and lowers the quality of the future officers the schools are producing.

There is no doubting that both academies are a long way from perfect. Many of their rules are anachronistic, and the often stifling nature of military life is bound to lead to rebellion that can be both embarrassing to the academies and threatening to their future if the leadership doesn't take them seriously.

The leadership at the Naval Academy is taking these most recent troubles seriously. The superintendent, Admiral Charles R. Larson, ordered the entire brigade to "stand down" for a week in April, meaning all four thousand midshipmen were placed on restriction. Even the first classmen were denied liberty. Larson is a four-star admiral, one of the most respected men in the entire U.S. military hierarchy. He was sent back to Annapolis in 1994 to find out exactly what had gone wrong and fix it. My guess is he will come as close as is humanly possible to doing just that.

Imperfect though the academies may be, they are still filled with outstanding young people. If the football players I had a chance to get to know at both schools are going to be this country's future leaders, the future is, in my biased opinion, in very good hands.

That's why the football game remains special: because of the people who play it.

Everyone who plays in the Army-Navy game, especially as a senior, is an extraordinary person. They have to be blessed with mental and physical toughness to survive Beast Barracks at Army or Plebe Summer at Navy. They have to be intelligent, because both schools are tough places academically, with the SAT scores of the most recent entering classes averaging slightly more than 1200. (Sit in on an engineering class at Navy if you want to understand the true meaning of the phrase "that's Greek to me.") They have to be extremely patient, because a large portion of the military training at both schools is designed to test your patience. Impatient people do not do well in battle. The academies try to see to it that none end up there.

And they have to be leaders. The best definition I heard of leadership came from Al Roberts, who played defensive tackle for Army as a junior and a senior even though he weighs only 225 pounds.

"Leadership," he said, "is convincing people they can do something they shouldn't be able to do."

There is no way that Army should be able to come within a foot of beating Notre Dame. There is no way that Navy should be able to dominate teams like SMU, Duke, and Tulane. Those schools have 1,000 advantages in recruiting—999 of them being that no one there has to go into the military after graduating—and can consistently recruit bigger, faster, and stronger people.

Football coaches spend their lives trying to get their players to be bigger and stronger. The first thing Army and Navy do with their football players (along with every other plebe) is put them through a summer almost guaranteed to leave them weak as kittens. Then, after they have survived their plebe year, they send them off to summer camps where they again routinely lose fifteen or twenty pounds.

In the spring of 1995, Eddie Stover, one of Army's best offensive linemen, wasn't allowed to participate in spring drills. The reason? He hadn't run the obstacle course in his PE class fast enough. I wonder how many other football teams in America had that problem to deal with.

Army and Navy don't have the glamour they once did. In this day and age, when anyone with even a glimmer of hope to play pro football will run like the wind to get away from a military commitment, they simply can't recruit the top-of-the-line players the way they did in the old days. What they do recruit are smart, tough kids who love to play the game. Often they are kids whose only chance to play in Division I is at Army or Navy. They usually start out with about 120 plebes out for football and about 25 of them still playing as first classmen. At schools where time management is almost as important as breathing, the number of hours a commitment to football takes guarantees a high attrition rate.

Over the door leading to the Army locker room is a sign that acknowledges the difficulty of sticking it out for four years. It says: "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions." The sign is accurate. Those who stayed—at both schools—regardless of how many football games they won or lost, most definitely became champions.



ALMOST thirty minutes after the last play of his college football career, Jim Cantelupe, still dressed in the black uniform with the gold number 22 on the back and front, walked down a dank, winding hallway in the bowels of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

The scene on the field immediately after the final gun had been chaotic. In between hugs from teammates and the screams and yells of the West Point cadets who had poured onto the artificial playing surface, Cantelupe had searched unsuccessfully for Andrew Thompson.

He knew Thompson was devastated. Four years of playing football for Navy had just ended with a fourth-straight hard-to-believe loss to Army. Four games, four Army victories. Total margin: six points. This time it had been Army 14, Navy 13, the Cadets driving 99 1/2 yards to score the winning touchdown with 63 seconds to play.

It was an unforgettable drive. One that Army's players would savor forever; one that Navy's players would be haunted by for just as long.

Cantelupe, Army's defensive captain, and Thompson, his counterpart at Navy, had met twelve days earlier at the annual Army-Navy press conference. Each had understood immediately that the other was a soul mate. Neither was blessed with superior speed or size or ability. Neither had been recruited by any big-time football schools. Both simply loved the game, the competition, the camaraderie. Both had put up with the frustrations and vagaries of military academy life for four years for one reason: the chance to play big-time football.

"If you can't play for Notre Dame," Cantelupe liked to say, "the next best thing is to play against Notre Dame."

Cantelupe knew how badly he wanted to win his last football game. He knew Thompson had wanted to win just as much. And so, while his teammates continued to hug and pummel one another in celebration, he quietly slipped out of the locker room and walked down the hall in the direction of the Navy locker room.

"Is it OK if I go in there?" he asked a security guard.

The man looked at him quizzically, as if to say, "Why would you want to do that?" But seeing the Army uniform, he nodded his head and stepped aside. Cantelupe walked through the doorway, took three steps into the locker room, and came to a dead halt.

His stomach twisted into a knot and for a split second he thought he might get sick. The silence in the room was deathly. Players in various stages of undress stood in groups of two and three, hugging one another or talking in hushed tones. Others sat in front of their lockers staring into space.

Father William Devine, one of Navy's team chaplains, his eyes puffy and red too, stood a few feet from the doorway when Cantelupe walked in. "Father," Cantelupe said softly, apologetically, "I was hoping to see Andy Thompson."

Devine nodded and pointed his hand at a locker several feet away. Thompson was sitting there, still in uniform, his head down, staring at the floor. Cantelupe could see that he was still shaking from a crying jag. Gingerly, he stepped over a couple of towels and gently put a hand on Thompson's shoulder.

Thompson looked up, expecting to see another teammate or a coach or a member of the Navy brass. When he saw Cantelupe, he jumped to his feet, threw his arms around him, and began to sob again. Cantelupe put his arms around Thompson and said softly, "I know."

They walked into the hallway so that Thompson's teammates would not have to look at a player in black and gold.

"Dammit, I wanted to kick your ass today," Thompson said, his voice hoarse from shouting and crying. "Just once I wanted to know what it felt like to beat you guys. Now, I'll never know."

"You're a hell of a football player," Cantelupe said, meaning it, remembering the panic he had felt when Thompson had sacked his quarterback, Ronnie McAda, for a 12-yard loss on Army's final, desperate drive.

Thompson almost smiled. "That's the worst part, Jim. We're not football players anymore. It's all over now."

Cantelupe had thought about that a lot during the week prior to the game. He and his fellow first classmen had talked about it at length the night before. A few minutes earlier, one of his teammates, Eddie Stover, had gone crazy in the locker room at the thought of not being a football player anymore.

"How will I live without football?" Stover had screamed. "It's all I've ever known!"

Cantelupe wasn't very different from Stover. Or Thompson. Now, it was real. He wasn't a football player anymore. "They can't take away the memories," he said to Thompson. "They can't take away the way it felt out there today."

Thompson's eyes were still glistening. "We're brothers now," he said. "For the rest of our lives."

"Damn right," Cantelupe said.

This time, he hugged Thompson, the gold number 22 on his chest colliding with the blue number 32 on Thompson's. The closeness they felt at that moment is usually only felt by men who have gone to war together.

Of course, they had been to war. Just on opposite sides.

THE notion of football as war has been used as a metaphor for as long as the game has been played. Coaches see themselves as generals, their assistants as the officers, the players as the soldiers. The violent nature of the sport lends itself easily to the notion that every game is about killing or being killed.

It is logical, then, that the military academies, which train young men—and, for the last twenty years, women—to fight wars, would play football with great passion. And once upon a time, when there was a military draft that meant many athletes had to serve in the armed forces, when being a military officer paid as much as or more than a job in the National Football League paid, and when the United States was undefeated in war, truly great and gifted football players flocked to West Point to play for Army and to Annapolis to play for Navy.

The football history of the two academies dates back to 1879, when Navy played the Baltimore Athletic Club to a scoreless tie, and to 1890, when cadet Dennis Michie challenged Navy to a game at West Point. The Midshipmen won easily, 24–0, but 105 years later the Army media guide makes the point that "the Midshipmen were a far more experienced team." No one concedes anything in this rivalry without a fight.

The football history of both academies is full of glory and glamorous names, whether they are Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard, and Pete Dawkins at Army in the forties and fifties or Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach at Navy in the sixties. All won Heisman Trophies. All played for powerful, nationally ranked teams. All went on to serve their country.

Once upon a time, Army-Navy was the game of any college football season. Often when they played, the national championship was at stake, especially during the forties, when Army won the championship three straight times ('44–46) and went undefeated five times in six years from '44 through '49.

The entire nation would come to a standstill for one Saturday afternoon while the Cadets and Midshipmen, America's best and brightest, dueled on the gridiron. Every major newspaper in the country covered the game, often with two or three reporters and several photographers. The outcome was the lead story in every sports section the next day. Often it was front page news.

The last vestiges of that glory were played out in the 1960s. Staubach led Navy to a 9–1 record, a berth in the Cotton Bowl and a number two national ranking in 1963, his Heisman Trophy season. Four years later, Army was 8–1 going into the Navy game and was invited to the Sugar Bowl. The Pentagon, concerned about security in the midst of the growing controversy surrounding the Vietnam War, would not allow the Cadets to accept the invitation.

The morning after the announcement was made, the Corps of Cadets marched into the mess hall for breakfast and found clumps of sugar piled up in the middle of all the tables. From the poop deck in the middle of the huge room hung a sign: "No Sugar Bowl for the football team; no sugar bowls for the corps."

The cadets cheered the sugar bowl thieves wildly. That was the last time either Army or Navy has been invited to a major bowl game.

Vietnam was a major turning point in the history of military academy football. The popularity of the military dropped considerably during those years, and with graduates from West Point and Annapolis being shipped to Vietnam almost the moment they were commissioned as officers, the notion of a four-year postgraduate military commitment wasn't nearly as romantic as it had once been.

Beginning in 1969, Army had two winning seasons (both times at 6–4) in fifteen years, including an 0–10 season in 1973. Coaches came and went. The school had five of them during that period. Navy suffered through seven straight losing seasons from 1968 through 1974 before George Welsh, a 1956 graduate of the academy, returned to resurrect the program, producing five winning seasons in seven years and three bowl appearances.

By that time, Army-Navy had lost a good deal of luster, at least in the eyes of big-time football fans across the country. The game was still on national TV and always drew a respectable rating, but it wasn't the media event it had once been. Both schools began playing easier schedules, adding games against smaller schools from Division I-AA and dropping some of the national powers that had once been traditional opponents. Many in the national media suggested they should give up big-time football altogether and play an Ivy League type of schedule. Yale and Harvard seemed like far more reasonable opponents than Notre Dame and Tennessee.

The losing and the watered-down schedules caused considerable grumbling among the old grads around the country who simply couldn't understand why beating Notre Dame and Oklahoma and Penn State was any more difficult in the eighties and nineties than it had been in the forties and fifties. When the two schools actually lost on occasion to schools like Delaware and Boston University and—God forbid—The Citadel, the screaming from alumni could be heard from one corner of the nation to the other.


On Sale
Nov 25, 2014
Page Count
432 pages

John Feinstein

About the Author

John Feinstein is the author of forty-five books, including two #1 New York Times bestsellers, A Season on the Brink, and A Good Walk Spoiled. His mystery novel, Last Shot, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for mystery writing in the Young Adult category. He is a member of six Halls of Fame and is a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Additionally, he does color commentary for VCU basketball, George Mason basketball, and Longwood basketball. He is also does commentary for the Navy radio network and is a regular on The Sports Junkies in his hometown of Washington, DC.

Learn more about this author