PHILADELPHIA – The Army-Navy series has long held its lofty spot as sport's most patriotic rivalry, with pride, prestige and the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy at stake for each service academy.
Also on the line, Navy's 11-game series winning streak, which has turned the annual regular-season finale into one of sport's most lopsided rivalries, as well.
Navy (7-4) has not only defeated Army 11 straight times, it has won 13 of the last 14 and 14 of 16. Army's (3-8) only wins over the last 16 years came in 2001 and 1998. Navy's Ken Niumatalolo is trying to become the second coach in Mids history to start 6-0 against the Black Knights. With a win, Navy would retain the CIC Trophy, awarded to the team with the best record in games among the three service academies, for the second straight season.
"This is the game we want to win," Niumatalolo said, "but we don't talk about the streak."
This game usually ends the season for Army. Navy has one more game left against Middle Tennessee (8-4) in the Dec. 30 Armed Forces Bowl at Fort Worth, Texas.
Billed as "America's Game," Lincoln Financial Field 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.
Navy's 17-13 win last season was the tightest margin since the winning streak started. Unlike previous games over the last decade, the Black Knights were in the game until their final 70-yard drive. Army had driven to the 14 when QB Trent Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon fumbled on a sloppy exchange. Navy recovered and the Midshipmen on the sideline went wild and rushed the field.
"It was painful, no doubt about that, but in this game," Army coach Rich Ellerson said, "you've got to leave this stuff behind."
Here are five things to know for the 114th Army-Navy game. Navy leads the series 57-49-7.
KENNEDY GAME: The 1963 game was the first major college sporting event played after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The game was pushed back a week because of the tragedy. Navy won 21-15 at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium. CBS Sports Network last month aired, "Marching On: 1963 Army-Navy Remembered," a film watched by current Midshipmen and Black Knights. "I learned really how much it is America's Game," Army co-captain Michael Kime said. "The nation leaned on a bunch of a 21-year-old guys playing football. By no means are we in that dire of stretch right now, but there's a sense of pride in that, definitely."
THROWBACK: Yes, fans can follow Saturday's game on Twitter at @Army_Navy_Game. But the real fun comes in scrolling the feed's timeline and finding its "live" tweets of the Dec 7, 1963 game. The tweets included everything from scoring summaries, key plays and video highlights of perhaps the most famous game in the series' storied history. The tweets also show some things haven't changed over the years: "Looking to snap a losing streak, QB Rollie Stichweh later talked about the pressure Army faced."
MOVING ON: Navy is winding down its time as an independent and will join the American Athletic Conference in 2015. Navy AD Chet Gladchuk said the Mids should still have winning records and bowl bids, even as part of a conference. "Those are teams we would play whether we were independent or in the conference," he said. "We're tried to schedule some of those teams in the past and they've opted not to schedule us. Now, they'll have to play us. Going into the AAC, we're not going in to compete, we're going in to win it. Navy will be annual contender for the championship."
ARMY RUNS: Army enters averaging 325.9 yards rushing, tops in the nation as the Black Knights seek their third straight rushing title, which would be an academy first. Last season, Army rushed for a school-record 4,438 yards, while the 2011 squad ran for 4,158. Those mark the only two times the team has topped 4,000 yards.
KNOW THE PLAYERS: Fans are sure to flock to TV and the web to watch the game, and nearly 70,000 fans are expected to pack the Linc. But the game is about more than the team name. Who are the players to watch? Keenan Reynolds leads Navy with 1,124 yards rushing and a whopping 26 touchdowns. He's also thrown for 1,028 yards and eight TDs. Amry's Terry Baggett has 1,072 yards rushing and eight TDs. This game will clearly be won the ground — three Army QBs have combined to throw for 881 yards passing this season. Reynolds is only averaging 93.5 yards a game.