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Service Academy Football: Teams, Traditions, and Rivalries

I have been involved with coaching youth and high school sports for over 30 years. I have coached baseball, basketball, football and soccer.

Army vs. Navy

Army vs. Navy

Army, Navy, and Air Force Football Teams

Armed forces: That says it all. These are the people who protect our way of life. They come from different parts of the country to form three of the most respected and well-known schools in the United States:

  • The United States Military Academy at West Point
  • The United States Naval Academy
  • The United States Air Force Academy

Former graduates have gone on to become some of the finest engineers, military leaders, teachers, and even United States presidents. All three of these schools play division 1 football, and they play it well. They may not have the biggest, strongest, or fastest players, but all three schools have adopted a style of play that benefits their athletes.

The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy

These schools compete each year for the Commander-in-Chief's trophy. This trophy is presented to the team with the best record against the other two opponents. It was actually an Air Force General, George B. Simler, who came up with the idea for the trophy.

The rivalry between Army and Navy began on November 29, 1890, when Navy challenged Army to a game. Air Force began playing football in 1955 and played Army in odd years and Navy in even years. In 1972, all three teams became yearly foes, and Army was awarded the first Commander-in-Chief's trophy.

The Black Knights of Army (playing against Navy).

The Black Knights of Army (playing against Navy).

Army: Black Knights

The United States Military Academy is located in West Point, New York.


  • Army has won the national championship three times: 1944,1945, and 1946.
  • Three Black Nights have won the coveted Heisman Trophy given to the best college football player each year. The first winner was Doc Blanchard in 1945, followed by Glenn Davis in 1946 and Pete Dawkins in 1958.
  • Army has won the Commander-in-Chief's trophy 7 times. Army has an all-time record of 657 wins, 496 losses, and 51 ties.


The Black Knights have had 37 head coaches. Even though he does not have the highest winning percentage among the head coaches, Earl (Red) Blaik is probably the most well known. Blaik coached the Black Knights for 18 seasons.

The Midshipmen of Navy

The Midshipmen of Navy

The United States Naval Academy officially began playing football in 1882. They did play a game a few years earlier, but it was played according to different rules. Located in Annapolis, Maryland, the school has had many years of success.


  • They have an overall record of 702 wins, 549 losses, and 57 ties.
  • The Midshipmen have had two Heisman Trophy winners: Joe Bellino in 1960 and Roger Staubach in 1963.
  • Navy has won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy 15 times, and they have one National Championship in 1926.


Navy has had 38 head coaches. Ken Niumatalolo has the longest tenure at 10 years. He has a .650 winning percentage.

Air Force: Falcons

The Air Force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Falcons began playing football in 1955.


  • They have an overall record of 385 wins, 320 losses, and 13 ties.
  • The Air Force has won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy 20 times.
  • Even though they have not had a Heisman Trophy winner, they have had numerous All-Americans who went on to play professionally.


The Falcons have only had 7 Head Coaches since their first season, and the most successful was Fisher DeBerry with a .612 winning percentage.

Rivalries Between the Teams

Army vs. Navy

Army vs Navy is the oldest of the three rivalries. They first played in November of 1890. Navy holds a 60-51-7 all-time record over Army. The game has been televised each year since 1945, enabling millions of football fans around the world to watch and cheer for their favorite team.

These two schools have a lot of respect for each other. Each side understands what the other is going through on a daily basis which adds to the rivalry. This is one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports and many books and documentaries have been written about the game. At the end of each game, the two teams line up and sing their alma mater, with the winning team singing last.

Every year the battle cry for each team is "sing last."

Air Force vs. Navy

Air Force vs. Navy

Air Force vs. Navy and Air Force vs. Army

The Air Force vs Navy game and the Air Force vs Army game is considerably different from the Army vs Navy rivalry. Whereas there is some trash talk among the Army and Navy players and both teams want to win desperately, it is on a much higher level when they play Air Force.

To the Army and Navy Academies, the Air Force Academy is considered the little brother of the academies. Some have even called it the country club of the academies because their rules don't seem to be quite as stringent as the Army and Navy Academies. Therefore, neither Army nor Navy wants to lose to the Air Force. However, since the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy came into play, the Air Force does hold a winning record against both Army and Navy.

Option Football

All three of the service academies have adopted a style of play that benefits their particular school—the option offense. When these three schools play each other you can't expect to see very many passes. In fact, Army beat the Air Force in 2017 and did not throw a single pass the entire game. Option football is a running offense. It benefits the service academy teams because a team doesn't have to have big players to be successful. In the option offense, the quarterback has to be quick and very decisive because he is reading what the defensive players are doing and he makes his decisions based on those movements. The option offense also helps the offensive lineman because two players on the defense are left unblocked, giving the lineman a chance at double team blocks or angle blocks.

This type of offense is not run by many teams today. In the 1970's it was called the wishbone offense, which led to the veer offense, which led to the flexbone that teams run today. It is very fun to watch, especially for older guys because it is probably close to the style of football that they grew up playing or watching. A lot of people say that you can't win with the flexbone offense but the service academies prove them wrong every year. Army, Navy, and Air Force normally have winning seasons every year. So if you have never watched service academy football, put on your red, white, and blue and watch a game. In these games, the good guys win every time. They're all good guys!


Mary Wickison from Brazil on April 30, 2019:

Although I had heard of the teams I didn't know much about them.

The history and their style of play is interesting. When you take the 'big names' or the 'egos' out of the game, I suspect it makes a better game.

Fascinating read.

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