Thousands of alumni will be celebrated this weekend during the U.S. Naval Academy's homecoming festivities in Annapolis, including one with four legs, a furry coat and horns.
Bill the Goat XXVI, the academy's mascot since 1987, is retiring. The ceremony will be one of several events planned for the weekend, during which the academy marks its 150th anniversary.
There will be a parade, class reunions and a battle on the gridiron against Villanova University tomorrow during which midshipmen will form "1-5-0" on the field and Navy SEALs will parachute from a cargo plane onto the 50-yard line. Blue and gold smoke will stream from their heels during the 5,000-foot fall.
The changing of the goat, part of the pregame show, won't come a moment too soon for Bill the Goat XXVI.
"It's so old, we're really afraid we're going to kill it," said Capt. Perry Martini, deputy director of athletics. He will introduce two replacement mascots this weekend, Bill the Goat XXVIII and XXIX.
Aside from suffering heart palpitations, Bill the Goat XXVI is getting ornery.
"It got so upset by the noise at the last football game, it got down on all fours and wouldn't move," Captain Martini said.
The old mascot probably will die soon. Most goats don't live more than eight or nine years, and Bill the Goat XXVI is 12.
Although he gets primped and perfumed for every official appearance, he is not exactly living a dog's life.
"It's a victim of a lot of pranks and things," said Tom Bates, a spokesman for the U.S. Naval Academy Athletic Association. "It gets stolen many, many times."
The most frequent offenders are cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. They have kidnapped the goat several times before annual football games against Navy. In 1990, Bill the Goat XXVII, a backup, was sick when some West Point cadets broke the padlocks on his cage and spirited him off. By the time the episode was over, he had to be put to sleep.
Navy gets its licks in against the Army's mule mascot. In 1991, midshipmen and a local mule farmer donned Army fatigues, sneaked into the West Point compound and stole four 1,000-pound mules. Army helicopters chased them in vain. Finally, the midshipmen were nabbed by Pentagon security agents as they arrived at the academy gates. They were threatened with federal charges for months.
The academy takes its cloven-hoofed mascots seriously, going so far as to keep a history of goat lore.
The first goat, El Cid (The Chief), debuted at the 1893 Army-Navy game. The goat, which stepped ashore off the cruiser New York, was wobbly after several weeks at sea and stunned by the noisy crowd. Midshipmen warmed to the creature after winning the game that day, and a tradition was born.
Dozens of goats have come and gone since. One from 1912 is mounted in a glass case in the academy field house, rearing up on its hind legs. A goat capable of such fearsome poses apparently is sought after. In 1916, Navy took out a want ad in the local newspaper for the "meanest and fiercest goat possible."
These days, goats are kept in a pen at the Naval Academy Dairy Farm near Gambrills. Barbed wire and a security alarm guard against would-be goat-nappers. Two midshipmen, usually injured football players, escort the goat during games.
As Bill The Goat XXVI awaits his last kickoff, his replacements, the two kids numbered XXVIII and XXIX, are settling into their new assignment.
The animals come courtesy of Field McConnell, Class of 1971, who runs an Angora goat farm in Glyndon, a town in west-central Minnesota. Although the McConnells can't make it to alumni weekend -- they'll be tending their 350-head herd -- the family says it will be there in spirit.
Alison McConnell, whose five young children cared for the goats and even took them to school for show-and-tell, said her children eagerly await any goat gossip from Annapolis.
"The kids do miss these goats," she said. "They were two of our most beautiful bucks."