Army-Navy headed here

PSINet Stadium lands football game for 2000 season

June 04, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The Army-Navy game, an epic matchup of the service academies' football teams that has been held nearly every fall for more than a century, will be played in Baltimore next year.

A "major announcement" by the U.S. Naval Academy has been scheduled today at PSINet Stadium, home of the Ravens. Officials are expected to reveal that the game will be played at Baltimore's downtown stadium Dec. 2, 2000, according to several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"I will not and cannot confirm that," said Eric Ruden, a spokesman for the Naval Academy. Army's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

It will be the third time the game and its accompanying spit-and-polish pageantry has been held in Baltimore, and the first since 1944.

In 50 of the past 54 years, the game has been held in Philadelphia, a neutral site that the U.S. military academies liked because of its convenience to fans from Navy's Annapolis campus and the Army's in West Point, N.Y.

But at last year's game, a railing gave way under pressure from cadets in the stands at Veterans Stadium, leaving nine of them injured and raising questions of safety at the aging facility.

The game will return this December for its 100th staging. The academies have a contract to play at Veterans Statium 2002, but an option would allow the game to be held elsewhere once more.

Veterans Stadium officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Larry Needle, executive director of the nonprofit Philadelphia Sports Congress, said his organization was notified recently that the game will not be played in Philadelphia next year and that Baltimore was a strong contender.

He said the city intends to fight to keep its traditional hold on the game and hopes tentative plans for a new stadium to replace Veterans will aid that effort. Philadelphia first was host to the game in 1899 and has done so 74 times.

"Certainly, we're aware that there are other cities that are interested in the game. We're optimistic that with a new stadium on on the books for '02 or '03 we'll be able to compete," Needle said.

The game has been a lucrative boost for the city's tourism business during the pre-holiday lull, he said. His organization estimates the game generates about 7,000 daily room rentals.

One study conducted a few years ago showed 65 percent of the fans come from the northeastern United States, but 48 states were represented by alumni, members of the military, veterans and fans. Each academy gets 5,000 tickets for its use, enough to accommodate every cadet and midshipman able to attend. They arrive in convoys of buses.

The games attract spirited throngs of cadets and midshipmen as well as high-ranking military brass and stoke the fires of inter-service rivalry. Army holds the edge in the series, 48-44-7.

Regulars include the secretary of defense, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretaries of the Army and Navy. Although tradition once dictated a presidential appearance, such visits have grown infrequent in recent years. President Clinton last attended in 1996.

"It's a pretty impressive group of people," Needle said.

Among the endearing rituals surrounding the game, which traditionally ends the season: a midfield "prisoner exchange" of cadets who are attending the Naval Academy and midshipmen on loan to West Point. In the days preceding the game, attempts have been made to kidnap the opposing team's mascot -- the Army's mule and Navy's goat.

"It's a special event, and in today's world of sports, where the special significance has been reduced, the Army-Navy game remains one of the few instances of pure sports," he said.

Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John Brown said yesterday that he couldn't discuss today's announcement. But he said the Ravens and the stadium authority have been aggressively seeking the Army-Navy game and would consider it a major coup.

"It's probably the premier college football event," Brown said. "We would be thrilled to have it here, and I think it would be an opportunity for Baltimore to showcase its ability to have visitors."

The Ravens, who book non-NFL events at the state-owned stadium and share profits 50-50 with the Maryland Stadium Authority, have been seeking college games, especially Army-Navy. Before the stadium's opening last summer, the team gave a tour to Navy's athletic director, Jack Lengyel, and other officials.

A Ravens spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

The 69,400-seat stadium was the site of two college football games last year -- a University of Maryland game and the Morgan State University homecoming game.

Army and Navy first played football against each other in 1890 and have met nearly every year since, through war and peace.

In addition to the 1944 match, the game was held in Baltimore in 1924. Navy lost both Baltimore games.

In modern times, it has also been held at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

The Redskins' Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover has also sought the game.

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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