PHILADELPHIA — — Rarely, if ever, will a game between a team with a modest 7-4 record and its 2-9 opponent be as meaningful as the one scheduled to play here at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 8. Then again, this year's meeting between Navy and Army has more at stake than usual.
It marks the first time since 2005 that the Commander in Chief's Trophy — given to the winner of the round robin played out among the nation's service academies — will be handed to the team that emerges victorious from this iconic rivalry.
"I think we're both grateful that we have the opportunity to play for it," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Wednesday during the annual pre-game luncheon. "We're both fortunate to have beaten Air Force. … We throw out whether both of us were 12-0 or 11-0 coming into this game or both of us were 0-11. You throw out all the records, you throw out anything that's happened in the past."
According to Niumatalolo, that includes Navy's unprecedented streak of 10 straight victories in what had been a fairly even matchup that dates back to Army's first-ever recorded college football game in 1890, a 24-0 loss to the Midshipmen. As a result of the past decade, Navy leads the series, 56-49-7.
Both teams are happy about the fact that the Commander in Chief's Trophy isn't going back to Colorado Springs for a third straight year. Good thing too, by the somewhat tarnished condition in which it was returned here.
"I don't know what they did with it the past two years, but they beat the hell out of it," Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told those at the luncheon.
Tapping the trophy, Army coach Rich Ellerson said, "We haven't won a lot, but we've done enough to keep this on the table."
Despite beating only one other opponent — Boston College on the same day the Midshipmen took down the Falcons — Army gave itself a chance at taking home the coveted trophy and receiving an invitation to the White House for the first time since 1996 by crushing Air Force, 41-21, at West Point on Nov. 3.
It marked the first win for the Cadets over another service academy team since it beat Air Force in 2005.
"You knew the implications of it, because you knew that once you stepped on the field at Lincoln Financial Field, all this was on the line — the CIC and everything that means," Army junior defensive end Jarrett Mackey said Wednesday. "Beating up on Air Force, seeing how the type of love and camaraderie from the Corps of Cadets and my former teammates now out in combat, seeing how excited they got, and they weren't even playing."
Navy's 28-21 ovetime victory at Air Force on Oct. 6 turned around what had been a 1-3 start for the Midshipmen and resulted in freshman Keenan Reynolds taking over at quarterback for injured junior Trey Miller. Reynolds led Navy in its fourth-quarter comeback in Colorado Springs and subsequently to five wins in six games as a starter.
Niumatalolo said that last season's 27-21 victory over Army, which came into FedEx Field in Landover with a 3-8 record, should be enough for his players not to assume they will be taking the Commander In Chief's Trophy back to Annapolis and what has been an empty glass-enclosed case at Ricketts Hall. The Midshipmen came in 4-7, marking the first time both teams had losing records for the game since 2002.
Asked about the winning streak over the Cadets, Niumatalolo said, "For all the the guys who've been involved and have come and played, it's a great accomplishment on their part. For our team this year, we don't even talk about it."
Mackey, who was selected as the team's "legacy" captain for this year's team by last year's seniors, said that he and his teammates have pointed to Navy long before the victory over Air Force ensured that this year's game would have even more significant meaning than in the past.
"You're basically indoctrinated before you're a freshman, before you sit down [for a meal], you say, 'Beat Navy,'" said Mackey, who missed last year's game after tearing up his knee in the season opener. "They're the sister academy, but you just want to smack them up. We haven't done that lately. This year is going to be a different story."