A Look Back at the Army-Navy Football Game Following 9/11

Members of the Army and Navy college football teams stand together for the U.S. National Anthem before their game on December 1, 2001.
The Army and Navy college football teams stood together for the U.S. national anthem before their game on Dec. 1, 2001. Photograph by Mark Peterson/Corbis, Getty Images.

Historic football rivals, West Point’s U.S. Army Black Knights and the U.S. Navy Academy’s Midshipmen, will meet for the 119th time at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia this Saturday.

Following 9/11, the football teams of the U.S. military academies received sustained public support throughout their seasons, including at road games. The annual Army–Navy game, held on Dec. 1, 2001, drew more television viewers than any college football game in the 2000–2010 decade.

Steve Eubanks, author of “All American: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army-Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq,” told NPR in 2013 that the game was meaningful for Americans not because either team was having a successful season, but because the match up was more significant in a post-9/11 America.

“The Navy wasn't very good, and the Army was having a losing season, so these were two losing football teams,” said Eubanks. “But [the audience] wanted to see the men who were playing it, and that Army-Navy game more so than any other — because the people understood who they were watching, if they didn't understand what they were watching."

Two of the game’s players were later killed in action in the Global War on Terror. In 2004, J.P. Blecksmith, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, was killed by a sniper in Iraq. In 2010, Lieutenant Brendan Looney, a Navy SEAL, died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

This story and more are on view in “Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11” at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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