FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — College football keeps changing.
The Army-Navy game never does.
In an era of booster collectives and transfer portals, the nation's two oldest service academies will line up their triple-option offenses at the home of the New England Patriots on Saturday for a day full of pageantry, tradition and a deeply rooted respect that comes with one of college football's fiercest rivalries. It will be the 124th meeting between the two teams, with Army (5-6) hoping to follow its upset of then-No. 17 Air Force last month and claim the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.
"It wouldn't matter if we hadn't won a game this year. This is going to be a big game," Army coach Jeff Monken said at a Gillette Stadium welcome event last week.
"Just the pride of winning this game. There's nothing like this game," said Monken, who has led the Black Knights to five wins over Navy (5-6) in the past seven years. "It doesn't matter what the record is. Wouldn't matter what we've done all this year. This is a huge football game for us. One we desperately want to win."
Navy coach Brian Newberry doesn't need to be reminded. He was the defensive coordinator when head coach Ken Niumatalolo — the winningest coach in Navy history, with a 10-5 record against Army — was fired. The reason: a 4-10 record against Army and Air Force his last seven years, and a slump in the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy competition dating to 2019.
"There's no love lost during the week of this game. But there's certainly an amount of respect on both sides," Newberry said. "I love the way they do things. They're a gritty, tough football program, and they're building leaders over there. They're going to be officers, just like we are. And so, it's going to be a dogfight. But nothing but respect, for Army, for the players and their staff."
The teams will be playing for the Commander-in-Chief's trophy, which is awarded to the service academy with the best record in their head-to-head games.
With a victory on Saturday, Army would claim the CIC Trophy outright for the first time since 2020, having beaten then-No. 17 Air Force 23-3 on Nov. 4 despite coming in as an 18½-point underdog. It was the first loss of the season for the Falcons, who went on to lose the last four games of their season.
The Midshipmen lost 17-6 to Air Force on Oct. 21, so a Navy win on Saturday would create a three-way tie for the CIC Trophy. If so, 2022 champion Air Force would retain possession.
The game is being played at the home of the New England Patriots for the first time, and there's no pretending the hosts are neutral.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick grew up in Annapolis, where his father was an assistant coach for 34 years. The elder Belichick's library of books on football strategy and history are now the Belichick Collection that are housed in a lounge at the Naval Academy.
The Patriots have a rare in-season weekend off because of Thursday night's game in Pittsburgh. Newberry said there are plans to have Bill Belichick talk to the team after a team meal Friday; Patriots long-snapper Joe Cardona, a Navy graduate who is still active in the reserves, stopped by last week's welcome event before practice to greet the players.
"I've been very fortunate to play in a lot of big games here in New England," said Cardona, a two-time Super Bowl champion. "But, realistically, all of them pale in comparison to those Army-Navy games."
The first Army-Navy game in Massachusetts, where George Washington first took command of the Continental Army, will feature activities at historic sites around the Boston area.
Cadets and Midshipmen will compete in the Patriot Games, including events such as tug of war and a relay race, from Boston Common and Faneuil Hall to Minute Man National Park near Lexington, which commemorates the first battle of the Revolutionary War.
A fan fest at Gillette Stadium from Thursday-Saturday will allow fans to see demonstrations and military equipment. The 3 p.m. game will be preceded by the traditional March On of the Brigade of Midshipmen, followed by the Corps of Cadets.
Army's gold uniform will feature patches and helmet decals to honor the "Dogface Soldiers" of the 3rd Infantry Division. During the opening phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 3rd Infantry mounted the longest and most rapid armored advance since the World War II.
"In adopting their mottos, symbols, and ethos on the field of friendly strife, we seek to emulate their application of these characteristics to defeat our rivals," the school said.
Navy will honor the U.S. Submarine Force, its families and supporting personnel. As a nod to its nickname, "The Silent Service," the uniforms will be a dark navy blue with white letters in a font designed to convey the markings on a submarine's hull.
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