On Saturday afternoon, the 118th Army-Navy game will be played, renewing the rivalry between the two service academies that started in the late 1800s. These two programs are full of tradition, and this game has several of its own, including the frequent attendance of United States presidents.
This year, President Donald Trump won’t be attending.
Not all presidents attend each year. But last year, when Trump was still just the President-elect, he was on hand for the game, spending one half on Navy’s side of the stadium and the other on Army’s. (That’s another part of the tradition.)
It’s not clear that presidents who’ve yet to be inaugurated had taken part before, though.
When did this tradition begin?
The president to start this was Theodore Roosevelt, all the way back in 1901. The 26th President took a train to Philadelphia, according to the Washington Post, and arrived right before kickoff.
“The President’s silk hat was on his head scarcely five seconds from the time he entered the grounds until he had taken his seat, so continuous was the ovation,” The Post reported.
Roosevelt also started the tradition of switching sides at halftime.
Army first, then Navy, with the secretary of defense doing the opposite. This was to ensure at least one leader was on each side during the game. Here’s Roosevelt crossing the field in 1901, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Below is a detailed itinerary for this moment, as well as Roosevelt’s plans for the whole game.
So what other presidents have gone to the game?
Since Roosevelt, eight have attended. President-elect Trump could technically be the ninth, although he wasn’t inaugurated at the time.
Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge attended in 1913 and 1924, respectively.
Then came Harry Truman, who holds the POTUS record for seven attended Army-Navy games. What’s interesting is that Truman, a former Army major and reserve colonel, didn’t switch sides every year. But because he attended the Army-Navy game each year while in office (1945-53), he could alternate which cheering section he sat with from year to year.
Here’s a list of presidents after Truman, according to Navy.
1961: John F. Kennedy – Navy, 13-7
1962: John F. Kennedy – Navy, 34-14
1974: Gerald Ford – Navy, 19-0
1996: Bill Clinton – Army, 28-24
2001: George W. Bush – Army, 26-17
2004: George W. Bush – Navy, 42-13
2008: George W. Bush – Navy, 34-0
2011: Barack Obama – Navy, 27-21
Vice President Joe Biden, whose son served with the Army in Iraq, has also attended several times.
America’s 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the only one to have played the game, which he did in 1912 for Army. The only other U.S. presidents to graduate from either school were Ulysses S. Grant, who graduated from West Point, and Jimmy Carter, who did so from the Naval Academy.
The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is often at stake in this rivalry.
The Commander-in-Chief's trophy was created by Air Force General George B. Simler, and it is given to the three-way service academy rivalry’s winner (including Air Force) each year. It was first awarded in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, and it has been personally awarded by the president on a number of occasions.
Here’s President Obama:
Last year, Army broke Navy’s 14-year win streak in the series, which dated back to 2002. Navy is wearing sleek blue uniforms to honor the Blue Angels, and Army will be wearing all-white ones to honor the “Pando Commandos.” Navy is a 3.5-point favorite heading into the matchup.