ANNAPOLIS – Despite the government shutdown, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy football teams will square off as scheduled Saturday morning in Annapolis.
For fans and businesses alike, this news comes a relief. The Midshipmen only have five home games this year, making each one pretty valuable.
“It would [have been] a tremendous loss,” said Navy fan and Annapolis resident David Juppe. “We plan tailgates for each game … we would definitely put a lot of thought into it. It’s an event like the [Annapolis] Boat Show as far as we’re concerned, simply because there’s so few of them.”
It may not be Army versus Navy played in Philadelphia, which Juppe called “the gold standard for rivalries,” but Navy versus Air Force is clearly a meaningful game and a difficult one to cancel.
“It’s one of the two biggest games of the year,” said Navy spokesman Scott Strasemeier.
Juppe said, “It’s a big deal. That’s one game you know is going to be a sellout.”
While Army-Navy may be the more classic rivalry, Navy and Air Force have reason to be competitive with each other, having split the past 16 battles for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, an award given to the military school who wins the season series between the three teams. Both Navy and Air Force have won eight times since 1996, the last time Army won.
There is also a sense of tradition surrounding the Navy-Air Force game, which has occurred annually since 1972 with no interruption. It also is typical that the game is played on the first Saturday of October.
For some, this game divides families as is the case for Phil Greenway, a Georgia resident who is a Navy alumnus, and his son, an Air Force graduate and his daughter, who is a senior at the Air Force Academy. Greenway, who was visiting Annapolis with his wife to attend the game, said he knows of a lot of people who cancelled travel and hotel reservations because of speculation it might be cancelled. But he said he and his wife wanted to see the sights anyway, and added that they lucked out that the game will be played.
Aside from the significance of the game to sports fans, there is also a huge financial benefit that comes from holding the event.
“Navy sports itself is important economically for Annapolis,” said Bob Burdon, the president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. “They bring visitors into the city [who] shop, they eat at our restaurants, they bring their disposable income with them.”
There is even more to lose financially when Navy hosts another military school.
“Certainly with Navy-Air Force, that would be a very large draw,” Burdon said. “It’s a rivalry between two military schools and you’re holding it at the Navy Memorial Stadium, which isn’t too far from Washington, D.C., so a lot of military officials would come.”
Bernie O’Brien, the general manager at Fado Irish Pub and Restaurant near Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Field said a cancellation “would definitely affect our business for the weekend and overall, because we get a lot of exposure from [the game]. …The tradition is great for both [the Army and Air Force games] and to lose them would be devastating for our business.”
Permission to play the game came from the Department of Defense and an announcement was made Wednesday night. Not only is the game still on, but Navy is also expecting to break their record attendance of 37,970, according to a release that came out on their athletic website on Monday.