Returning to his room one night before the big game, Navy halfback Joe Bellino found the doorway decorated to look like the entrance to an underground lair. "Bellino Cave," a sign said.

"You see it, and enjoy it, but you don't get involved in the pranks when you're preparing for war," said Bellino, who won the Heisman in 1960. Nonetheless, one of his cherished keepsakes is the grey West Point bathrobe Bellino won in a bet with an Army player about the outcome of the game.

Navy players haven't always taken a hands-off approach to these antics. In the 1950s, following their final practice for Army, the Mids would grab their coach, hustle him down to the Severn River and toss him into the drink.

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"When they were swinging me back and forth, I got a good look at the cakes of ice in the water," Navy's Eddie Erdelatz told The Sun in 1956. "They must have thrown me 15 yards out. I thought I'd never hit and when I did, I wished I hadn't."

Not all of the escapades are aimed at the enemy. A Navy pep rally in 1963 spilled over into downtown Annapolis as hundreds of whooping, singing Mids surrounded the Governor's mansion at 10 p.m., shouting for Gov. J. Millard Tawes.

"They banged on the door and frightened us out of our wits," a hostess at Government House told reporters.

Stuff like that resonates with players, said McConkey, the Navy end.

"When you're 21 and consumed with the job at hand, and the eyes of the miltary world are on you, hijinks provide stress relief," said McConkey, who went on to play in the NFL, and in a Super Bowl. "In a way, (the pre-game activities) provided a role reversal. Here we are, preparing to put on a show for all to see – but, beforehand, we're the spectators watching all of the pranks."

Some years, the capers continue right up to kickoff. In 1970, as the Corps of Cadets took the field at Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium, Mids peppered them with red and yellow smoke bombs. A year later, Army fans found that, overnight, their seats had been painted Navy blue and gold. Another time, Cadets were driven from their seats by the rank smell of limburger cheese, bricks of which had been stashed beneath the stands.

Too often, Army has answered by filching Navy's goat from the academy's dairy farm in Gambrills. The genesis of the theft may date to 1912, when the Mids made off with the Army mule's blanket. They draped it on the back of a local mule, hitched him to a cart and had the animal drive "Billy," their cloven-hooved mascot, through the streets of Annapolis.

In 1953, Cadets abducted Bill XV, only to have him chew up the back seat of their car on the way back to West Point. They also snatched him in 1965, after employing several teenage girls to distract the goat's guards.

Seven years later, Army struck again, and this time they photographed the long-haired angora with its captors and published the picture in the New York Times in an ad that read, "Hey Navy, do you know where your kid is today? The Corps does."

Navy got even. In 1990, sensing a pre-game theft, midshipmen hid their mascot and replaced him with a particularly ornery and odorous goat. Sure enough, Army spirited the creature away.

The following year, 17 mids dressed in army fatigues entered West Point, whisked Army's four mules into a van and lit out for Annapolis, chased most of the way by Army helicopters.

All for the sake of tradition.

"There is so much going on that week, and so many retaliatory acts, that you try your best to stay out of the mix," said Malinowski, the Navy quarterback. "We (players) would usually hear about stuff that happened about two or three days afterward.

"I'm just glad that, in my senior year (2001), ESPN came to Annapolis and followed me and a couple of other players around all week. They shot footage of the pranks, so I can go back and watch that."

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