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A sparse crowd of 11,000 watched the Army-Navy game on Nov. 28, 1942.
A sparse crowd of 11,000 watched the Army-Navy game on Nov. 28, 1942. (Baltimore Sun files / 1942)

Imagine an Army-Navy football game where the stands are mostly bare. It happened, 75 years ago, in the throes of World War II.

On Nov. 28, 1942, the teams played in Annapolis before a sparse crowd of 11,000, a mite less than the year before when nearly 100,000 fans squeezed into Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium. Wartime travel restrictions moved the site to Thompson Stadium and limited attendance to those living within 10 miles of Annapolis. Navy officials, ever vigilant, vetted all ticket requests.

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Two Army cheerleaders fall off of the Army mule, and no wonder, as it was on loan from a local dairy farm and not accustomed to mascot duties.
Two Army cheerleaders fall off of the Army mule, and no wonder, as it was on loan from a local dairy farm and not accustomed to mascot duties. (Baltimore Sun files / 1942)

Per military orders, Army’s Corps of Cadets remained at West Point. Who cheered for the visitors? Half of the Brigade of Midshipmen, 3,000 strong, sat on Army’s side and rooted for the enemy. Even Jack, the Army mule, stayed home, replaced by one from a local dairy farm within that 10-mile circle.

President Franklin Roosevelt telegrammed both teams, mindful that “the graduates of the two academies are engaged, shoulder to shoulder, in the grim game of war. Throughout the world, they are knitting … the ties of comradeship which they first formed on the playing fields of the homeland.”

Favored Army entered with a 6-2 record; Navy, 4-3. But the Midshipmen scored two touchdowns, rushed for 240 yards and kept Army from breaching midfield until the fourth quarter in winning, 14-0.

The contest was broadcast over three national radio networks and by shortwave, to servicemen worldwide. That it all went off without a hitch, The Sun opined, “proved that the Army-Navy game is an elastic enterprise which can fit into almost any set of restrictions without being obliterated.”

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