The foundation of Navy's football dominance over Army can be found hundreds of miles north of Annapolis, at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I.
It is there that a long-haired quarterback from Hawaii named Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada cut his locks and honed his skills in running the same triple-option offense he had in high school.
It is there that a college soccer goalkeeper from New Jersey named Sander Gossard learned how to play football and turned three years in the Navy into a four-year career as an offensive lineman.
And it is there, more than four years ago, that a bunch of future Midshipmen took a one-point loss to some future Black Knights to heart and vowed never to lose to Army again.
"It was a big deal, and we heard about it from a lot of people, 'Once you get there [to the academy], make sure you beat Army,' " senior wide receiver Tyree Barnes recalled earlier this week.
Barnes and the rest of the 31 seniors on this year's 7-4 Navy team don't want to experience the same feeling they had at NAPS when they meet Army (3-8) and its 44 seniors tomorrow at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Admittedly, Barnes didn't quite begin to understand the magnitude of what many consider to be college football's purest rivalry - and one of its oldest - until that afternoon at Fort Monmouth in central New Jersey in the fall of 2004.
"I realized it quick," Barnes said Monday at a luncheon in Philadelphia to kick off the festivities for this year's Army-Navy game, the 109th meeting of the two academies. "No one wants to lose to Army. It's the entire school from the superintendent down."
Army wide receiver Michael Wright remembers that game with a smile, since he took his own fumbled snap on what would have been a game-tying extra point and turned it into a game-winning two-point conversion.
"I knew it was something a little bit more because our entire school was there, and they even flew people down from their prep school as well," Wright recalled. "I knew it was more important than the rest of our games, definitely not as much as what I see now and what I see up here."
In the three years since, Navy's NAPS team had never lost to Army's U.S. Military Academy Prep School team. But last month at Fort Monmouth, MAPS finished a 7-3 season with a 45-27 win and got to host a near-replica of the Commander in Chief's Trophy. It was NAPS' only loss this season.
Bryan Cook, now in his fourth season as the coach at MAPS, said that the importance of the Army-Navy game is reinforced at practice every day.
"Our lieutenants who make up most of our coaching staff had never beaten Navy when they were at West Point," Cook said. "For our guys to be 1-0 against Navy and give the lieutenants a win on their way out [before being deployed], I think it kind of showed them what it's really about."
The 25-pound replica trophy had been created by Navy with the intent of bringing it to Newport.
"It's so big, we have nowhere to put it," Cook said.
Cook, who came to MAPS from Georgia Tech, said this year's MAPS team has a chance to become the building block for Army that the NAPS teams have been for Navy over the past six years. He compares this year's MAPS quarterback, Trent Steelman, to Kaheaku-Enhada and Ricky Dobbs.
"This year's recruiting class is a great indication of that," Cook said. "It used to be that guys would get recruited into the academy, and the second thought was, 'Let's find some guys for prep school.' Now the guys they're putting into the prep school are oftentimes their top recruits. They're placing a tremendous amount of emphasis on it, which is probably why we had the success this year that we did."
Wright had no idea at the time that it would be the last time he felt that way after playing Navy. Army hasn't beaten Navy in a real college football game since 2001.
"A win over Navy definitely helps a lot, in terms of momentum and in terms of recruiting," Wright said. "The academies do recruit a lot of the same guys. Building up the pride the Cadets are going to have. And just sending the seniors out on a good note, we'll have stories to tell for the rest of our lives."
NAVY (7-4) VS. ARMY (3-8)
Tomorrow, noon, Philadelphia
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 1090 AM
Line: Navy by 11