Larry Needle would never use the word surprised when asked about Philadelphia being awarded the majority of Army-Navy games in the next contractual cycle.
Needle, executive director of PHL Sports, thinks Army-Navy should be held in the City of Brotherly Love every year. In fact, Philadelphia bills itself as the “home of Army-Navy” and for good reason, having hosted 86 of the 117 contests held to date. That tally will rise to 87 this Saturday when the 118th Army-Navy game is held at Lincoln Financial Field.
Philadelphia received a ringing endorsement this past August when the two service academies announced that four of the next five Army-Navy games will be held at Lincoln Financial Field. PHL Sports, which is a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, succeeded in landing the classic event in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, was awarded the 2021 contest.
“We were thrilled with the news about getting four out of the next five games,” Needle said. “It’s obviously something that is very important to the city and all of us that work on the event. It’s an incredible Philadelphia tradition. I think the Army-Navy game belongs here. So naturally we were delighted with the latest result.”
Philadelphia has routinely received the majority of Army-Navy games during each contractual cycle. This year marks completion of the previous contract, which saw Philadelphia host five out of eight years. Baltimore got the game in 2014 and 2016 while Washington, D.C. was chosen to host in 2011.
“We never take it for granted. We know there are many cities that would love to host this game. We know it is literally one of the world’s greatest sporting events and in very high demand as a result,” said Needle, who spoke prior to last Wednesday’s annual Army-Navy luncheon. “Every year, we make sure that we’re not resting on our laurels, that we are very focused on delivering the type of event the academies deserve. So we’re thankful that both academies have recognized what Philadelphia brings to the table and have rewarded us the way they continue to do.”
Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said eight different cities submitted formal bids to host Army-Navy football during the cycle beginning in 2018. When evaluating those other proposals, Gladchuk and Army West Point counterpart Eugene “Boo” Corrigan used Philadelphia as the benchmark.
“Philadelphia has always set the bar in regards to the logistical success of this game,” Gladchuk said. “When we went through the process of soliciting bids, the template for comparison was Philadelphia. Larry Needle has been the guy that has delivered time after time after time.”
Gladchuk said there is a certain comfort level with Needle, who has been in his current position since 1996. PHL Sports is charged with attracting major sporting events and conventions to the Philadelphia area and the Army-Navy football game has long been the top priority.
“When we come to Philly, it’s easy and convenient because we know exactly what we’re getting. There are no surprises. Philadelphia has it all figured out because they have done it so many times,” Gladchuk said. “There is a significant degree of confidence, knowing that Philadelphia will deliver on every front. Larry and his people have a handle on everything. They have never fallen short.”
Army West Point head coach Jeff Monken had high praise for Philadelphia’s performance as host of what has been dubbed “America’s game.” Monken initially gained experience with the rivalry as an assistant at Navy from 2002 through 2007 and will now be seeing it from the other side for the fourth time.
“This city really embraces the Army-Navy game. I think the people of Philadelphia truly believe this game belongs to them, which is kind of neat,” Monken said. “When we come here the whole city embraces both teams and really makes you feel like this is very special. There’s so much history and tradition with this game and Philadelphia is a big part of that history and tradition.”
Ken Niumatalolo is preparing to participate in his 20th Army-Navy game, 10 as an assistant in Annapolis and now 10 as head coach of the Midshipmen. Niumatalolo cannot remember being part of too many Army-Navy games that were held elsewhere.
“When I think about Army-Navy, I think of Philadelphia – because we’ve played so many games here,” Niumatalolo said. “The City of Philadelphia has been great to the Naval Academy and our football program. They’ve always provided great hospitality and we love playing here in Philly.”
It was mentioned to Needle that athletic officials at both service academies constantly talk about the way Philadelphia wraps its arms around the Army-Navy game. PHL Sports partners with the Philadelphia government and the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League to organize and operate the event.
“We think there is a special connection between Philadelphia and this game, and that every year the military family as a whole gathers here it’s important to the entire community to open our arms and show our gratitude for all they do for us,” Needle said. “I’d do like to think that after all these years, we do it better than anyone else.”
Needle and his staff meet regularly with Eagles executives, city officials and other stakeholders to to discuss ways that Philadelphia can enhance its Army-Navy package. Naturally, Needle stays in constant contact with the Army and Navy athletic departments in order to obtain feedback on what elements can be improved.
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“We’re always thinking about how can we do this better while at the same time remembering that this game is fantastic just as it is,” Needle said. “Those traditions that surround this game should not be messed with because they’re in place for a reason and part of what makes this event great. Yes, we always want to improve upon the overall package, but in the end it’s the core of this event that makes it so special and delivers an incredible show for the entire country every year.”