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Discover the great stories behind Navy football, the Academy's Heisman Trophy winners and how the Naval Academy football team became known as the Midshipmen, how Bill became the mascot, the importance of "Beating Army" and much more!
Naval Academy Nickname: Midshipmen
At the Naval Academy, the Midshipmen nickname not only applies to the school's athletic teams, but to all of its students as well. While the Midshipmen term has a long association with the Academy, it's English roots date back to the 17th century. Early uses of the word described men who were stationed in the middle of a ship while on duty and for boys who served on ships as an apprentice. It was common during the time period for boys as young as seven years old to work under sea captains in an effort to learn the sailor's trade.
The spirit of apprenticeship continued during the early days of the American Navy when midshipmen trained aboard ships until they were commissioned as ensigns.
When the Academy was founded in 1845, the Midshipmen term applied to the process of entering the Navy from civilian life. Congress changed the name of Naval Academy students several times between 1870 and 1902 before finally deciding to return to the original Midshipman title. Besides Midshipmen, Navy's athletic teams are sometimes referred to as the Mids. The term "Middie's" is sometimes used, but Academy officials are quick to point out that it is inappropriate.
Naval Academy Mascot: Bill the Goat
While most teams hope they never have a 'goat' on their college football team, Bill the Goat has been a welcomed member of Naval Academy athletics since the 19th century. Bill, long a target of Army kidnappers, first filled more of a reserve mascot role in the animal's early years of serving. But with service deserving of a good conduct medal, he was called to full-time active duty status.
The goat's special treatment received at the annual Army-Navy game often challenges the VIP status that admirals and other dignitaries are granted. Instead of riding a 'goat' wagon, bill is often escorted in limousines, luxury vans and fancy floats to the stadium. When Bill is introduced to the crowd he receives great fanfare, that ranks just behind the cheers showered upon the Midshipmen players.
Two Navy players elected by the team care for the mascot on the sidelines. This role typically goes to players that are unable to play due to injury. The direction that Bill stands has a special significance at Navy games. Tradition mandates that the goat keepers keep the goat pointed towards their opponent's end zone at all times so that the Navy quarterback
will know where to lead his team. A costumed goat named Bill also represents the Academy at sporting events. He travels easier and is less likely to eat the players' uniforms.
A Naval Academy Must: BEAT ARMY!!!
College football has many great rivalries that are celebrated across the nation. While the likes of Auburn-Alabama, Florida-Florida State and Michigan-Ohio State might have more of an impact on the national polls, none possess the storied traditions or have captured the nations attention more that the annual Army-Navy game. The rivalry has captured America's Game status since the series began in 1890 and the two service academies have met nearly every year since they began meeting on a regular basis in 1899.
When most schools were still in the early stages of building support for their football programs, the Army-Navy game was drawing over 100,000 fans to Chicago's Soldier Field in 1926. The rivalry still rates national TV exposure towards the end of each regular season.
The expression "Be there with bells on" might be a great way to symbolize several ways that Navy celebrates sinking their Army foes. The ringing of the Enterprise Bell has been a part of the school's tradition since 1950.
The bell that's stationed in front of the Academy's Bancroft Hall, rings loud for observances of Morning Colors and also during special ceremonies that celebrate Navy scoring a majority of victories over Army in anyone of the three sports seasons.
Bancroft Hall is also the site for the Gakakuji Bell, which rings after victories over Army. The bell is a replica of the 1456 casting brought to the United States by Commodore Matthew C. Perry following his 1854 journey to Japan. The Navy returned the original bell to the people of Okinawa in 1987.
Another Academy landmark that reflects the Army-Navy rivalry is a bronze statue named Tecumseh, that serves as a tribute to the fierce Shawnee chief that died in 1813. Before any Army game regardless of sport~ Tecmseh gets a fresh coat of war paint. The statue also receives left-handed salutes and is showered with pennies, two separate offerings for victory.
Navy letterman receive special recognition if they've participated in a victory over Army during their varsity career. An N-Star is awarded regardless of the sport.
Navy Heisman Trophy Winners
Joe Bellino - 1960 Heisman Winner
Joe Bellino had an exceptional senior year at Navy in 1960. He rushed for 834 yards, caught 15 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns, threw two touchdown passes, averaged 47.1 yards as a punter, and returned kicks and punts. These outstanding stats led him to win the 1960 Heisman Trophy by a wide margin over Tom Brown and Jake Gibbs.
After his Navy Midshipmen college football career, Bellino's military commitment saw him serve four years of active service in the US Navy. Knowing that pro football would have to wait, Bellino was drafted late in the 1961 draft. The Washington Redskins picked him in the 17th round of the NFL draft and the Boston Patriots in the 19th round of the AFL draft. He chose to join the Boston Patriots in 1961 as a kick return specialist and played three seasons.
After football, Bellino returned to the Navy and began serving as a pilot. Throughout his career, he served a total of 28 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve and eventually retired with the rank of Captain. Bellino passed away on March 27, 2019 at the age of 91.
Roger Staubach - 1963 Heisman Winner
When you think of legendary college football players, it's tough not to think of Roger "The Dodger" Staubach. This quarterback from Navy went on to have a prolific career with the Dallas Cowboys, but it all started during his college days. In particular, his junior season was something special -- he led Navy to some incredible victories and even won the Heisman Trophy.
To fully appreciate Staubach's junior year, you have to understand how impressive it was for a Navy team to have that kind of success in the mid-1960s. The Vietnam War was in full swing and the draft was taking young men away from college football fields. Plus, Navy faced some daunting opponents that season. They started the year off with a 7-0 win over William & Mary, followed by losses to Michigan State and Duke. But then they hit their stride, winning six of their next seven games, including victories over Notre Dame and Army. Along the way, Staubach showed off his dual-threat talents -- he passed for 1,474 yards and rushed for another 418, accounting for 12 total touchdowns.
Of course, it was that performance against Notre Dame that really put Staubach on the national radar. The Irish were ranked #2 in the country at the time, and Navy was a decided underdog. But Staubach was unstoppable that day, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another in the 35-14 upset win. That victory, coupled with a triumph over Army a few weeks later, earned Navy a trip to the Cotton Bowl -- their first bowl appearance since 1958.
Following his Heisman season, Staubach returned to Navy for his senior season, but his campaign was derailed by an injury in the opening game against Penn State. Staubach missed the next four games and wasn't quite the same player when he returned to action. Navy finished with a disappointing 3-6-1 record that year. Nonetheless, Staubach finished his college career with an incredible 4,253 passing yards, 1,474 rushing yards, and 34 total touchdowns. The academy retired his No. 12 jersey after his senior year.
Roger 'Dodges' His Way to Canton
Following his active duty service, Staubach's professional career began in 1969. However, it wasn't until 1971 that he became the full-time starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. That year, he led the team to its first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Although they lost to the Baltimore Colts, Staubach proved himself to be a dominant quarterback, earning Second-team All-Pro honors. From then on, he led the team to two Super Bowl victories, which included earning the Super Bowl MVP in 1972.
One of Staubach's greatest strengths as a quarterback was his ability to make plays with his legs. He was able to extend passing plays and make positive yards out of nothing. He was also known for his clutch performances, leading the team on numerous come-from-behind victories. In fact, his last-second touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the 1975 playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings is still known as the "Hail Mary" and is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.
Staubach's impact went beyond his on-field success. He was known for his leadership on and off the field, earning the respect of his teammates and coaching staff alike. He was also named the NFL Man of the Year in 1978 for his charitable work. Even after his retirement, he continued to make an impact in Dallas, starting his own real estate company and being active in various charities.
In addition to his personal accolades, Staubach also cemented his legacy in NFL history by being named to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, further solidifying his status as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. His impact on the Cowboys and the NFL as a whole is still felt to this day.
Serving as a Navy Football Team Captain
Each year, the Naval Academy football team relies on strong captains to lead the way onto the field. The process for choosing these captains is a long and rigorous one that speaks to the caliber of leadership associated with Navy Football.
The selection begins in January of each year, when those players nominated by their peers will undergo leader boards and interviews with both their teammates and coaches. These leader boards are designed to test the knowledge, communication skills, work ethic, values, and commitment to Navy Football displayed by each potential captain. Afterward they’re interviewed by head coach Ken Niumatalolo as well as a selection committee.
The players who earn this honor of being named a Navy Midshipman Football Captain must set an example for younger players both on and off the field through leadership, hard work, determination, sportsmanship - all while representing USNA’s values of Honor Courage Commitment & Respectability.
Frequently Asked Questions About Navy Football
Q. Where does Navy play football
A. The United States Naval Academy's football team plays its home games at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. The stadium has a capacity of over 34,000. The stadium is steeped in history and tradition. The venue was completed in 1959 after just over a year of construction at the cost of $3 million dollars—a sizable sum for that time. Originally known as “Navy Stadium”, it was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 7th, 1960, to honor American servicemen and women everywhere.
Q. When was the first Army - Navy game and who won
A. The first Army-Navy football game was held on November 29th, 1890 in West Point, New York. It was a grueling battle that saw the Navy Midshipmen come out victorious with a final score of 24-0. At that time, the two teams were not yet rivals and no rivalry games or trophies had been established.
Q. Why does Navy have NASA on their football helmets
A. It's not often that you see a college football team donning an organization as iconic as NASA on their helmets. But, the Navy Midshipmen of Annapolis have been doing exactly that for decades now.
Originally, the Navy seal was placed on the helmet when then-Athletic Director Tom Hamilton added it in 1959 to give the team’s look more national recognition. However, in 1962, it was replaced with the famous NASA logo—which stands for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration"—due to its visual impact and ties to Naval aviation. To this day, there’s no other team in Division I NCAA Football who proudly bears such an impressive symbol of our country's history and innovation on their helmets each game day.