For 10 weeks, cadets and midshipmen demonstrate long-distance support for each other's football teams, collegiate Davids trying to conquer Goliaths.
Saturday, however, this love turns to hate as Army and Navy meet for the 78th time at John F. Kennedy Stadium.
"I'm glad Army did so well this year," said Mike Galpin, Navy co-captain and safety from Damascus, Md. "They're in the same boat as we are. Their time is restricted, too. I actually want Army to win every week except when they play us."
"We like to see Navy beat some good teams," said Chuck Johnston, Army's junior center from Columbia, Md. "The academies are labeled as teams. And if you can beat them in the final game after they're played well, it says something about your own football program."
Army's program is on the rise, with a 6-4 record, but the Cadets have not beaten Navy since 1972. They have lost the last four contests by a combined score of 138-16, and the Mids are one-touchdown favorites to make it five in a row.
Navy twice has captured five straight from Army - from 1939 to 1943 under Swede Larson and Billick Whelschel and from 1959 to 1963 under Wayne Hardin. If the Mids can match those feats, in George Welsh's fifth season, they also will even the series for the first time since 1923.
The Cadets have been listed in the rivalry's won-lost record, but their once-impressive margin is down to 36-35-6.
Where Hardin thrived on gimmickry. Welsh has feasted on a low-key approacg. Others can talk of life and death, and many do, but to Welsh this is just another football game.
"If you give the players this life-and-death stuff, you can make them too tight," Welsh said. "Winning does not override everything else. Our approach is to do the best we can.
"I can't believe you need gimmicks for this game. We haven't been sky-high for Army since I've been here. I try to be careful that we don't peak too early."
Army made the 1976 game crusade, then wound up losing, 38-10, after committing four turnovers to Navy's none. This year, despite the questionable status of coach Homer Smith's future, the Cadets are in less of a frenzy.
Smith was informed before this season began that he could assure himself of a new contract by winning seven games and beating Navy.
He apparently did not use this knowledge to wage a Knute Rocknetype emotional campaign among his troops. In fact, there is some doubt that he wants a new pact, since he is rumored headed for his alma mater, Princeton.
"He never let on that there was any ultimatum," Johnston said. "Each week we concentrate on the team we're playing. He's never acted like it was do-or-die for him."
Quarterback Leamon Hall holds all of Army's passing records, but this will be his alst chance to win the big one. A year ago Hall came in dripping with Sports Illustrated exposure and completed only 13 of 31 passes, with the Mids making three key interceptions. This season Hall has thrown for 1,877 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Navy assistant Steve Belichick recently put a needle to Hall, saying he "has been intercepted a lot because he how he can handle the pressure."
The service duel has been slipping annually at the gate, with Saturday's crowd expected to be about 75,000 instead of the 100,000 that was customary a decade ago.
Where the Cadets pass, Navy accents already is the owner of his Joe Gatuso already is the owner of his academy's season rushing mark, with 1,167 yards.
The whole Army team has rushed for only 1,599 yards, but when runs and throws are added together, the teams are just 38 yards apart in total affense.
Army has yoelded 510 yards more than Navy, showing a special eeakness against Navy's strength, the run. The Cadets have been crunched for 230.4 yards a game on land.
The lighting has been improved at Kennedy Stadium. That's fortunate, since the kickoff will be at 4 p.m., which obviously is for the benefit of television (WJLA-TV-7).
Critics of the late start have angered Bo Coppedge, the Navy athletic director who wears another hat as chairman of the NCAA Television Committee.
Just a couple of years ago ABC wanted to toss out the Army-Navy game, and Coppedge is not about to complain about a little thing like starting time.
At 4 p.m. today, rain pelted the tarpaulin-covered field. The bad weather left normally precise military scheduling askew, as Army was unable to work out and Navy, which drilled this morning in Annapolis, was a half-hour late for its date with the media.
The winner will receive custody of the Commander-in-Chief Trophy for the coming year, since each team already has beaten Air Force. Navy has held the trophy since 1973, after Army prevailed in the first year of competition, 1972.