President-elect Donald Trump is scheduled to attend the 117th Army-Navy football game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday.
“In keeping with a time-honored tradition, he will spend half of the game on the Army side and then half on the Navy side, who will win their 15th straight game, I’m sure,” Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee (and a member of the Navy Reserves since 1999), told reporters on Tuesday.
That time-honored tradition dates to 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt became the first of nine different U.S. presidents to attend the Army-Navy game. Roosevelt, who took a special train to Philadelphia for the game, arrived at Franklin Field shortly before kickoff.
“The President’s silk hat was on his head scarcely five seconds from the time he entered the grounds until he had taken his seat, so continuous was the ovation,” The Post reported.
Ten minutes into the game, Roosevelt left his private box and took a position on the Navy sideline. At halftime, Secretary of War Elihu Root escorted the president to Army’s side of the field in a show of neutrality.
“This arrangement was made on theory that the West Pointers will win and that the President will be in the winning box at the conclusion of the game,” The Post reported before the game.
Navy had won four of the first six Army-Navy games, but Army was the prohibitive favorite in 1901.
“We expect to lose, but hope to die fighting,” Navy’s team manager told reporters.
Army won, 11-5, in front of a crowd of 30,000. The Post called it “probably the most distinguished gathering that ever witnessed a football contest in this country.” Roosevelt also attended the Army-Navy game at Princeton in 1905, which was called on account of darkness and ended in a 6-6 tie.
Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge were the next two presidents to attend the Army-Navy game while in office, in 1913 and 1924, respectively. Both men switched sides of the field at halftime, per tradition. The commander in chief didn’t attend another Army-Navy game until 1945, when Harry Truman was on hand for the first of his POTUS-record seven games.
Perhaps because he intended to attend the Army-Navy game every year while in office and could therefore alternate which cheering section he sat with from year to year, Truman didn’t always switch sides during the game. In 1947, he and his White House party sat on Army’s side of the field, equipped with electrically heated blankets. The Post’s Shirley Povich wrote that the President “was the envy of the windswept 101,500 in the second half after a sudden drop in temperature made a wintry scene of what had been an Indian Summer afternoon.”
In 1948, Truman sat on Navy’s side of the field, as the Midshipmen shocked Army by playing to a 21-21 tie.
“Every time Navy scored a touchdown, Mr. Truman smiled, and he laughed heartily when the Midshipmen hoisted a big sign saying: Gallup picks Army,” Povich wrote. Every one of Gallup’s post-convention polls had Truman trailing Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey.
Truman attended every Army-Navy game from 1945 through 1950, and was originally scheduled to attend the 1951 game, but both The Post and New York Times reported that he was on vacation during Navy’s 42-7 rout. Supreme Court Justice Fred M. Vinson and four Cabinet members attended the game in the president’s place. As a lame duck in 1952, he sat on the Navy side for the Middies’ 7-0 win.
John F. Kennedy was the last president to attend the Army-Navy game in consecutive years, and in 1962 became the first president to conduct the pregame coin toss. Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton each attended one game, while George W. Bush attended three, including Army’s last win in the series back in 2001. Barack Obama attended the 2011 game at FedEx Field along with Vice President Biden.
It’s unclear whether Trump is the first President-elect to attend the spectacle, or which side of the field he will sit on during the first half. If he wants to be on the winning side when the game ends, he should probably begin his day with the cadets, who are six-point underdogs. Then again, bigger upsets have happened.
POTUS at the Army-Navy Game
1901: Theodore Roosevelt – Army, 11-5
1905: Theodore Roosevelt – Tie, 6-6
1913: Woodrow Wilson – Army, 22-9
1924: Calvin Coolidge – Army, 12-0
1945: Harry Truman – Army, 32-13
1946: Harry Truman – Army, 21-18
1947: Harry Truman – Army, 21-0
1948: Harry Truman – Tie, 21-21
1949: Harry Truman – Army, 38-0
1950: Harry Truman – Navy, 14-2
1952: Harry Truman – Navy, 7-0
1961: John F. Kennedy – Navy, 13-7
1962: John F. Kennedy – Navy, 34-14
1974: Gerald Ford – Navy, 19-0
1996: Bill Clinton – Army, 28-24
2001: George W. Bush – Army, 26-17
2004: George W. Bush – Navy, 42-13
2008: George W. Bush – Navy, 34-0
2011: Barack Obama – Navy, 27-21