Navy mascots Bill XXXVII (left) and Bill XXXVI (right) are ready for the 119th Army-Navy game. (Jenny Erickson for The Washington Post)

Bill the Goat, the Naval Academy’s live mascot, lives on a top-secret farm with other retired or training mascots. A team of midshipmen gussies him up on football game days with a thorough brushing, and tapes his horns blue and gold. He struts about the sideline wearing a jacket bearing Navy’s emblem, attracting his own celebrity following.

He’s also the subject of occasional kidnapping plots.

Before Army and Navy square off for the 119th time on Saturday, the safety of the goat mascots received its annual boost. Bill (the official mascot is Bill XXVII but is joined on the sideline by Bill XXXVI) has been kidnapped multiple times since 1953, mostly by Army, but also by Air Force, Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and St. John’s College.

Mississippi students attempted to steal the goat ahead of the 1955 Sugar Bowl, but were foiled by “Naval intelligence,” the New York Times reported then. Navy brought Bill to the game and borrowed two goats from Audubon Park Zoo in New Orleans. Midshipmen dressed each goat like the official Bill, but positioned extra security around one in particular. Mississippi students went after that goat, which was actually a decoy. Bill enjoyed the game on the Navy sideline undisturbed.

The most recent kidnapping came in 2012, when Bill was taken from a farm in Gambrills and found days later tied to a road sign on a grassy median on Army-Navy Drive in Crystal City.

The Navy goats no longer reside in Gambrills — officials in Annapolis won’t say where Bill calls home nowadays — and the service academies have a formal truce against mascot stealing. Administrators warn students, “Any pranks involving live animals, including official school mascots, are strictly forbidden.”

Army cadets tried to steal Aurora, Air Force’s falcon, ahead of their annual meeting in November, but injured the bird after putting it in a dog crate. The falcon is never caged, even during transportation, and panicked in the confined space, flapping its wings until they were bloodied. She’s made a full recovery since being returned to the Colorado Springs campus.

Still, Navy is upping the watch on Bill as the game draws near, now an annual precaution.

“We regularly review our security posture commensurate with the anticipated threat, and that posture also applies to the goats,” an academy spokeswoman said. “The anticipated threat to the goats increases greatly as Army-Navy football nears, and thus the security of the goats does increase.”

But the specifics of that security posture? Navy won’t talk about that. Presumably, the academy protects against:

  • Infiltration by U.S. Military Academy exchange students. A cadet spending the fall semester in Annapolis reportedly helped classmates clandestinely dock a vessel at the Naval Academy and spirit the goat away in 1953, according to the New York Times. Bill was returned at a Navy pep rally before the game. Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, superintendent of the academy, denied the mascot had been kidnapped and insisted the goat went to the U.S. Military Academy “as a guide for a ‘pathetic’ group of Army cadets,” the Times reported. Bill slept in a dormitory instead of his usual pen at the stadium leading up to the game.
  • Chloroform. The 1953 U.S. Military Academy raiders used the substance to subdue the goat and put him in the back seat of a car.
  • College-age women asking for directions. During a 1965 heist, a small team of Army cadets got past two barbed-wire fences when a car full of their girlfriends pulled up and asked the Marine guards for directions while crying that they’d been stood up on blind dates, Tom Carhart, a military historian and West Point graduate, told the Times. “The guards never turned around,” he said. “They were looking at the girls.” 
  • Outsiders in disguise. Maryland students dressed in Navy whites walked off campus with the goat in broad daylight in 1964, according to Sports Illustrated
  • Brute force. Cadets bum-rushed Team Bill, the goat’s handlers, during a kidnapping attempt in 2015. Midshipmen fended off the attackers, but the fracas left Bill needing veterinary care for a week, according to the Times.

Navy, for its part, hasn’t taken these offensives lying down. It has a history of kidnapping Army’s mule mascots. During a raid in 1991, 17 midshipmen, two Marine advisers and one Annapolis-area farmer infiltrated the U.S. Military Academy campus dressed as military police and subdued Cadets with rope and gags while driving off with four mules.

The mission, named “Operation Missing Mascot,” ended as midshipmen rode the mules on to the field before the football game. Navy beat Army that day, 24-3, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. It was the Midshipmen’s only victory of the season.

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