When the Navy Midshipmen football team squared off against Army in 1893, a special attendee was present: El Cid, a goat serving as the mascot for the USS New York, which had anchored near Annapolis prior to the game.
After beating the men from West Point that fateful afternoon, the Mids paid tribute to El Cid, marking the beginning of the Naval Academy’s affinity for their live animal good luck charm. (Tales of not-so-live goat skin antics at Navy football games date back even further.)
Eventually, the Naval Academy bestowed the name “Bill” upon the now-honored animal, a symbol eternally associated with Navy football and one featuring prominently on the gorgeous uniforms — designed by the Maryland-based Under Armour — the Mids will wear when they square off against rival Army Dec. 8 in Philadelphia.
Unlike Army’s sleek, all-black, modern-looking ensemble — Nike has designed uniforms for the Black Knights the last few years — Under Armour went for a clean, classic look, and they nailed it.
The navy and gold helmet design is pristine, and the prominent center stripe adds another flawless vintage touch. A charging Bill the Goat highlights the right side of the helmet, while the player’s number, in gold, adorns the left, reminiscent of the classic-looking helmets worn by the Alabama Crimson Tide.
On the bottom of the jersey is embroidered the famous last phrase of Navy Capt. James Lawrence, words that became an unofficial rallying cry of the sea service following his demise.
While commanding the frigate Chesapeake in June 1813, Lawrence and crew engaged the Royal Navy frigate Shannon. Amidst fierce fighting, Lawrence was mortally wounded by small arms fire. But before succumbing to his wounds, Lawrence told his officers, “Don’t give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks.”
Despite Lawrence’s death, his crew’s immediate surrender and the conclusions of historians that Lawrence erred tactically and disobeyed orders to avoid combat, “Don’t give up the ship” became a Navy battlecry, adopted first by Lawrence’s friend, Capt. Oliver Hazard Perry, who stitched the motto into his battle flag. That original flag is on display at the Naval Academy Museum. (A replica is on display in Memorial Hall.)
As usual, the Midshipmen’s uniform will feature an eagle, globe and anchor emblem — this year’s rendition is on the pants — to honor the many Marine officers who have been commissioned at the Naval Academy.
Also on the pants are six lines at the top of the side stripe, a subtle nod to the Navy’s first six frigates, the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides"), the USS Constellation, the USS President, the USS United States, the USS Chesapeake and the USS Congress, which were authorized by Congress on March 27, 1794.
Much like the intricate detail on Army’s new duds paying homage to the WWI soldiers of the Big Red One, Bill the Goat details can be found all the way down to the gloves and cleats.
Whatever the outcome of the game, the 119th rendition of the Army-Navy game will feature some of the best-dressed players in the rivalry’s history.
The Mids take on the Black Knights at 3 p.m. at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field Dec. 8.
CBS will once again be the game’s broadcast home.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.