The recent cold snap along the East Coast can mean only one thing: The Army-Navy football game is afoot, and with that, the time-honored tradition of stealing the schools’ mascots, a mule and goat, respectively.
The Naval Academy adopted the goat as its mascot in 1904 and all goats have since been lovingly dubbed Bill. West Point officially made the mule its mascot in 1899 without bestowing a name.
The deeply ingrained tradition of thievery has been occurring for nearly 70 years, and despite being banned in 1992 after Navy midshipmen were a little overzealous in their attempt — cutting phone lines and zip-tying six Army employees while stealing West Point’s mules — the observance of the annual heist has continued unabated, albeit unsanctioned.
The first cadet theft of Bill occurred in 1953 and involved a convertible and chloroform. Since then, 10 successful (more PETA friendly) Army-conducted raids have occurred.
This year, however, the cadets fumbled their mission. Hard.
According to a joint statement released by the Army and Navy in response to questions from The New York Times, the West Point raiders attempted to sneak up on Bill No. 37 as he dozed peacefully in a pasture with several other retired Bills.
“The noisy assault team spooked the goats into a run, though, and when the fumbling cadets gave chase, they managed to grab only one goat — and not the right one. After a four-hour drive back to West Point, they unveiled not Bill No. 37 but Bill No. 35, an arthritic, 14-year-old retiree with only one horn.”
Bill No. 35 was unharmed and safely returned on Monday by some rather sheepish Army officers.
This year’s game will be the 122nd meeting between the two. Kick-off is set for 3 p.m. EST on CBS. If any gaffe ever deserved a “Go Navy, beat Army,” it’s this.
This story originally appeared on HistoryNet.
Claire Barrett is a digital media editor at HistoryNet and a World War II researcher with an unparalleled affinity for Sir Winston Churchill and Michigan football.