The annual Army-Navy football game will soon be upon us, and the service academy teams have released the details of their special uniforms, worn in honor of a unique aspect of the institutions' respective histories. Despite anything that happens on the gridiron, the Army Black Knights will show up dressed to kill, while the Navy Midshipmen disappoint their fan base once more.
The two teams will be headed into their 124th matchup on Dec. 9, 2023. Since Nike started giving the teams Pro Combat sets in 2011, they've both donned special uniforms for their big game. And almost every year since, Army has simply outclassed Navy in terms of simplicity and good design.
Make no mistake: This assessment has nothing to do with what the uniforms are actually honoring. Year after year, Navy's execution just leaves something to be desired.
This year, the Navy uniform pays tribute to the service's submarine force, also known as the "Silent Service," with uniforms made by Under Armour. The Midshipmen's entire uniform will be "flooded with Eclipse Navy (UA's darkest shade of navy blue) to mimic the covert design of a submarine hull," according to a Navy Athletics press release.
Navy also chose a font that would mimic the classification numbers on a submarine's hull, sleeve patches with the submarine warfare insignia, and a back neck that "features a silhouette of a submarine on top of a sonar screen dotted with stars to indicate targets," according to Navy Athletics. The uniform is topped off with a helmet that looks like a submarine airbrushed at a mall somewhere.
Meanwhile, the Black Knights will honor the 3rd Infantry Division (nicknamed "Rock of the Marne") and its performance during the U.S.-led Invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Marne Division's participation in the initiation of offensive operations in Iraq, the longest and most rapid armored advance since the Second World War," according to the Army Football website. "The Dogface Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division accomplished this feat through clear application of the U.S. Army's characteristics of the offensive: surprise, concentration, audacity, and tempo."
Army chose a simple black and tan color to represent both the deserts of Iraq and the Desert Camouflage Uniform in use by the Army at the time. The Black Knights' helmet features Rocky the Bulldog, the 3rd Infantry Division mascot, originally created by Walt Disney in 1965. The uniform's back collar also features the Iraq Campaign Streamer.
Navy no longer wears Nike uniforms, having made the switch to Under Armour in 2014, and this is pretty much where things began to go awry for Navy football. There aren't a lot of hard, fast rules of good design, but the one every designer would agree on is "Keep It Simple, Stupid."
What followed the switch was anything but simple. Army-Navy Game uniform development at the Naval Academy must resemble the development of the Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicle depicted in "The Pentagon Wars." Navy's got stripes, stars, water (yes, water) and airbrushed helmets. So many airbrushed helmets.
The 2023 Navy uniform was so close to keeping it simple, (the Navy press release even explicitly says "the overall design was intended to be simple"), but someone at Annapolis just loves those airbrushed helmets. You just know that someone in that chain of command has a van with a wizard holding a crystal ball airbrushed on it.
Army, on the other hand, keeps it simple always, with a minimal color scheme and elegant font (usually its trademark stencil type); the uniform will even forgo a logo in the name of good taste. The only helmet crime committed by West Point was the Desert Camouflage Pattern used by its Special Forces uniform in 2021.
Design sense notwithstanding, the special uniforms don't have any bearing on the outcome of the game. Navy leads the series 7-5 since 2011, and 62-54-7 over all 124 years. This year, Army will be playing for a chance at the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, having beaten Air Force on Nov. 4. If Navy wins, the result is a tie, and the trophy will remain in Colorado Springs.
The 2023 Army-Navy game will kick off at 3 p.m. Dec. 9 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. You can catch the game on CBS.
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