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BALTIMORE, Md. — Before the teams took the field for the Army-Navy game on Saturday, Navy fans already had claimed victory — in the parking lot.

With Annapolis only a short drive down the highway, Navy tailgaters outnumbered Army fans by a sizeable margin in the pre-game festivities.

They made sure to point it out to their out-of-state rivals whenever they could.

“Of course there’s more of us. Why would they want to come out and support that team?” said Bill Coleman, Naval Academy Class of 1969. “We’ve tried to be nice when we can find them.”

Capt. Mike Shannon, who works for the naval Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, said he offered bratwurst and burgers to the soldiers directing traffic near his tailgate party, just a few yards from the stadium entrance.

“But I think they were the only Army folks I saw,” he said. “Maybe they’re the only ones.”

Though outnumbered, Army fans defended their pockets of partying. “Go Navy” chants received quick “Beat Navy” responses, and inside the stadium the rooting sections were more evenly balanced, a point they made sure to emphasize.

“They don’t bother us at all,” said Tim Flynn, West Point Class of 1985, whose pre-game barbecue was flanked by larger Navy parties. “We know why we’re here, and we know who has the better fans.”

Staff Sgt. Dustin Williams, an instructor at West Point who spent the game tending to the Army Aviation tailgate, said this year the game was more special to him because his brother, Preston, is still serving in Iraq.

“If he’s not out on a mission, he’ll be watching this,” he said. “And my brother, Pierce, just got back from Iraq. They both know I teach some of the players, so they’ll be rooting extra now.”

Williams and the other Army tailgaters said they took the good-natured ribbing in stride, and that Navy fans were largely friendly, at least until the game started.

The Navy fans returned the compliments, but only to a point. Adam Bryan, Naval Academy Class of 2005, said he was glad to see the other tailgaters, if only so they could tease their brothers in arms.

“You almost feel bad for them,” he said. “After all, they’re the only service academy not to beat Notre Dame this year.”

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