Commander-in-Chief's Trophy takes center stage at Army-Navy press conference
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: November 30, 2017
PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — It was fitting to see the object of everyone’s affection on display during the Army-Navy media event.
The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy was prominently displayed on a pedestal adjacent to the podium during the luncheon held on the club level of Lincoln Financial Field on Wednesday. Many of those in attendance posed for pictures with the prestigious piece of hardware, awarded annually to the winner of the service academy competition among Air Force, Army and Navy.
It is very rare for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to be on the line during the Army-Navy game. In fact, it has only happened seven times since the trophy was established in 1972 and just twice since 1978.
Last time it happened was 2012 and Navy defeated Army 17-13 to reclaim the trophy away from Air Force, which had held it for two straight years. The Black Knights and Midshipmen have split the six previous games when the CIC Trophy was up for grabs.
“Just to play Army is a big deal. To play for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy makes it even more special,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Navy has captured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy a total of 15 times with 10 of those titles coming between 2003 and 2015. Army has held the 175-pound, three-sided piece of hardware just six times and not since 1996.
Fourth-year Army head coach Jeff Monken did not need to be reminded how long it’s been since Army claimed the coveted trophy.
“Twenty one years,” Monken said with a sour expression. “I’m just glad we’re positioned to have a chance to play for the trophy. You’ve got to win the first one to have a chance to play for it in the second one. It’s exciting for our players to have that goal attainable this time around.
“It would a great thrill for this year’s team and a great source of pride for the whole academy for Army to be able to win that trophy again,” Monken added.
Monken has already thought about what Army would do with the CIC Trophy if the football team is fortunate enough to bring it back to West Point from Philadelphia.
“We’re going to put it right in the middle of the mess hall and let the student body enjoy it. We have a trophy stand waiting for it,” said Monken, adding that it would eventually be moved to a location in the Army West Point Hall of Fame for the remainder of the year.
Monken is one of the few people in the Army program who knows how it feels to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. He was an assistant under head coach Paul Johnson when Navy secured the trophy five times from 2003 through 2007.
“It’s a championship. Nowhere else in college football do you have a three-team tournament for a championship and a chance to go to the White House to be presented with the trophy,” Monken said. “I remember when I was at Navy on those Paul Johnson teams that won the trophy multiple times and every year it meant so much to the players and the academy as a whole.”
Air Force has been the dominant service academy during the period the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy has been awarded, capturing 20 championships since securing its first in 1982. It is rare for the Falcons to lose to both of their service academy rivals in the same season, which was the case this year.
Navy built a big lead then blew it in the second half and needed a 75-yard touchdown drive in the final minute to edge Air Force, 48-45, on Oct. 7 in Annapolis. Quarterback Zach Abey threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler Carmona with 15 seconds remaining for the go-ahead score.
Army, on the other hand, defeated Air Force in convincing fashion as quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 265 yards to lead a 21-0 whipping. It was a virtuoso performance by the Black Knights’ defense as the Falcons were shut out for the first time since Dec. 31, 1992 – snapping a streak of 306 games.
Those results meant the 118th Army-Navy game would determine this year’s winner of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and Air Force athletic officials were gracious enough to ship it to Philadelphia for the Dec. 9 showdown at Lincoln Financial Field.
“We knew that for emotional purposes and motivational reasons, to have that trophy on the sideline was imperative and really takes the game to another level,” Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said. “It will cast a shadow on the field that resembles the intensity of this rivalry. I think it’s really exciting to know the trophy will be glistening in the backdrop for four quarters.”
Bradshaw got to see and touch the trophy for the first time during Wednesday’s luncheon. Bradshaw, offensive captain for the Black Knights, could only imagine the sight of the CIC Trophy on campus in West Point.
“Coach Monken always talks about how the trophy belongs at West Point, and we truly believe that. It’s been a long time since Army had the trophy so we are very hungry to get it back again,” Bradshaw said. “There’s a lot of excitement knowing this is a championship game and that we’re playing for more than just bragging rights. It’s definitely different to be playing for that trophy.”
Navy’s dominance over Army was a major reason why it was able to capture the CIC Trophy 10 times from 2003 through 2015. The Midshipmen beat the Black Knights 14 years in a row, by far the longest streak in series history.
For at least a decade, representatives for the Black Knights came to the Army-Navy game press conference and had to answer questions about the streak. That was not the case this year as Army snapped the historic streak a year ago, beating Navy 21-17 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“It kind of got old,” Army defensive end Jon Voit said with regard to talk of the streak. “Being able to end it meant a lot for the program. It was nice to kind of get over that big hump and definitely a relief.”
Niumatalolo was one of the few folks in the Navy organization that had ever experienced a loss to Army. Niumatalolo was an assistant under head coach Charlie Weatherbie in 1998 when Army beat Navy 34-30 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
It was also an infamous moment in Army-Navy history as the stands at dilapidated Veterans Field collapsed, spilling members of the Brigade of Midshipmen onto the field.
Niumatalolo, now in his 10th year as head coach, was asked what it felt like to lose last year’s game.
“It was devastating. You never want to lose to your rival,” he said. “I know the media wants to write about last year’s loss and how we feel about it. We’re not even thinking about that game. All I’m thinking about is this year.”
Defensive captain D.J. Palmore acknowledged that last year’s loss to the archrival hurt, but does not believe Navy is focused on the revenge factor.
“I don’t think there’s any more motivation because we lost last year. We always want to beat Army badly no matter what has happened in the past,” said Palmore, an outside linebacker who was named second team All-American Athletic Conference on Wednesday.
Palmore also threw water on the idea that this year’s Army-Navy game is bigger than usual since the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy champion will be determined.
“I don’t know if that makes it bigger. If you think about it, every time that Navy beat Air Force the trophy was on the line during the Army game,” Palmore said. “We can’t get caught up in that. We have to focus on what happens between the white lines and prepare for the game the way we always have in the past.”