Among many notable matchups from the storied Army-Navy game rivalry, the annual faceoff 50 years ago marks one for the history books for former service academy footballers such as 72-year-old retired naval officer Charles Miletich.
“If there was ever a game that season that we played where we could do things right and not make mistakes, I would say that was certainly the game,” Miletich, who at the time was a 22-year-old outside linebacker and captain for the U.S. Naval Academy’s football team, told Military Times.
In 1973, in its yearly game against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Navy beat Army 51-0 in Philadelphia, marking the largest margin of victory win to date in the series.
“That game I will always remember because all of my teammates … everyone got into that football game,” Miletich said. “We dictated the tempo, we dictated just about everything in that game.”
Holding a 3-7 record that season ahead of their matchup against the Black Knights, the Midshipmen had plenty to prove.
Navy dominated against Army in the first half of the game, clinching their huge margin of success with additional touchdowns in the second half, The New York Times reported at the time. With their win over the Air Force Academy earlier that season, the midshipmen took home the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time, after it had been established the year prior.
A handful of other games since 1973 have also been rather lopsided. The following year, Navy again shut out Army, beating them 19-0, and it did so again in 1978 (28-0) and 2008 (34-0). For its part, Army kept Navy from scoring in 2020 when it defeated the Midshipmen 15-0.
Similar to this year, with Brian Newberry taking the coaching helm for the sea service school, 1973 marked the first year for then-Navy head coach George Welsh. A former Navy footballer himself, Welsh came to Navy after coaching at Penn State.
In a video highlight reel made shortly after the Navy’s 1973 season, and shared with Military Times by the Naval Academy Athletic Association, a young Miletich described playing on the gridiron.
“There’s people cheering in the crowd on both sides, the emotion is just super,” he said. “You can’t let that emotion affect the way you play. You always have to play with your head clear and realize what the situation is at all times.”
One should not confuse the 1973 game with the fictional one referenced in an episode that year of the television show “M*A*S*H.” The radio announcer in the episode said the game was the 53rd matchup, which in reality was played in 1952, when Navy won 7-0.
Former Navy Lt. Max Legg, 71, who five decades ago played as a Navy offensive guard in the ‘73 game, still remembers how he felt leading up to the matchup.
“We were well prepared for the game. We had a job to do,” he said.
Both Miletich and Legg continue to watch the annual matchup, which this year is set to be held outside Boston, Massachusetts, on Dec. 9.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media