In a few hours, Army will play Navy in the 124th meeting of their storied rivalry, and once again, we’re more excited here for the uniform rivalry than for the actual game. Since 2008, when Nike outfitted both teams in special “one off” uniforms specifically designed for the end-of-season matchup, the game has been as much about the specialty uniforms (and the backstories behind their design) as the game itself. 2023 should prove no different.
In case you missed it, Paul had the early previews on the Navy and Army uniforms. Of course, both Academies go a LOT more in depth, so if you want even more uni minutiae, click here for Army and click here for Navy. And of course, there are the hype videos:
Today’s game kicks off at 3:00 pm ET and will be broadcast on CBS television. More details here.
Let’s now take a look at the past 15 years of specialty uniforms for the Army/Navy game.
This marked the first game where Nike created special uniforms specifically for this game. Army wore camo helmets and pants (featuring “WEST POINT” down the legs) along with a black jersey featuring camo numbers. Army NOB’s read DUTY. HONOR. COUNTRY. Navy wore their regular gold helmets, but added white jerseys with blue and gold “epaulettes” and navy blue pants featuring the gold/red stripe of the Marines’ Evening Dress trowser.
Army would put the special uniform on hiatus for 2009, while Navy riffed on their 2008 unis. Navy kept their 2008 pants and gold helmets, but swapped their white jerseys for navy ones that were basically color swaps of the previous year.
For a second straight year, Army wore its regular uniforms, while Navy slightly changed up their white jerseys from 2008. Whereas in 2008, the team had blue epaulettes bordered with gold, in 2010 they added red stripes and ditched the gold outline. This would be the last game the uniforms would not be a big “part” of the game (and the storytelling would begin).
Do you remember the “Nike Combat” uniform? Well, 2011 would feature both teams in specialty uniforms, with Army donning gold helmets with a thick black stripe, basic white jerseys with black undersleeves featuring a modified northwest striping and gold pants. Jerseys would feature special stencil fonts, and shoes were meant to replicate combat boots. Navy got an entire new uniform, with a white helmet featuring an anchor on the side and a gold stripe, with the jersey and pants being mono-navy with gold numbers. While both uniforms would still be relatively staid, compared to what would follow, the uniform “battle” had truly begun.
We’d get in 2012 what would unfortunately become the “norm” for many college uni matchups a decade later, when Army wore black jerseys and pants (with stealth stencil numbers with a map gradient) against Navy decked out in mono-white. This may be commonplace now, but back then it was much more of a novelty. The real “star” of the uni show, however, was Navy’s custom helmet, which was pretty revolutionary for the time.
While both teams got special new uniforms in 2013, these would be somewhat mirror images of the prior year’s matchup. Both teams kept their prior year’s helmets, and Army swapped its black jersey and pants for a white jersey, with thick gray collar and gray pants, with a thick black stripe. Navy kept its white pants, but wore a blue jersey this time around. As memorable as the uniforms was the early season snowfall that took place that day.
After 2013, Navy dumped Nike and moved to Under Armour for their uniform supplier, and 2014 marked the first time since the “specialty” uniforms for the game (back in 2008) featured different uni makers. And it showed. Nike stuck with a fairly sedate gold/black/black uniform for Army, while Navy’s flag-inspired outfit from UA was quite the spectacle. Nicknamed the “Don’t Tread on Me” uniforms, they even attracted attention from decidedly non-uniform-centered websites.
Helmets would be the big story of the 2015 game, with Navy introducing gorgeous custom-painted lids and Army later countering with black helmets featuring different military insignias for each position player. Army’s uniform was pretty basic, with black/white/black, while Navy wore blue helmets, jerseys and pants, with some gray and gold accents.
Army would lean into mono-black uniforms very heavily for 2016, inspired by the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne from World War II. Navy countered with a new uniform which was heavy on athletic gold, which were inspired by the uniforms Navy wore during the 1963 football season. I particularly enjoyed Navy’s gold/white/gold look, even if it wasn’t your classic Navy uniform.
Of course Army didn’t realize it at the time, but their 2017 uniforms — inspired by the Pando Commandos — were the ultimate camouflage uniforms, as another early season snowfall provided perfect cover for the mono-white clad squad. Navy went with a Blue Angels tribute, which were royal with athletic gold trim, with lighter blue custom painted helmets, and were quite striking in their own right.
For their 2018 tilt, Army again went mono-black, this time honoring famed World War I unit nicknamed the “Big Red One,” and their uniforms once again were fairly staid. Navy, meanwhile, dedicated their 2018 uniforms to honoring Bill the Goat, the Navy’s animal mascot dating back to 1893! Their rather traditional-looking uniform was navy/white/white, and of course featured a logo of Bill the Goat prominently on the helmet.
For the 2019 game, Navy broke out 1960s throwbacks which again featured custom painted helmets and navy over gold jerseys and pants. A nice solid look for Navy was countered by Army’s olive green-heavy uniforms, inspired by the 1st Cavalry Division from 1965. While the game didn’t have a throwback feel per se, both schools leaned into the 1960s for their uni-inspiration.
For the first time in forever, Army/Navy wasn’t the “only game in town” in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the football season schedule (and pretty much everything else in our lives) — but the game was still played. For this matchup, Army’s uniforms drew inspiration from their 25th Infantry Division, going with a mono-olive uniform, that actually had (purposefully) different shades of olive. Navy countered with a blue/white/white uniform that celebrated 175 years of the Naval Academy. The (relatively) drab uniforms worn on a foggy late afternoon provided a perfect setting for a surreal year in which COVID cast a pall across the world.
In 2021, Navy again wore custom painted helmets atop a mono-navy uniform, which itself paid tribute to naval aviation and the F/A 18 Super Hornet. Army went with a tan-colored outfit, inspired by that worn by soldiers of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command, and which were specifically designed to honor the US response after 9/11 (2021 marked the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks). While the game was certainly easy on the eyes, it was definitely more muted than prior years.
Army’s uniforms in 2022 were a tribute to the “Iron Soldiers” of the 1st Armored Division on the 80th anniversary of Operation Torch in Europe and the deserts of North Africa. The uniforms featured a gradient top, in a paint-splatter motif, which was replicated on the helmet. The colors and number font were the same as those used on the M3 tanks during World War II. Navy countered with uniforms that were a salute to NASA and all of the astronauts produced by the Naval Academy. The white uniforms with red stripes were designed to mimic NASA’s spacewalk suits. The Helvetica font has been used by NASA for decades. The sides of the helmet had hand-crafted paintings with the NASA logo in front of the moon and Annapolis graduate Bruce McCandless II in front of the Earth.
And there you have it — a look back at the past 15 years of custom uniforms for the big game. Enjoy today’s game!