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124th Army-Navy Game Arrives at Gillette Stadium

After years of planning, excitement is palpable as the 124th Army-Navy football game will be played in New England for the first time in its history.

124th Army-Navy Game will take place at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, December 9 at 3 PM.
124th Army-Navy Game will take place at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, December 9 at 3 PM.

It's known simply as "America's Game," and it's a tradition like none other when the Cadets from Army and the Midshipmen from Navy meet on the gridiron and take centerstage as college football's only matchup of the weekend. This year, the game comes to Gillette Stadium, leaving behind the Mid-Atlantic region for just the third time in the game's 124-year history and the first time since it was played at the Rose Bowl in 1983, potentially marking the start of a new, special phase for the beloved contest.

The game's arrival in Foxborough is the result of years of hard work by the organizers and last week's kickoff press conference illustrated the growing excitement from both service academies, veterans and a broad array of supporters and fans invested in seeing the tradition expanded to new heights.

"When we first conceived of building this building in the 90's, it was clearly to have a permanent home for the Patriots in Massachusetts but we also wanted to create a venue that would attract events that Massachusetts was not able to attract prior and literally at the top of that list was the Army-Navy game," said Jonathan Kraft, President of the Kraft Group, during the kickoff luncheon.

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey with representatives from Army and Navy.
Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey with representatives from Army and Navy.

"We've got our 250th anniversary of the Revolution coming up this year and I can't think of a better way to kick it off than with America's Game here," added Massachusetts Governor Maura Healy in her opening comments.

It was a process that took nearly a decade, spearheaded by Kraft Sports and Entertainment's Executive Director of Special Events Phil Buttafuoco with the aid of a multi-member organizing committee that featured members from both academies and branches of the military.

"I am amazed at how much coordination was done by Phil and his group and all the Kraft family support," said Dale Kurtz, President of the West Point Society of New England and one of Buttafuoco's earliest allies in bringing the game to Foxborough. "It's just amazing and I can tell you, the excitement around New England for veterans, not just graduates of the two academies, but veterans in general, it's just tremendous."

"Phil reached out to me in March of 2018 and it's been all-in ever since," said Paul Muller, a Naval Academy grad and another member of the organizing committee. "The excitement is overwhelming. As but one example, I found myself unexpectedly with two extra tickets to the game and let it be known that I had them available. Literally, within two minutes of my advertising their availability, they were snapped up, no questions asked.

"The visibility, excitement and interest in the game can also be seen on television. The game is already being talked about on Channel 12 News here in Rhode Island and were still a week and a half away from the game. This is truly historic - traditional Thanksgiving or New Year's Eve football games don't get this kind of interest or coverage."

The surge is enough to believe this isn't just a one-off but the start of something more that will expose all of the game's pomp and circumstance to new broader audiences, while fostering the nation-wide interest at a facility that can fully accommodate a wide range of fans and supporters.

Add in New England's rich history and it's a perfect match.

"The visibility for our many local defense establishments and historical locations will also prove to be of long-term benefit to our community," said Muller. "Most visitors won't be able to see all of the many historical sites during the weekend, but what is seen may spark an interest in a return visit, with the accompanying boost to our economy. The visibility through TV coverage and attendance can only help our many defense industries. Much of American history took place (and continues to) here in New England, and this game will give the entire country visibility of that history and ongoing industry."

"Being a hometown guy, I grew up here and so having this game here just means a ton beyond the fact that every family member thinks I can get them tickets," said Brian Concannon, the current Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Massachusetts and another member of the organizing committee. "I think it opens us up for the opportunity not just to consider future games, future Army-Navy Games here every four or five years, the ability to bring that excitement outside the Mid-Atlantic into areas where we've proven we can serve the game in a very superior way."

"I think the efforts of the entire committee and community will not only bring the game back to New England in the future but will also allow expansion of the window for other communities to host America's Game going forward," said Muller. "This is truly America's Game, and it should be viewed as such. Next weekend will be the start of such an approach, as New England sets a new standard of excellence for this epic contest."

Now, all sights shift to the game itself, with Army having a chance to secure the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy outright with a win after upsetting Air Force earlier this year, and Navy with the chance to earn a share of the trophy with a win on Dec. 9. First awarded in 1972, the prestigious Commander-in-Chief's trophy is earned each year by whichever of the service academies (Air Force, Army and Navy) notches the better head-to-head record in their respective annual matchups. But regardless of what's at stake, Army-Navy represents what's best about the sport and the country, with a collection of young men representing both their teams and the United States with hard-fought performances.

"This is not another football game," said Kurtz. "This is America's Game, because every one of those players on the field, every one of those Cadets and Midshipmen in the stands, they're going professional… profession of arms. They're going to be standing tall to defend this country. That's what makes it so special."

"Bringing the Army-Navy Game to New England and Gillette Stadium for the first time is an incredible culmination of many years of teamwork, planning and collaboration between our great partners here in New England," said Buttafuoco. "With New England and Massachusetts' rich history and unparalleled passion for sports and rivalries, there's no better place for the Army-Navy Game and we're thrilled to bring America's Game home. We're honored to have this opportunity to welcome fans, veterans and military members and their families from across the country to Gillette Stadium for an unforgettable weekend."

This will be a week packed with events in the lead-up to the game with a pep rally and gala scheduled to take place in Boston, official Fan Fest at Patriot Place and Gillette Stadium on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as well as the Patriot Games, a two-day competition between Cadets and Midshipmen featuring five events that will take place at a variety of notable locales including Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill before culminating with the final event at Gillette Stadium on Saturday prior to the contest.

On Saturday, things will get started early with ESPN College Gameday setting up in the parking lots to cover it all. From the traditional March On, when all students from both schools take the field, to a flyover with parachute jumpers it should be an unrivaled day of excitement and firsts in Foxborough.

And if the planners have any say in it, there certainly won't be any lasts.

"We're setting a new standard," said Kurtz. "I mean, that was Phil's goal from the start, set a new standard for this game and we want it back. It's not a one-time deal."

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