Gillette Stadium has seen some pretty big events in its time, but the Dec. 9 showdown between the Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipmen football teams may end up near the top of the list. Just ask Kraft Group president Jonathan Kraft.
“And I can tell you that the ticket demand for this game is greater than any AFC championship game that we’ve hosted here, greater than Taylor Swift, greater than anything else we’ve ever seen,” Kraft said at a luncheon celebrating the upcoming game on Wednesday. “So, this next week is just gonna be so exciting.”
Kraft said that when Gillette was first conceived, one of the main goals was to attract events Massachusetts couldn’t previously get. Army-Navy was at the top of that list.
Now, for the first time since the two service academies started meeting on the gridiron in 1890, America’s Game, as the matchup is known, will be held in New England. It’s a historic moment for the rivalry, the region and the sport as one of college football’s great traditions comes to the Boston area.
Gov. Maura Healey said that over 50,000 tickets have already been bought by out-of-state fans. She also noted the event comes as Massachusetts celebrates some major milestones in its connection to American history. A week after the game is played, Boston will mark the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. The U.S.S. Constitution also marked the 225th anniversary of its first voyage this year.
“So, you look at all this and you can tell why it’s incredibly poignant for us in Massachusetts to be welcoming the players, the teams, the staff, their families, their friends, their supporters, to Massachusetts for this game,” Healey said. “Because we take a certain pride here in our state. We’re home and a state of firsts … but I think most importantly for these purposes, we’re the place where it all began.”
For members of the teams, the location will be new, but the significance of the game won’t change.
“Frankly, I don’t think there’s a better rivalry in sports than the Army-Navy football game,” Army head coach Jeff Monken told reporters Wednesday. “And there’ll be conference championships next week, there’ll be national championship games coming up, it was rivalry weekend in college football last Saturday … and those are great games. But I don’t think any of ‘em compare to the Army-Navy game. The fact is that every competitor on the field next weekend and every one of their classmates sitting in the stands have made a pledge to serve our country. And they’re willing to pay the ultimate price for everybody that watches the game.”
Senior Navy quarterback Xavier Arline understands firsthand just what makes the rivalry so special.
“I remember getting phone calls from people deployed and watching the game at two o’clock in the morning their time,” he said. “It’s just everyone watches this game … So just being in it and maturing and realizing how important this game is for so many reasons, it’s truly a blessing and an honor.”