Air Force set to play at Navy, despite government shutdown
NEW YORK — Air Force will play Saturday at Navy, averting a possible cancellation of the football rivalry game resulting from the government shutdown.
Navy’s official website announced the news, saying approval was handed down from the Department of Defense to play the sold-out game. Navy spokesman Cmdr. John Schofield was one of two officials to confirm the news to the Annapolis-based Capital Gazette. Air Force could not offer official confirmation late Wednesday, but at least one player expressed relief on social media.
“Best news all day,” freshman defensive back Weston Steelhammer said on Twitter. “Heading to Annapolis in the a.m.”
Radio play-by-play announcer Jim Arthur said he, too, had been given confirmation that the trip was on as originally scheduled for Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. game.
With that, one of the strangest sagas in service academy athletic history came to a temporary resolution — though upcoming games may face the same hurdles if a resolution isn’t reached in Congress.
The ordeal began with the government shutdown at midnight Tuesday morning and the news hours later that service academy teams were indefinitely prohibited from traveling. Air Force (and Army, which plays Saturday at Boston College) then began exploring ways to pay for the expenses without government or military funds.
Even when nonappropriated money was found, the Department of Defense was slow to approve the games because of a fear of public backlash.
United Airlines even stepped in with an offer to fly Air Force to the game for free. The offer was legitimate, but Air Force opted to stick with its original Delta charter.
News broke several times during a 48-hour period that the game was on or off — including one premature confirmation by Navy’s own Twitter handle — but each time the announcements proved unfounded as the 10 a.m. Thursday deadline approached.
An Air Force source said Wednesday afternoon that a decision was expected that evening, but developments were “literally going minute to minute.”
Plenty was at stake. Navy expects to generate more than $4 million between ticket sales, concessions and television revenue. There’s also the issue of altering the plans of the nearly 40,000 who hold tickets to the game. There was talk of postponing until Dec. 7, but both sides seemed reluctant to take that route.
The Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy has gone to the winner of the past 13 Air Force-Navy games and three of the past four games have gone into overtime.