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Army-Navy: Football's Greatest Rivalry

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I spent the last 3.5 hours watching the 112th Army-Navy game. It's a particularly personal game in my family: my grandfather served in the Army; his first son, my dad, was born at West Point and went on to attend the Naval Academy, serving 20 years in the Navy; his eldest son, my brother, is currently a senior at West Point, preparing to graduate in May and embark on a career in the Army. So yeah, you could say watching the game is a big deal for us.

To celebrate this 112th meeting of the USNA and USMA football teams on the football field, I've compiled a thorough list of interesting facts on this longstanding tradition, one of the most enduring rivalries in college football.


In 1890, a Navy football player challenged USMA Cadet Dennis Mahan Michie to a game; Michie accepted the challenge and a tradition was born. (Above is a view of the 1908 game.)
After a mere 3 Army-Navy games, the tradition was suspended from 1894 to 1898. As the story goes, the Navy win in 1893 prompted an incident between a rear admiral and a brigadier general that nearly led to a duel. The two teams were then restricted to playing only home games, preventing another match-up. When the tradition resumed in 1899, the game was moved to Philadelphia, considered a neutral location due to its near-equidistance from both academies.
Since the move to Philadelphia in 1899, the City of Brotherly Love has hosted the Army-Navy game a total of 83 times. New York City has hosted 11 times, Baltimore (MD) and East Rutherford (NJ) have each hosted 4 times, and the game has been played just one time each in Chicago (IL), Pasadena (CA), Princeton (NJ). The game has been played 3 times on Navy's home turf in Annapolis, MD; Army has also had the home advantage 3 times with games at West Point, NY. This year, the game was played in the DC area—at FedEx Field in Landover, MD—for the first time. As Army coach Rich Ellerson put it, "I'm surprised it has taken this long, but it's fitting and appropriate that this game be played in our nation's capital... It's going to feel like a home game for both of us."

For the Army-Navy game at the Rose Bowl in 1983, the city of Pasadena paid the travel expenses of all the USNA and USMA students and supporters, a total of 9,437 people on the Pasadena tab. Due to the distance traveled, though, the academies' own mascots weren't brought out to California; a substitute goat for Navy and 4 rented mules for Army were used instead.
The 1926 Army-Navy game in Chicago was the inaugural game for Soldier Field and the National Dedication of Soldier Field as a monument to WWI servicemen. The game ended in a 21-21 tie.
In addition to the lack of games from 1894 to 1898, the game has been missed only 5 other times:
- In 1909, Army cancelled the rest of its season, including the Army-Navy game, after Cadet Eugene Byrne died in a game against Harvard.
- In 1917 and 1918, the country was engaged in World War I, and no Army-Navy football games were played upon order of the War Department.
- In 1928 and 1929, the two academies couldn't agree on player eligibility standards, and the Army-Navy games were consequently suspended.
The 1944 and 1945 Army-Navy games were probably the apex of the rivalry: both years Army was ranked #1 and Navy was ranked #2. In 1944, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt tied the game to a war bond drive, requiring the game's 70,000 attendees to purchase war bonds along with their tickets. When Army beat Navy 23 to 7, Army's head coach, Col. Earl H. "Red" Blaik received a telegram from Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific: "The greatest of all Army teams—STOP—We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success." Leading up to the 1945 face-off, the game was hyped as the "game of the century;" Army won 32-13.

(At left is the image from the 1944 Army-Navy game program.)


The friendly rivalry is still intense, with USMA cadets living by the motto "Beat Navy," which is even emblazoned on the roof of one of the school's buildings, and USNA midshipmen living "Beat Army," which can even be seen stamped on the weight plates in the school's weight room.

Each year, on the Friday before the game, the Army and Navy Pep Bands enter the Pentagon, where they march through the halls, stopping at the offices of senior leaders and throwing pep rallies. (The above photo is from the 2003 Pentagon rallies.) This year, the Navy pep rally was in the morning and the Army one in the afternoon.
Both schools send out a team of students to run footballs from their campuses to the stadium. The midshipmen of the 13th Company have been running the game football from Annapolis to the playing field since 1982, a tradition that originated in an attempt to get the "unlucky" company off the campus. The USMA marathon team runs the ceremonial ball from West Point to the playing field. Both relay teams usually have to run through the night; it can get so cold that iPods will literally freeze and stop working and ice will form on the hands and gloves of the runners. The Army relay team practices for their duty with a large rock as somewhat of a joke, but also to convey the deeper message that they cannot drop the ball.
One of the pre-game activities is a "prisoner exchange." The prisoners? Juniors from each academy who are spending the semester in "enemy territory." The juniors are exchanged and allowed a brief reprieve to spend the game with their own schools' students.
Both the Brigade of Midshipmen (the USNA students) and the Corps of Cadets (the USMA students) march onto the field just before kick-off. Dennis Herring, mass communications chief in the USNA public affairs office, called the march on "truly one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports."
The "finest moment" of this rivalry comes at the conclusion of the game in a show of "mutual respect and solidarity": the teams stand together to sing both schools' alma maters. First, the winning and losing team face the losing academy's students to sing that school's alma mater; then, the losing team joins the winning team on the other side of the field to sing the alma mater of the winning academy to its students. Tears stream down the faces of players and students alike.
The winning team of the Army-Navy game is awarded the Thompson Cup, named for donor Robert M. Thompson. Thompson was appointed to the Naval Academy in 1864 and graduated 10th in the class of 1868; he served as a Naval officer, then became a lawyer, business magnate, philanthropist, and president of the American Olympic Association.
USNA has two "Victory Bells" that flank the steps of Bancroft Hall, which is home to the entire brigade of midshipmen and is the largest single dormitory in the world. Each time Navy defeats Army, the Enterprise Bell (from WWII's most decorated ship, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise) rings continually from the announcement of the final score until the team returns to Bancroft Hall. Once the team returns, the Navy score is rung on the Japanese Bell (a replica of the bell presented to Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1854) by the team captain, coach, superintendent, and commandant, followed by each team member.
While the game is always emotional, especially for "firsties" or seniors, it becomes even more emotionally significant in times of war. The Army-Navy game is the last competitive football game the seniors will play before being deployed to war zones, with some players never to return. By the 2004 game, at least one '03 graduate, Navy's J.P. Blecksmith, had been killed in Iraq; he was remembered at the '04 game, his pads and jerseys placed on chairs on the sidelines.


Navy midshipman Joseph Mason Reeves (who went on to become an admiral) wore the first football helmet in the 1893 Army-Navy game. A Navy doctor had informed Reeves that one more kick to the head could result in "instant insanity" or death. An shoemaker from Annapolis crafted the leather helmet that Reeves sported to protect his noggin.
The first shut-out in the rivalry since 1978 occurred in 2008, when Navy walloped Army 34 to 0.
The Army-Navy game has been, for the majority of its history, the last regular-season contest in college football. It was historically played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but was moved to the second Saturday in December to avoid it being on the same weekend as other college games.
5 Heisman Trophy winners have played in the historic game: Doc Blanchard (Army, 1945), Glenn Davis (Army, 1946), Pete Dawkins (Army, 1958), Joe Bellino (Navy, 1960), and Roger Staubach (Navy, 1963).
While the Army-Navy game is usually the last competitive game of the players' lives, due to their commitments to the military, at least a handful of players have gone on to professional football careers, including the following 5 USNA alumni and 1 USMA alumnus:
- Joe Bellino (Navy '61) played in the AFL for the Boston Patriots.
- Roger Staubach (Navy '65) played for the Dallas Cowboys, was the MVP of Super Bowl VI, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
- John Dickson Stufflebeem (Navy '75) was a punter for the Detroit Lions.
- Phil McConkey (Navy '79) played for the New York Giants, including at Super Bowl XXI.
- Napoleon McCallum (Navy '85) concurrently served his Navy commitment and played for the (then) Los Angeles Raiders; he played for the Raiders full-time once he satisfied his commitment to the Navy.
- Caleb Campbell (Army '08) was the first USMA player selected in the draft in more than a decade, but he served two years in the Army before joining the Detroit Lions last year.


"Our guys understand that the entire Marine Corps and the entire Navy are watching them. They want it so bad for the ones that have come before them, the ones who have fallen and aren't here anymore. ...They know what this game means." —Buddy Green, former Navy defensive coordinator

"It's more than football. This isn't the biggest rivalry in college football. It is the biggest rivalry in sports. ...If not for these guys doing what they do, you wouldn't have football. America understands that, because of these young men, they allow us to have freedoms in this great country." —Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]