Mascot-nabbing has been technically off-limits between the service academies for nearly 30 years, but that didn't stop West Point cadets last weekend from executing a heist of Bill, the Naval Academy's beloved goat.
Problem was, they took the wrong kid.
At some point over the weekend, a band of U.S. Military Academy cadets snuck onto the Maryland farm where Bill, his understudy and predecessors live. They stole what they thought was the current mascot, a curly-haired Angora that attends all Naval Academy football games.
But instead of goat-napping current mascot Bill XXXVII, they made off with Bill XXXIV, a 14-year-old billy with just one horn who retired in 2015.
The heist, first reported Tuesday in The New York Times, was a clandestine mission Times reporter Dave Philipps called "a Bay of Pigs-style embarrassment."
"The noisy assault team spooked the goats into a run, though, and when the fumbling cadets gave chase, they managed to grab only one goat -- and not the right one," Philipps wrote. "The usual post-raid gloating has been decidedly muted."
In 1992, officials at both schools signed a memorandum of agreement banning the "kidnapping of cadets, midshipmen and mascots."
That accord followed a raid on West Point by Naval Academy midshipmen, who cut phone lines and tied up six Army employees in order to steal West Point's mule mascots.
On Monday, school superintendents Army Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams and Vice Adm. Sean Buck reminded students of that agreement, issuing a statement that they are disappointed that it was violated over the weekend.
"The Academies have an agreement that live animal mascots are off-limits when it comes to 'spirit missions' ahead of our football rivalry weeks," Williams and Buck wrote. "These actions do not reflect either Academy's core values of dignity and respect. USMA has ensured the goat was returned safely and is investigating those responsible."
And the heist was the first in nine years to make the news: On Nov. 24, 2012, a goat was found tied up in the median of Army-Navy Drive in Arlington, Virginia, near the Pentagon.
The manager of Maryland Sunrise Farm, then home to Bill XXXIII and Bill XXXIV, said at the time he did not know which of the two goats had been stolen, but a public affairs officer told Military.com on Tuesday the animal was Bill XXXIII, an Angora with distinctive blue eyes that died earlier this year.
Although most pre-game pranks are in good fun and even subtly condoned with a wink and a nod by higher-ups, they can go wrong. In 2018, West Point publicly apologized to the Air Force Academy after cadets stole two Air Force falcons and injured one during the birdnapping.
The Air Force Academy's official mascot at the time, Aurora, a 22-year-old gyrfalcon, suffered injuries while thrashing in the dog crate she had been placed in by the West Pointers.
"The U.S. Military Academy sincerely apologizes for an incident involving USMA cadets and the Air Force Academy Falcons, which occurred Saturday, November 3, 2018," West Point officials wrote in a press release at the time. "We are taking this situation very seriously, and this occurrence does not reflect the Army or USMA core values of dignity and respect."
The New York Times initially reported that it was Bill XXXV, not Bill XXXIV, that was stolen.
The Army-Navy football game will be held at 3 p.m. Dec. 11 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.