There's one Army-Navy Game tradition that might seem a bit surprising for institutions that preach honor, loyalty and dignity: the Mascot Heist. Somehow, over the decades, the ritual of stealing your opponent's mascot has become a beloved prank that's part of the rivalry's tradition.
Army cadets seem to be more focused on stealing their generation's version of Bill the Goat than Navy midshipmen are committed to mule theft. Of course, goats are much more compact creatures, something that makes them easier to transport and leaves far less of a mess to clean afterward.
To be fair, mascot pranks have a long history at our country's elite colleges, though they didn't surface at the service academies until after World War II because rank has its privileges. Even so, the academies signed a nonaggression pact in 1992 that supposedly put a stop to these shenanigans.
Here are 4 classic Army-Navy Mascot Heists
1. 1953 -- The Tradition Begins
West Point cadets used chloroform to gas Billy the Goat and spirit him away from Annapolis in the back of a convertible. After Bill's return, Superintendent of the Naval Academy Vice Adm. C. Turner Joy told The New York Times that the goat had not, in fact, been "kid-naped" by the Army but had merely visited West Point as a guide for the "'pathetic' group of Army cadets who, like Yale's 'poor little sheep,' had lost their way."
2. 1965 -- The Golden Fleece
West Point cadet Tom Carhart wrote an entire book called "The Golden Fleece: High-Risk Adventure at West Point" about the successful mission that he and five of his classmates pulled off in 1965. Sick of losing their goat, the Navy started keeping Bill on a naval base between appearances, a location with far greater security than the relatively open campus in Annapolis.
Dressed in black, the commandos cut through wire fences and completed their goat theft while their girlfriends distracted the Marine Corps guards with a story about being lost after getting stood up on a blind date.
3. 1991 -- Crimes Committed in Pursuit of a Higher Good
Navy midshipmen on a mission to steal West Point's mules cut phone lines, tied up members of Army staff and went on the run from police. Facing felony charges, they instead got off with the "Order of the Mule," a made-up award from the Navy commandant that declared their actions "in the highest traditions of the naval service." Two of the raiders rose to become top leaders in the Navy SEALs.
4. 2018 -- Lead From the Front
West Point commandant Brig. Gen. Steven Gilland got in on the action last year as the star of a 10-minute Army spirit video that celebrated the tradition and plays out like a Hollywood Heist movie. Gilland plays the role of airborne commando in an elaborate raid on Annapolis.
This article was inspired by a 2018 New York Times article called "A Covert Coup for Cadets: Steal the Mascot."