Every year, West Point’s Black Knights and the Naval Academy’s Midshipmen duke it out on the football field to fanfare mostly stemming from the rivalry between Naval and Army officers. It’s a weekend that gives service members a good reason to drink, watch sports and argue over which branch is the greatest.
But notably for those of us who may be lowly enlisted or non-academy commissioned, the teams unveil new uniforms for the game each year. While some of these get-ups are absolutely magnificent, like the Army’s sexy 2018 black and red alternates, others quite honestly suck (here’s looking at you, 2020).
This year, however, both teams stepped up their sartorial game.
The Navy, we think, chose to honor the F/A-18 Super Hornets. It’s that or the seafaring branch is paying homage to Top Gun before its springtime sequel release. Frankly, we’re not sure. Either way, the solid dark blue uniforms have pops of patriotism, though the Midshipmen clearly weren’t interested in branching out color-wise. The current roundel, in the form of a white star sandwiched between one red and two white stripes posted on each shoulder, screams Americana, as do the pants with matching red and white stripes down each side. Hooyah.
The coolest part of the Midshipmen’s 2021 look is definitely found on their heads and hands (which they’ll need to use in equal measure if they want to beat the Black Knights this year). The helmets feature gold wings earned by Navy pilots, flight officers and aircrew, with a shiny Super Hornet painted on one side.
Their gloves read “Fly Navy” and they carry the unit patch for the Strike Fighter Wing, U.S. Atlantic Fleet out of Oceana, Virginia, on their chests.
And while those uniforms are snazzy and heavy on Independence Day-styled patriotism, the Army’s uniforms are just... so much more.
The Black Knights pay tribute to what has been a rough year for service members and veterans, marking not only the end of the “forever war” in Afghanistan but the 20-year anniversary of 9/11. West Point clearly took those events into consideration when crafting this downright masterpiece of a uniform.
Though the ensemble isn’t as in-your-face as the Navy’s, its symbolism is much heavier.
Each jersey carries an “Army” patch and a mirror patch emblazoned with the words “De Oppresso Liber,” which is Latin for “to free the oppressed.” It is the motto for Army Special Forces. The jerseys also carry the collar devices — really sticking with that utilities trend — worn by members of the Special Forces, showcasing crossed arrows and the letters “U” and “S.”
“United We Stand” replaces the word “Army” found on the back of regular season uniforms.
The Army’s helmets also bear the Special Forces crest and crossed arrows, an American flag, and unit insignia for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s Night Stalkers. The date of the 2001 terrorist attacks are located front and center.
Similar to the way small details are important in any military uniform inspection, the special touches found on the Black Knights’ cleats take the cake this year.
On top of each boot is a pentagon-shaped logo with the twin towers of the World Trade Center in red, white and blue.
While the Navy’s uniforms are sure to please crowds and a couch-stomping Tom Cruise, the Army’s uniforms, like its formidable 2021 team, command respect.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master's candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting. She has also written for VTDigger and New York Magazine, and previously worked as the Early Bird Brief Editor for Defense News and Military Times.