Following a time-honored tradition, the Army West Point Marathon Team will run the game ball from the academy in New York to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia ahead of the 123rd Army-Navy game on Dec. 10.
Starting in the evening on Dec. 8 the team will travel over 150 miles before arriving in the afternoon the next day in the, ‘City of Brotherly Love.’
Team Captain Cadet Zachary Gould, class of 2023, will lead his 16 teammates and six leaders from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on the annual ball run despite temperatures that will likely dip into the 20s.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s a job that I think I’ve wanted since I was a plebe just to be able to give back,” he said in an interview with Army Times.
The tradition of delivering the Army-Navy game ball originated in the early 1980s and has occurred consistently since 1994. Two years ago, when the game was moved to West Point in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual relay still continued with a redesigned route around the academy.
This year, the team will again be split into groups that each run one of the three respective legs of the race, with every runner clocking in at least 15 miles and also leading a stretch where they are in charge of holding the ball. Despite the intensity of the race, Gould said he and the marathon team view the event as a major team-building exercise.
Along their route, even late into the night, they will be greeted with cheers from local residents in the various towns they pass through. Once the marathoners reach Philadelphia, they will make their way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
What the team does next is drawn straight from the iconic scene of the film “Rocky” where actor Sylvester Stallone’s titular character runs up the flight of museum stairs during a training sequence.
“We run the last five miles to the stadium from the ‘Rocky’ steps with the entire team and usually there’s a pretty large crowd of people with us,” Gould said.
Lt. Col. Thomas Tolman, a representative that helps oversee the marathon team, will join the runners on their journey.
On game day, the runners will present the ball to the Army Black Knights football team at the 50-yard line prior to the start of the game, according to Tolman, who graduated from West Point in 2001 and also did the ball run when he was a cadet.
Midshipmen from the Naval Academy are planning to make their own 130-mile plus trip to deliver an Army-Navy football to the game, continuing a tradition that began for them in the 1980s.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media