FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick’s primary focus this Saturday will be on Sunday afternoon’s road matchup with the Miami Dolphins, who have beaten his New England Patriots in four of their last five trips to South Florida.
That won’t be the only football game on Belichick’s mind, though.
During his Friday morning news conference, the longtime Patriots coach said he “definitely” plans to watch at least some of the 119th meeting between Army and Navy, which kicks off at 3 p.m. ET at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
Army-Navy is one of the marquee events on the football calendar each year, and it carries special significance for Belichick, whose formative years were closely intertwined with the Navy program. Steve Belichick, Bill’s father, spent more than 30 years as a coach and scout for the Midshipmen, and the younger Belichick often would tag along at practice as a young kid.
“When your dad coaches at Navy, that’s a huge part of your life,” Belichick said. “That game’s a huge part of everybody’s life at those two academies, and it extends well beyond that. You know in May how many days are left until you play Army.”
Asked whether he has particularly strong memories of any Army-Navy games, Belichick smiled and replied: “Pretty much all of them.”
“Especially the ones that Navy won,” he continued. “The ’62 game was (Roger) Staubach’s sophomore year. They wore the skull and crossbones on the helmet. President Kennedy was at that game. He sat right in front of us. Actually, when he was walking across the field, a guy ran through the thing and almost tackled him. It was crazy.
“The next year, of course, the game was postponed a week after President Kennedy was assassinated. That was the game where Navy stopped Army on the 4-yard line and went to the Cotton Bowl. So those were pretty memorable games. The ’67 game — (Navy quarterback John) Cartwright. There were a lot of them. Joe Bellino’s three-touchdown game in ’59. That’s really the first game I remember.
“The first game I ever remember watching was the ’59 Army-Navy game. … ’59, that was (Joe) Bellino’s three-touchdown, 43-12 game. That was Coach (Wayne) Hardin’s first year as the head coach. I started going to games after that, but that one was with the babysitter watching at home. Great memories.”
Belichick said he and Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, a Naval Academy alum, have discussed Army-Navy “every day.”
“It’s a tremendous week there with just the spirit of the week,” Belichick said. “The pep rally Thursday night, the sendoff for the team on Friday and then coming back and the victory bell on Sunday after they won. And honestly, that kind of set the tone for the whole rest of the year.
“When you live in that world, that’s the world that you’re living in. I don’t want to say it’s a one-game season, but in some respects, it really is.”
Navy leads the all-time series 60-51-7, but Army had taken each of the last two meetings — after losing the previous 14 — and enters this year’s contest with one of its strongest teams in recent memory. The Black Knights sit at 9-2, with one of those losses coming in overtime to College Football Playoff semifinalist Oklahoma.
The Midshipmen, meanwhile, have endured a down season, entering with a record of 3-9.