President Donald Trump became the first sitting president to attend the Army-Navy game in seven years on Saturday, and he wasn’t just sitting on the sidelines.
The president participated in the ceremonial coin toss before the 119th edition of the annual matchup. A crowd of 66,729 — many active duty military members — were at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for the festivities.
Trump seemed to get a warm reception from the fans — or, perhaps they were just happy that Navy won the coin toss — but then he got more applause when he honored the captains from both teams.
The president turned and shook hands with the captains for both the Midshipmen and the Black Knights.
Trump with the coin toss for the Army-Navy game pic.twitter.com/anjgKQNuPd
— #FreePhillipDorsett (@ftbeard_17) December 8, 2018
Trump had also publicized his appearance at the game on his Twitter account, tweeting a photo of the field shortly before Air Force One landed.
Great honor to be headed to the Army-Navy game today. Will be there shortly, landing now! pic.twitter.com/ByAfESq8aS
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018
CNN reported that while the approach path to Philadelphia International Airport is normally close to Lincoln Financial Field, Air Force One made a special low pass over the stadium and dipped its right wing.
Air Force One tipping its wing as it flew by Army-Navy game pic.twitter.com/qvsJ26FzRJ
— Steve Brusk (@stevebruskCNN) December 8, 2018
The president was hardly the only military official attending the game. Defense Secretary James Mattis was there, as were Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.
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According to CBS News, Trump was the 10th sitting president to attend the game. Theodore Roosevelt started the trend in 1901. Trump also attended as the president-elect in 2016, a little more than a month before he was sworn into office. He received a similar reaction from the crowd during that appearance.
The custom is for the president to spend one half of the game on Army’s side of the field and one half on Navy’s, which Trump duly followed.
“It’s an honor to have the president in attendance as the nation watches these men fight one another with every ounce of their being on the field, but when it’s all said and done, they will combine to form one of the most powerful fighting forces known to mankind — the U.S. Armed Forces,” a statement from West Point read.
As for the toss, it ended up tails, meaning Navy got to choose its fate on the opening kick off. The 3-9 Midshipmen chose to defer to the 9-2 Black Knights — ranked No. 25 in the nation, according to USA Today — which wasn’t a good move.
The Black Knights moved down the field quickly, aided by a 51-yard run by Kell Walker, and were up 7-0 by the fifth play.
The final score was 17-10 in Army’s favor — their third straight win over Navy — although the game never seemed as close as the score might indicate. Army finished a very respectable 10-2 while the Midshipmen ended the season at 3-10, their worst campaign since 2002.
As for Trump, the game came on the same day that he announced the departure of Chief of Staff John Kelly at the end of the year. It was also a week that saw significant political tumult, particularly in the direction of Michael Cohen.
At least in Philadelphia, however, there seemed to be a moment where all of that went away.