CENTER CITY (WPVI) -- Thousands of fans descended on Philadelphia Friday for a time-honored tradition - more than a century in the making.
As the band blared and the Navy goat grooved, you could feel the excitement at a pep rally inside Liberty Place at 16th and Chestnut in Center City.
"I haven't seen a Navy game in 15-20 years, and I'm so happy to be here!" said Joanne Gawryszewski of Ohio.
"This was so much fun. We go to the Navy game every year. My husband graduated in '73 and we just love it. It's a blast," said Leslie Bachman of Easton, Connecticut.
A day before the storied Army-Navy gridiron matchup, fans from across the country cheered as cadets and midshipman competed in one of the first challenges of the weekend.
"I'm from Virginia. My parents came from Tennessee," said Michele Ah of Virginia.
Throughout the day, Army and Navy service academies competed in The Patriot Games like a tug-of-war challenge on the USS New Jersey.
"The core of these games is these two service academies being able to showcase to the nation exactly what the investment they put in when we send our sons and daughters off to these places. It's the best of us," said Maj. Jeffrey Marshburn of the United States Corps of Cadets.
The Army swept the tug-of-war challenge.
A predictor for Saturday's game?
With a 13-year winning streak, the Navy says no way.
"Leading into tomorrow all I want is to go 14-0. That's all we want, that's what Navy wants," said Lt. Alex Turner of the United States Naval Academy.
"They have a great quarterback, but I think we are easily underestimated and our strength and resolve is easily underestimated," said Marshburn.
But whoever is ahead when the buzzer sounds, it's clear we're all winners to have these brave men and women serving our nation.
"It's incredible because, you know, we serve together 364 days a year and then that one day we're divided, but we're still brothers and sisters," said Charlie Smithers of Memphis, Tennessee.
Spirits soared and so did the cheerleaders as the Army-Navy bands kicked off Friday night's gala at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
A stirring rendition of the National Anthem for the 1,200 alum, academy leaders and VIPs gathered to celebrate what the Naval Academy Superintendent says isn't just the biggest football rivalry.
"This is the biggest sports rivalry in the country. It's really a chance to showcase these great men from both service academies who have this idea of service above self," said Vice Admiral Ted Carter of the United States Naval Academy.
While the gala went on inside, Army-Navy fans weren't hard to spot throughout Center City.
"Every time we come we have so much fun. It's just a great time for all of us to get together and just revel in all the pageantry of the game," said Anne Pershall of Annapolis, Maryland.
At Independence Hall we found Army fans from Ohio who squeezed in some sightseeing before their first Army-Navy Game on Saturday.
"This was one of the things we kind of all wanted to go to at some point so we finally got a chance to come out here," said Derek Tate of West Chester, Ohio.
"We're out having a Philly cheese steak, and we're drinking some good beer and had to come see the Liberty Bell," said Tom Tate of Van Wert, Ohio.
For a city that loves its history, there may be no better host for this time-honored tradition.
"86th time the game has been played here in Philadelphia out of 116," said Carter. "That pretty much tells you this is the heart and soul of the Army-Navy Game right here in Philadelphia."
Pomp, pageantry, patriotism for Army-Navy Game
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