If you’ve seen one goat, you’ve seen them all, right? They’re furry creatures who’ll eat about anything. An adult male, a billy, has horns and a goatee and their young are called kids. Nevertheless, goats are not interchangeable. A group of Army cadets recently learned this lesson the hard way through a clandestine operation to KID-nap Navy’s mascot prior to the upcoming traditional Army-Navy football game. Oops! Mission fail as the wrong goat was taken.
So, wait. Navy’s mascot is a GOAT? What on earth (or the sea perhaps) does a goat have to do with naval operations? Well, historically, apparently it was a lot.
Prior to the availability of refrigeration, goats were fixtures on Navy ships serving a variety of functions. They provided a source for fresh dairy products and meat. Since goats will eat pretty much whatever is placed in front of them, the animals also equated to living garbage disposals. Goats take up much less room than cows and are more sure-footed (think rolling seas). And should the worst occur, i.e., goat overboard, they can swim. Goats can still be found on Navy ships today, but their purpose has changed; they are viewed as pets and morale boosters. I’m sure the goats’ morale is boosted knowing that they are no longer seen as a convenient food source.
A live goat first appeared as the Navy mascot way back in 1893 at the fourth ever Army-Navy football game. El Cid, the pet aboard the cruiser New York, bleated on the sidelines to urge the midshipmen on to a 6-3 victory. The win was chalked up to the presence of a goat (as opposed to the great coaching of and playing by the Navy team–sorry, guys!), so the tradition of having a live goat mascot appear at the game was born.
With a permanent mascot in place, a name change was in order. Goodbye, El Cid; hello, Bill–likely Billy to his Navy chums. Most of the over thirty Navy goat mascots since El Cid have been dubbed Bill with a Roman Numeral designation following.
But boys will be boys, and Bill (whatever the number designation happened to be) became the target of “spirit missions” by the rival Army cadets. Those sneaky cadets have stolen Bill at least ten times, producing him at the storied football game between the service academies in an attempt to shame their military opponents on the gridiron.
Over the years, things began to get out of hand. One spirit mission involved the cutting of telephone lines and the typing up of Navy employees to facilitate the goat-napping. Boys! Boys! So the problem was resolved in the early ’90’s in a non-military manner–no weapons, blood, or fighting were involved. Officials from both academies civilly signed a memo of agreement banning the kidnapping of mascots. And while they were at it, they forbid the kidnapping of cadets and midshipmen too.
But a memo is simply a piece of paper with words written on it, right? Despite being told, “No, no!,” the Army cadets decided to conduct a spirit mission this year to prepare for the Army-Navy game set for December 11th. The weekend before Thanksgiving, a group of Army cadets drove four hours to a private farm in Annapolis to carry out their goatnapping operation.
Alas, the mission didn’t turn out as intended. The cadets forget to use their library voices, and the noise they made startled the goats. Yes, goats plural. Not only the current Navy mascot resides at the farm, but Bill has predecessor Bills and a Bill understudy living there with him. The spooked goats started running with the cadets running after them. (Doesn’t this sound like a great children’s book?) In the confusion, only one goat could be grabbed and–you guessed it–it wasn’t the current Bill, Bill XXXVII.
Can you blame the cadets for this error? I mean, they did get a curly-haired Angora goat, it was male, and it was living at the farm for the Navy mascot. HOWEVER, the nabbed goat was an old, arthritic, one-horned Bill who’s been retired since 2015, Bill XXXIV. Hmm. Would reasonable minds conclude the Navy midshipmen revered this goat at their current mascot? (I’m betting no.) But the cadets couldn’t come home empty-handed, could they?
To the embarrassment of Navy, the story leaked to the public. The New York Times reported the botched mission describing it as a “Bay of Pigs-style embarrassment.” Yikes! The (wrong) goat was returned safely and received a clean bill of health after being checked out by a vet. He also now has some great stories to share about Army with his buddies at the goat farm.
In Army’s defense, what do they know about goats? Their mascot, which debuted in 1899, is a mule. Why a mule? Such animals had been used for generations as moving machines, i.e., hauling Army gear. A select few mules serve as mascots for West Point and who are trained by select cadets. Just a thought, but Army may want to form a second training group at the U.S.M.A. to teach the cadets what the Navy mascot looks like.
It should be great fun to watch the Army-Navy game this year. I can just imagine the signs which the Navy fans might be waving for the cameras. “Did getting Bill XXXIV get Army’s goat?” “Army caught napping in goatnapping.” “All goats are not created equal.” “That’s our mascot on the field. The one with TWO horns.” “We always get our mule.”
And who will I be rooting for come December 11th? As an Air Force “dependent” for decades, I don’t have a goat or even a mule in this game. I simply like watching football, enjoy a rivalry, and (per past history) can’t resist a man in uniform (there’ll be a few thousand in attendance.) And I’m expecting everyone to keep their hands to themselves–no mascot mischief, please! (We’ll be looking at you cadets….)
Is mascot stealing simply good fun or a crime? Who are you rooting for in the Army-Navy game? Why? Are you surprised at the choice of mascots for these service academies?