This watch fob commemorates the U.S. Naval Academy’s 12-4 victory over the U.S. Military Academy in the 1892 Army-Navy Game, a hard-fought contest played before a no-doubt disappointed home-field crowd at West Point on 10 December 1892. This particular fob was awarded to one of Navy’s key footballers of that era, a tackle who was so fearless and aggressive in throwing himself headlong into opposing players that he earned the nickname “Bull.” The moniker would stick throughout his storied Navy career—for he was none other than the future Admiral Joseph M. “Bull” Reeves, aka “the Father of Carrier Aviation,” aka commander-in-chief of the U.S. Fleet. (He factors into the story beginning on page 54 in this issue.) The artifact is part of a hoard of Reeves memorabilia—including all of his medals, swords, and epaulets, and an illustrious career’s worth of mementos—in the collection of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.
Bull can be seen in his Naval Academy football days seated in the center of the middle row in this 1894 intramural-squad photo, and, in the inset, in a 1934 portrait shot taken shortly after he was appointed Fleet CINC. According to legend, writes Reeves biographer Thomas Wildenberg in All the Factors of Victory, the headgear young Bull sports in the team photo is “the first football helmet ever used in collegiate play,” a moleskin monstrosity Reeves had custom-made in Annapolis in 1893 so he could circumvent the Academy superintendent’s orders not to play anymore due to injuries. In those days, it was a rough-and-tumble sport both on the field and off: Navy’s 1893 6-4 victory over Army (in which Reeves again proved his great worth to the team) was “one of the most bitterly fought contests between the two academies,” according to Wildenberg. “. . . There were more fistfights and slugging in the stands than on the field. One brigadier general was so enraged that he challenged a rear admiral to a duel.” Ah, autumn: crisp air, falling leaves, overheated football fans. Such are the eternal verities.