New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and legendary head coach Bill Belichick helped spearhead Army-Navy game bid

By Bill Wagner

Capital Gazette

Jun 17, 2022 at 6:00 am

Elected officials in Massachusetts and Rhode Island joined forces with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to formulate a bid for the Army-Navy game for the contractual cycle that concludes in 2022.

It was an impressive presentation on almost every level with one critical component missing: There were too many questions about how organizers would transport the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets to and from the New England region.

“We talked six or seven years ago about the vision of bringing the game to New England. They put together a very good presentation overall, but the logistics were not lined up in such a way that we could reasonably consider it,” Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told The Capital on Thursday.

The Kraft Sports Group, which spearheaded the New England bid, took those concerns to heart and crafted a solution. In tendering another bid for the next contractual cycle, the various stakeholders supporting the New England presentation got it right.

“All those folks got together and spent five years working on a game plan that resulted in a successful bid,” Gladchuk said. “This time around, the organizing authority had an extremely comprehensive plan for managing the transport of cadets and midshipmen to and from the game.”

Army and Navy jointly announced Wednesday the historic rivalry would travel to five cities between 2023 and 2027. By far the most surprising part of the announcement was that Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, would host the 2023 Army-Navy game.

It will mark the first time since 1983 the Army-Navy game is held anywhere other than Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington or East Rutherford, New Jersey.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, left, and head coach Bill Belichick played instrumental roles in Gillette Stadium being selected to host the 2023 Army-Navy game. Kraft and Belichick, show on the field during warms up prior to a 2019 game against the New York Jets, were both actively involved with the bid spearheaded by the Kraft Sports Group. (Adam Hunger/AP)

Gillette Stadium, best known as the home of the New England Patriots, is a 65,878-seat multi-purpose facility. Located 22 miles southwest of Boston, it is the centerpiece of a massive complex known as Patriot Place that features shopping, restaurants and other entertainment options. FIFA also announced Thursday that the stadium will host 2026 World Cup matches alongside 15 other cities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

There are more than 640,000 military veterans in the greater New England region, according to Gladchuk.

“Going to New England is something desirable to both academies because it exposes the game to a geographic area we have never, ever been involved with,” Gladchuk said. “The stadium is spectacular in every way and the Patriots organization is 100% invested in making everything perfect on that front.”

Gladchuk said Kraft, a billionaire businessman who has owned the Patriots since 1994, was involved in “every aspect” of the New England bid. However, Phil Buttafuaco, executive director of special events for the Kraft Sports Group, was the primary liaison with Army and Navy athletic officials.

Kraft was naturally thrilled to land the 124th edition of the Army-Navy game, which will be played on Dec. 9, 2023. It will be held in conjunction with the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party and 225th anniversary of the USS Constitution’s maiden voyage.

“In New England, we value history, honor tradition and celebrate sports rivalries. That’s why we are thrilled for the opportunity to host America’s Game,” Kraft said in a statement.

“There is no greater, more historical sports rivalry than the Army-Navy game. It is a nationally-televised, signature game that we have all grown up watching.”

Legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick was also an influential part of the New England presentation and his longtime ties to the Naval Academy certainly helped. The eight-time Super Bowl champion (six as head coach of the Patriots, two as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants) is the son of Steve Belichick, longest-tenured assistant coach in Navy football history.

Belichick participated in the formal presentation the Kraft Sports Group conducted for Army and Navy officials. The Annapolis native noted there are numerous Navy connections in the greater New England region such as the Naval War College and Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island, along with Electric Boat, a Groton, Connecticut, based contractor that builds attack submarines for the Navy.

“I did participate in the meeting at Gillette Stadium and am glad [this] thing worked out,” Belichick wrote in an email to The Capital. “It will be very exciting for New Englanders to see the Army-Navy classic. There is nothing else like it!”

Gladchuk said the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets will be transported to Providence by planes, trains and automobiles. Upperclassmen at both academies will have the option to travel using personal vehicles.

Those cadets and midshipmen that cannot find alternative transportation will travel in a caravan of buses from Annapolis and West Point to the Providence Convention Center, where housing arrangements will be provided.

On Saturday, the entire student bodies of both academies will be transported by bus to Gillette Stadium, then back to Providence following the game.

“The New England organizers put together a more realistic and functional plan for being able to accommodate all the cadets and midshipmen,” Gladchuk said. “Every step of the movement order was perfectly choreographed. We ran it by the academy administration and they were confident it would work.”

Gladchuk confirmed that Charlotte, North Carolina, and Orlando, Florida, were strong candidates to land the Army-Navy game between 2023 and 2027. However, athletic officials at both service academies felt the challenge of getting the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets to Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte) and Camping World Stadium (Orlando) was too great.

“Charlotte and Orlando were part of the process during this cycle and both did an absolutely terrific job. Both cities have every amenity necessary to host this game,” Gladchuk said.

Several cities throughout the United States have expressed interest in hosting the Army-Navy game. Many have put together elaborate presentations in response to the request for proposal. However, in every case the requirement that almost 9,000 cadets and midshipmen must be transported and housed has proven too great an obstacle to overcome.

If the 2023 game at Gillette Stadium succeeds on that front, it could open the door for other cities outside the northeast corridor, Gladchuk said. Cleveland and Pittsburgh are among the cities that could suddenly find themselves in the mix.

“However, New England is the first step toward illustrating that we can go out of region and make it work. We must first demonstrate that movement order can be executed smoothly,” Gladchuk said. “If Boston-Foxborough becomes a successful logistical exercise, it proves that we could conceivably go to other sites that have not been engaged in the past.”