A flurry of cheers and applause pierced the freezing cold afternoon air outside of Lincoln Financial Field's HeadHouse Plaza on Friday after a black tarp was pulled upwards and revealed a piece of art made to forever celebrate the history of an honorable event.
On the eve of the 119th Army-Navy football game, the 88th held in the City of Philadelphia, the Eagles, with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, dedicated an Army-Navy Game mural.
Representatives from the Mayor's office, the Eagles, and both academies were on hand for the unveiling.
"Today, we're going to dedicate this mural to showcase our commitment to the academies and to this game," Eagles president Don Smolenski said. "And this mural also symbolizes that the City of Philadelphia and Lincoln Financial Field are truly the home for this game."
"This is one of my favorite weekends here in the City of Philadelphia," said Sheila Hess, representative of Mayor Jim Kenney's office. "To see a sea of men and women in uniform walking around Center City with their families, it's just a magnificent sight. We're so proud of the City of Philadelphia to continue to be the host of this great weekend."
The mural takes up nearly the entire gray brick wall at the Xfinity Gate of Lincoln Financial Field. Along the wall next to it is a plaque detailing the rich history of the game and how it got its start in Philadelphia in 1899.
In bright colors, the mural illustrates players squaring off in the game through the years in chronological order from left to right on top of an American flag. The mural's right end shows the two teams from last year's game in the middle of a snowstorm. Blue lettering above the illustrations reads "America's Game, Philadelphia's Honor."
"When we join the service, any branch of service ... we take an oath to the Constitution of the United States," said Col. Mark Ray of West Point. "So, I think it's kind of special in the birthplace of the Constitution we get to play this game every year."
The Army-Navy Game is played annually as the final regular-season game of the college football season. Fans from both schools flood the city each year to see an intense rivalry filled with both passion and respect on and off the field.
"We take this opportunity for about 60 minutes to be at each other's throats," said Cmdr. H. Lamont Gourdine of the Naval Academy with a smile. "But after that is over with, we all realize that once we get off of that field of battle on the gridiron, we're all brothers and sisters in arms."
Saturday will be the 12th time the Army-Navy Game is held at Lincoln Financial Field in the stadium's 16-year history. It has been played previously in Philadelphia at Franklin Field, John F. Kennedy Stadium, and Veterans Stadium.
When fans and current cadets and midshipmen arrive at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, they will be welcomed with large banners across the area honoring both sides of the historic rivalry.
And when they enter the stadium, they will see a piece of art representing the game's place in the heart of one of America's most historic cities.
"The Army-Navy game has been a fabric of Philadelphia for now the 88th time in the history of the game starting in the late 1800s," Smolenski said. "So, to be able to put up a piece of art to symbolize what the game means to the city I think is a nice added touch to everything that goes on around Army-Navy weekend.
"It's more than just a game," he added. "It's a moment for us to take a pause and to celebrate the men and women in uniform. … I think it just really gives you a sense of pride and makes you appreciate even more what they do for us."