As Army-Navy game nears, Annapolis is awash in merch

Published 12/9/2022 6:00 a.m. EST, Updated 12/23/2022 5:22 p.m. EST

The Naval Academy’s Midshipmen Store is the center of the Navy gear universe.

Shirts, shorts, hats and sweats emblazoned with “NAVY.” Cups, phone chargers, headphones and wallets. A stuffed Bill the Goat? Bow tie or hair ribbons? Looking for something that screams Naval Academy? It is here, though not everyone can stroll its aisles.

Only mids, their families, and people in a few other select groups with ties to the academy can shop at the store, sometimes at steep discounts.

The store on Wilson Road is the academy equivalent of campus shops at most colleges, filled with convenience food, study supplies and clothing with logos and mascots.

And it has been a big few weeks at the shop. The 123rd Army-Navy game in Philadelphia will be the only college football game on TV on Saturday. Even if it weren’t, it’s the one that matters to a lot of people in Annapolis and beyond.

At the Midshipmen Store, the staff can’t keep up with the demand for merchandise linked to the commemorative astronaut-themed uniforms developed for the game by Under Armour. They celebrate the 54 Naval Academy graduates who have gone on to serve as astronauts and feature the bright red NASA logo. Helmets are painted with images of a spacewalk and the surface of the moon.

A lot of it sold out the day it was released. The staff borrowed what it could from the Visitors Center across campus.

“I wanted a quarter-zip. I came down the next day and it was completely gone,” said Jeff Webb, CEO and president of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association. “So I bought a hoodie instead.”

My Navy sweatshirt now lives in Kentucky with my daughter. I see it occasionally in photos, and it comes home to Annapolis for the holidays.

To be honest, it looks better on her than it ever did on me. If clothes have feelings, it is probably happier now. Besides, I have three Navy polo shirts and a foul-weather jacket I wear when I walk the dogs in the rain. I’ve had Navy coffee mugs, and a “Bill the Goat” stuffed toy went through our home briefly. If I search, there might even be a Navy Christmas ornament.

I didn’t attend the Naval Academy, and I never served. But I live in Annapolis, and this place is awash with Navy gear.

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Walk up Main Street and you’ll find plenty of stuff for sale with the Navy logo, the Blue N with a star at the upper right. Need a T-shirt with the crest, complete with the Latin academy motto Ex Scientia Tridens? You must walk past the Navy gear display at the Under Armour store in Annapolis.

And if you live in Annapolis for a while, all these socks and shirts and cups and toys flow into your life and closets and drawers.

“I have an inordinate amount of Navy gear for somebody who didn’t even attend Navy,” said John Schofield. “It’s quite gross.”

To be fair, Schofield has a connection to the academy even if he graduated from Villanova. He’s a retired commander who served as the academy spokesperson for several years.

Today, he has a public relations consulting firm in Annapolis. But he also is the co-host of the Sing Second Sports podcast, which covers Navy athletics. The name is a reference to the tradition in which the two academy teams meet in the middle of the field at game’s end to sing their respective school songs, with the winning team going second.

“I’m looking at one of the new NASA designs,” he said. “It’s actually quite slick, and I hate the Under Armour uniforms and how crazy they get.”

Schofield was at the academy when this all started in 2015, when Under Armour took over from Nike as the official provider of team uniforms and as a licensee for Navy merchandise. Until then, uniforms were almost identical year to year.

“It was the same effing shirt every year. … That’s when this whole game changed,” Schofield said.

That first year, Under Armor came out with a uniform commemorating ships and sailors in the Navy fleet, topped off with helmets showing different types of vessels for different team positions. The quarterbacks, for example, wore helmets with aircraft carriers.

While the commemorative uniforms certainly get a lot of media and fan attention — Army and Nike do them, too, as part of the “Rivalry Collection” ― it also creates a steady demand for new merchandise designs snapped up by eager fans, academy alumni, Navy veterans and lots of people who just live in Annapolis.

Looking for a Christmas gift that says Annapolis? Yeah, Navy’s got you covered.

“They make it look kind of slick and evolve it every year.”

If Schofield was there when the competing designs for the Army-Navy game began, Stewart Cohen goes all the way back to some of the earliest days of Annapolis’ fixation with Navy gear.

He and his wife Marcia opened Peppers on Main Street 40 years ago. It once was the only store dedicated exclusively to this kind of merchandise. People just didn’t know what it was, maybe only seeing a sweatshirt or cap worn by team staffers on the sidelines during games.

“People were calling looking for the hats,” he said.

The Cohens had to struggle in the early 1990s to get Nike to sell them clothing items tied to its academy products.

“The salesperson who handled the Naval Academy [gear] told me he had some left over in his garage that I could have,” Cohen said.

He declined that offer, but Nike soon came around to the idea. By 1997, the business was starting to sell merchandise on the internet and demand took off, he said. By 2014, online sales had overwhelmed the retail business and Peppers moved to online-only at,

“I guess we figured out this internet thing,” he said.

The target market for all this isn’t folks like Schofield, Webb and certainly not me. It’s high school sophomores and juniors who might consider going to the academy or joining the Navy.

If this year’s NASA design is as popular as it seems on the academy Yard — not campus, and never call a mid a cadet — it might attract bright young men and women with the appeal of someday joining the space agency.

Under Armour isn’t the only company offering Navy gear. The Collegiate Licensing Co., part of the Learfield sports licensing business, has rights to both Navy and Army trademarks. So far, it’s signed agreements with 244 companies for Naval Academy products.

Eric Ruden, assistant athletic director at the Naval Academy, says he approves every single design.

“I average 25 submittals a day,” he said.

Most are clothing and are about what you’d think: A logo, a crest, “NAVY” or “Naval Academy.” Sometimes there’s a cornhole game or a camping chair.

“Sometimes you’ll get requests for wedding cakes, or graduation cakes where the local baker will reach out to me for approval,” Ruden said.

Because Navy sports are funded by the Naval Academy Athletic Association where Ruden works, the nonprofit keeps about 60% of licensing royalties. The rest goes to the Naval Academy. Proceeds from the Midshipmen store go directly to a fund for the welfare of the mids.

Ruden declined to say what all the fees for these trademark licensing agreements bring in each year, only putting it in the neighborhood of a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Whenever a new design hits the market, there’s a good chance Mike Althouse will comment about it on Twitter.

“Let’s GOOOOOO” he tweeted when this year’s uniform was revealed on Nov. 21.

Followed by “Navy Under Armour Beating Army”

“There’s some gaudy stuff out there. I won’t buy that. But for the NASA stuff? I liked one of the hoodies.”

A Class of ’86 member, Althouse retired after a career as a pilot. Now a banking executive in Wilmington, Delaware, he really liked the Naval Aviation design last year.

“I will tell you that I have some very vigorous debates with people about the uniforms,” Althouse said. “A lot of my classmates seem to have turned into, you know, get-off-my-lawn guys. And they complain about the uniforms when they were rolled out every year.

“But … those uniforms are not designed for us. They’re designed for recruits.”

Kickoff for the Army-Navy game is at 3 p.m. Saturday on CBS Sports. If you’re going to Philadelphia for the game, good for you. Keep your eye out for counterfeit items sold from the trunk of a car. And make sure you tag me — @hutzellrick on Twitter, @rickhutzell on Instagram ― in your pictures of you in your Navy (OK, Army if you must — but no Air Force!) swag.

This column is a mix of reporting and opinions. So, here’s mine: Go Navy. Beat Army.