The actual Lady Liberty silver dollar that President John F. Kennedy intended to use for the ceremonial coin toss at the famed Army-Navy football game in 1963 finally hit the turf at Saturday’s Army-Navy contest, 50 years after the beloved president’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet.
For a half century, the coin had been in the possession of Navy football captain Tom Lynch and was out of public view. Recently, he decided to donate it to the Naval Academy and give it a chance to return to the field. Army Secretary Cyrus R. Vance had sent the coin to Lynch as a memento of the 1963 contest.
An avid football fan and World War II Navy hero, Kennedy was looking forward to flipping the 1923 Lady Liberty dollar coin prior to the annual Army-Navy game on November 30, 1963, a contest that was being billed as “The Game of the Year.” As he had done in 1961 and 1962, Kennedy planned to watch the game from the Army side of the field in the first half and then switch to the Navy side for the second.
But, the President never got chance to attend the game because he passed away in Dallas on November 22 — only eight days before the much-anticipated game was set to be played.
The shocked country went into mourning and it was likely that the Army-Navy game would be cancelled, but First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the Kennedy family insisted that the game be played as a fitting tribute to the President who loved football and, especially, the Army-Navy rivalry.
In front of a sell-out crowd of more than 100,000 at Municipal Stadium (later renamed JFK Stadium) in Philadelphia, Kennedy’s favorite Midshipmen prevailed 21-15, as the team held off the Cadets at the Navy 2-yard line while time ran out. The quarterback of the winning team was none other than Heisman Trophy-winner and Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach.
On Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was back in Philadelphia to participate in the ceremonial coin toss before the 114th annual Army-Navy game. In his palm was President Kennedy’s Lady Liberty 1923 silver dollar.
A week after the 1963 contest, Navy captain and linebacker Lynch received an unexpected package from Army Secretary Vance. It contained a silver dollar and a letter from Vance: “Dear Midshipman Lynch, I am forwarding the coin which the late President Kennedy would have used and would have presented to you had he made the toss of the coin at the Army-Navy football game this year. Please accept this memento of a memorable football game.”
“I had the coin in my possession for 50 years and that was long enough,” Lynch said. “That’s a piece of Army-Navy game history and I just felt it would be meaningful to give that coin back to the Naval Academy so it could be seen publicly from now on.”
Presidents have been attending Army-Navy games since 1901. Teddy Roosevelt started the custom and it has been going strong ever since.