The Naval Academy's football program is one of the nation's oldest, with its history dating back to 1879.There were two separate efforts to establish a Naval Academy football team in 1879. The first was guided by first-classman J.H. Robinson, who developed it as a training regiment to help keep the school's baseball team in shape. The team played the sport under rules that made it much closer to soccer, where the players were permitted only to kick the ball to advance it. The second effort, headed by first-classman William John Maxwell was more successful in its efforts. Maxwell met with two of his friends, Tunstall Smith and Henry Woods, who played for the Baltimore Athletic Club and officially challenged their team to a game with the Naval Academy.A team was formed from academy first-classmen, which Maxwell led as a manager, trainer, and captain. The team would wake up and practice before reveille and following drill and meals. The squad received encouragement from some of the faculty, who allowed them to eat a late dinner and skip final drill for additional practicing. This was against the direct orders of the school superintendent, who had banned football and similar activities.
The Naval Academy would not produce another football team until the 1882 season. The 1882 team would be the first with a coach, being supported by Academy officials. The 1879 season was the last time that a Navy squad would play the Baltimore Athletic Club. Navy would finish the 1880s with four winning seasons, and an overall record of 14–12–2, with one of those ties being the game against the Baltimore Athletic Club. Navy would outscore their opponents 292–231, and would finish the 19th century with an overall record of 54–19–3. The lack of a coach for the 1879 season was one of the two times the Naval Academy squad lacked one, the other time being from 1883 through 1891.
Navy headed into its season finale against Army with a 9-0 record. The game was to be played in Chicago at Soldier Field, which had been built as a memorial to the men killed in World War I. It was only natural Army and Navy would be invited to play the inaugural contest there. James R. Harrison of the New York Times described the game as "the greatest of its time and as a national spectacle." Over 110,000 people witnessed the Midshipmen open a 14-0 lead on the Cadets, only to see Army fight back to take a 21-14 lead early in the third quarter. The Navy offense responded behind its strong ground game led by running back Alan Shapley. On fourth down and three yards to go, Shapley ran eight yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 21. As the final quarter concluded, Army mounted a brief threat only to miss a 25-yard field goal.
The tie gave the Midshipmen a share of the national championship based on retroactive rankings by both the William Boand and Deke Houlgate mathematical poll systems.
Flash forward to 2007 when Ken Niumatalolo was promoted from offensive line coach to head football coach of the Naval Academy football team after Johnson's departure for Georgia Tech.
With Niumatalolo as Navy's head coach, the Mids have continued their run of success. Highlights in 2008 included an upset in Winston-Salem over #16 Wake Forest, 24–17, the Mids' first victory over a ranked team in 23 years, and a 34–0 shutout victory of Army.