Retired Army Lt. Col. Richard Peck is no stranger to adversity, having served 12 years on active duty and 16 more in the reserves.

But ahead of kickoff at the Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, Peck said West Point football's 13-game losing streak - now 14 - was testing even his limits.

"We've got to put a stop to this nonsense. I didn't drive 285 miles to watch them lose!" said Peck, 67, an American Legionnaire from Pascoag, R.I., who sported an elaborately waxed mustache and a "Beat Navy" hat embellished with the word Please! in black marker.

This time, his 2-10 Cadets came up just short against the 10-2 Midshipmen, going down, 21-17.

Still, Peck has attended 41 consecutive Army-Navy Games for a reason: "It's about brotherhood. It's two teams that battle each other for 60 minutes on the field, yet work hand-in-hand in combat."

He's among thousands of long-suffering Army supporters who valued that brotherhood enough to travel from all over the country to cheer on their half of a football rivalry that dates to 1890.

Even more are watching from afar, said Brig. Gen. John Thomson, commandant of the U.S. Military Academy.

"This means a lot to the whole Army," he said. "We're getting notes and messages from all over the world: Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Germany."

The gist of those messages? Beat Navy.

"A win would be very significant," Thomson said Friday. "For seniors graduating this year, over a thousand of them will be out in the Army, potentially in combat, and they will look back at this day as a great day in their 47 months at West Point."

He speaks from experience: He was a defensive back for Army in 1984, when the Cadets beat Navy at Veterans Stadium. He graduated in 1986, and hasn't missed watching a game since. When he was in Afghanistan a couple of years ago, he woke up at 3 a.m. for kickoff.

West Point Command Sgt. Maj. Dawn Rippelmeyer has tuned in from mess halls and rec centers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It's a source of pride for us," she said. "No matter where you are, you watch the game."

For families with deep Army roots, it surpasses the Super Bowl as essential viewing. That's true for Lt. Col. Mark Faber and his wife, Nona, who have watched the matchup from all over the world. Nona's three sisters and her father all went to West Point; now, their oldest son is a cadet.

Nona had been keeping tabs on the academies' pregame pranks through social media. An Army helicopter recently dumped a thousand ping-pong balls printed with Sink Navy in the yard at Annapolis.

"It's a big esprit de corps thing," said Faber, director of the Defense Language Institute in Washington. "In Turkey, we and some of the Navy folks on the base had our own game. The local folks even got a goat," in honor of the Navy mascot.

Still, there's nothing like attending in person, along with thousands of alumni, officers, soldiers, and fans.

Academy officials and cadets began the infiltration of Philadelphia on Thursday. More arrived Friday, and hundreds of cadets opted for the "boomerang" - a caravan of buses that arrived early Saturday morning. All 4,400 West Point cadets are required to attend the game.

The Fabers arrived early to check out the "Patriot Games" - a series of challenges for teams of cadets and midshipmen that included a race up the Art Museum steps, a tug-of-war on the Battleship New Jersey, and a pull-up competition in the atrium at Liberty Place.

Then, they showed up at the Linc hours before the game to view the "march on" - a show of discipline as cadets take the field in formation - and a "prisoner exchange," allowing exchange students from the two academies to sit with their schools.

One side of the Linc was lined with West Point gray; the other, Navy blue.

End-zone seats were neutral territory - which was fortunate for Sharon Gray of Mount Laurel.

Gray was in Army gear: Her son Antonio is in his second year at West Point. But his twin brother, Andre, 19, plans to enlist in the Navy. Asked what that means for his game-day allegiance, Andre unfurled a "Go Navy" banner and a wide grin.

It's a personal decision.

For State Sen. Vincent Hughes, whose son Alek graduated from West Point in 2014, it's an easy one. "I'm Army all the way. Go Army, beat Navy. It's that simple."

Still, the score is secondary, he said: "The Army-Navy Game is much bigger than a football game. It's a coming together of all these men and women who have committed themselves to defend their country."

And either way, he said, it's a win for Philadelphia.

According to Larry Needle, executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, it's the city's largest annual sporting event, drawing an estimated 50,000 visitors who spend $35 million.

He's already looking ahead to Philadelphia's bid to host the games after the current contract ends in 2017.

"We're looking at our 15th consecutive sellout," he said. "The great thing about Army-Navy is the interest level and the excitement never wanes. It transcends football."

That's true for Kevin Kimzey, of Gladwyne, and Tom Monahan, of Lancaster, both West Point graduates. For two decades, they have held a Class of 1986 reunion tailgate with about 150 friends.

For Kimzey, the game has been life-altering. In 1983, the year it was in Pasadena, he said, "everyone ended up getting California girlfriends." His roommate's introduced him to his wife.

These days, he goes to every Army home game. Sure, it's just football, but it can be an intensely moving experience, he said.

"I brought a bunch of clients - all retired Marine colonels, tough guys. When they did the flyby and announced the fighter squadron as the 'Pukin' Dogs,' all four guys had tears running down their faces."

Monahan, who's still a colonel in the Army Reserve, gestured at his classmates. "They're brothers to me."

So, like family, they'll be there for one another, and the Army, no matter what.

"Win or lose, we're here."

215-854-5053 @samanthamelamed