Navy has seen more reigns of Billy than the New York Yankees; the current goat is the 26th of that name. Most of this mascot's butting has been as the butt of jokes. Billy was twice taken by amphibious assault. The more daring operation was launched before the 1953 Army-Navy game. Cadet commandos docked their boat at the Annapolis seawall. Two disembarked and headed for Thompson Stadium. Working in the dark, the pirates forced the padlock on Billy's pen and knocked him out with chloroform. Then they lugged him back to their boat.
As quietly as Washington crossing the Delaware, they slipped across the Severn River to a getaway car. The only tense moment came at the George Washington Bridge, where they saw a man in a blue uniform. Luckily, he was a toll collector.
To Navy's great embarrassment, the academy had been invaded by sea only a year earlier, when Maryland frat boys shanghaied Billy. AWOL for 12 hours, the goat resurfaced near the Terrapin campus. Washington Post photographer Bob Burchette got the picture by following an anonymous tip to a College Park drugstore. The precautions Billy's burglars took might have made even Deep Throat sore. Burchette was quoted in the Post: "A figure clothed in student garments veered close and muttered under his breath, 'Washington Post?'
"I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Follow us.'
"I was blindfolded while they drove me around several blocks. We stopped at a private garage, which I immediately recognized, despite the blindfold, as the habitat of the goat.
"I made a picture and asked for their names. They said Richard Roe and John Doe, but wouldn't say which was which."
As well executed as the Roe-Doe caper was, it pales beside the two-pronged attack Army made in 1972. Billy XVIII and King Puck, a black-haired backup, were in their quarters on a dairy farm in Gambrills, Md. Army had already cased the joint. This was an inside job that relied heavily on the intelligence work of one Gina Johannsen, Army's homecoming queen. The daughter of a Kensington, Md., naval officer, Johannsen had played Benedict Arnold by snapping pictures of the Navy goat cage.
A four-man reconnaissance team set off six weeks before the Army-Navy game. Leading the sortie was Bob Sansone, Army's head rabblerouser (military-speak for cheerleader). "There was no security," he later told The New York Times. "We saw the two goats locked in their pens and then we saw two pairs of eyes in the dark somewhere out there on the farm. We pulled back, fearing we had been spotted by the enemy, and decided to return at 0300 the next morning."
When Sansone's strike force struck again, Billy was gone. The pairs of eyes, it turned out, had belonged to Morris Pierce and Steve DeSilvio, a couple of cadets on their own search-and-seize mission. They had waited for Sansone to flee before grabbing the goat by the horns.
Over the next 41 days, Billy was dragged to safe houses all over New York State. Navy spies uncovered one hiding place near West Point, but they arrived 36 hours late. The final insult was the full-page ads that the Corps of Cadets took out in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Over a photo of the missing Billy was the line: "HEY NAVY! Do you know where your 'kid' is today?" Under the picture were the words: "The Corps does."