Football is much more than a game for us. And never before has there been a game as important as the one played by the two service academies, Army and Navy, in December 1944. Randy Roberts, a distinguished professor of history at Purdue University, tells the amazing story of a game, a army. – a seldom-played Navy football game – that captivated and united a nation at war.
On December 3, 1944, Army head coach Earl “Red” Blaik received a telegram from a man he knew very well, a man who had great respect for football. The telegram congratulated Blaik and his Army team for defeating his fiercest rival, the Naval Academy, a day earlier. The telegram was from General Douglas Macarthur, who was in the Philippines at the time.
A Team For America begins with the story of Blaik and how he came to be the head football coach at Army. Roberts does a tremendous job of analyzing not only Blaik’s prowess as a coach, but also the man’s personality. An interesting story in the book is the original play “Fifth Down”. True college football fans know the Colorado-Missouri game in the late 1980s, when a fifth down was conceded. Well, what many may not know is of a 1940 game between Cornell, one of the top-ranked teams in the nation at the time, and Dartmouth, then managed by Red Blaik.
Roberts then dives into the many Army players who were important players in Blaik’s grand plan to change Army football. If you’ve heard of Glenn Davis and Felix “Doc” Blanchard, both Heisman Trophy winners, he may not be as familiar with George “Barney” Poole, DeWitt “Tex” Coulter, Max Minor or Doug Kenna.
The stories of how these men got to West Point and the stories of their athletic talents and toughness are very intriguing. You’ll learn about the ongoing military programs that kept the best, brightest, and most athletically talented men from across the country going primarily to the Naval Academy. As a result, from 1939 to 1943, the Navy had defeated the Army five times in a row and the Cadets had scored just six points in those five losses. Then Blaik figured out a way to bring some of that talent to West Point, and the tide began to turn.
What makes the story even more incredible is the time period in which it takes place. America was a nation at war. It was a time of rations and shooting. The academies were producing the future leaders of our military and our military needed them now! West Point cadets were being pushed through their normal four-year program in two and a half years. Universities across the country canceled their soccer programs due to the war. Even the central theme of the book, the 1944 game between the two academies, came under scrutiny and was nearly cancelled.
It’s a compelling story about our most cherished game, about youth, about hardship, about country, about service. For true college football fans, this game in December 1944, no face masks, a ball that was a bit fatter than the current one; this may have been the biggest game in the history of the sport. Read A Team for America and find out why.