Each Year whenthe Army and Navy football teams meet in Philadelphia on the Saturday afterThanksgiving, the game becomes a kind of synthesis of the rivalry, emotion anddrama of all the big games across the country. People who would never raise ahackle over such contests as Ohio State-Michigan (see page 48) or Yale-Harvardor Stanford-California run as high a temperature over the Army-Navy game as theplebes themselves.
The excitementand thrills and pageantry of the annual service spectacle are particularlyinfectious because of the contagious enthusiasm of the 2,400 members of theCorps of Cadets in their well-tailored gray habits, and the 3,600 members ofthe blue-coated Brigade of Midshipmen, among the very few men in the U.S. Navywho can march properly. On this one day of the year all cadets and allmidshipmen are equals—no hazing, none of that "What does a plebe rank, Mr.Dumbjohn?"—and they react with the finest college singing and cheering tobe heard anywhere. To the cadet or midshipman grouped in anonymous symmetry inthe stands, the victory or defeat is as much of a personal crisis as it is forhis companions on the field. Naturally the alumni in the stands (and in Koreaand Germany and Alaska and the other outlands where the game is broadcast byArmed Forces Radio) recall and feel this emotion, but scarcely more than theuncountable tens of millions who hang over their radio and TV sets thatafternoon.
It hasn't alwaysbeen so. The Army-Navy game has had some hard sledding through the decades. Itstarted as a rather informal naval invasion of West Point, via the HudsonRiver, one fall day in 1890, but within four years the contest had grown sovillainously rough that the academies called a five-year recess. They resumedplaying each other in 1899, and the game grew steadily in prestige and qualityuntil 1928. That year and the next, following a long string of reversals, Navyrefused to play Army because the latter insisted on using players who had hadprevious collegiate experience. The Cadets, then one of the truly formidablefootball powers in the country, employed such former college stars as LightHorse Harry Wilson and Chris Cagle, and the Midshipmen complained that theycouldn't compete.
This ruckus wasstraightened out in 1930, and since then the series has progressed withoutinterruption. It has constantly sought new and enlarged staging grounds onneutral territory to accommodate the insatiable demand for tickets—first,Franklin Field in Philadelphia, then the Polo Grounds in New York, once themammoth Soldier Field in Chicago, several times Yankee Stadium and finally,almost always since 1936, the 102,000-capacity Municipal Stadium inPhiladelphia. This year Army, the host team, could have sold out the stadiumthree times.
Commercially, thegame is a bonanza for the two academies. They will split the $540,000 in gatereceipts (at $6 a seat) and the additional $125,000 for the TV and radiorights. The concessionaire, whose 600 vendors will hawk 150,000 hot dogs,100,000 cups of coffee and 100,000 hot chocolates, 20,000 candy bars, 25,000bags of peanuts, 20,000 pennants and badges, 10,000 corsages and 50,000 raincapes, adds another $40,000 to the kitty. Each academy can expect to clearabout $300,000 for this one game, and it is this profit which relieves thetaxpayer from supporting the athletic programs at the two institutions. Inanother three years the Air Force Academy will make a triangle of the servicerivalry and some day add its own great names to the playing roster to go withthose of James Van Fleet, William Halsey, Jonas Ingram and the rest.
HICKMAN ON ARMY:THE GAME THEY WANT
Army had one ofits very finest football teams last year and seemed destined to be the scourgeof the gridiron during the 1955 campaign. It was going to be a tough job toreplace pitching Pete Vann at quarterback, but there was a plebe named BobSchwarze coming on who Coach Earl Blaik felt was a fine prospect and anespecially brilliant passer. Tommy Bell would certainly be missed at halfbackbut Bob Kyasky, Joe Cygler, Mike Zeigler, Pete Lash and Pat Uebel werereturning. Don Holleder at end had received national recognition, as did RalphChesnauskas at guard.
Then Blaik'stroubles began. Plebe Schwarze was "found" because of academicdeficiencies. Zeigler ran into disciplinary troubles and was ineligible for thefirst two games. Kyasky had a recurrence of an old knee injury and Cygler brokehis leg. What could conceivably have been a great Army year faded fast, andBlaik was forced into one of the most challenging experiments of his coachingcareer. He switched Holleder to quarterback—a daring but absolutely necessarymove.
Early this yearit looked as if Blaik might have been wrong for once. Holleder was havingtrouble handling the ball, and his left-handed passes were hard but erratic.His short ones were often too "heavy" to hold, and unless he had plentyof time he had trouble finding receivers for his long tosses.
It wasn't longbefore Army opponents learned they could gang up on the running attack andforget the passes. In only one game did this formula fail to work. AgainstColgate, Holleder flashed the form Colonel Blaik expected of him, completingseven of nine passes for three touchdowns. But over the season Don's record isonly 22 completions in 63 attempts. Compare that with Army's rushing yardage of2,272, this despite the fact that the forward pass has not offered even a tokenthreat so far. It just shows that, with Captain Uebel to carry through themiddle and speedsters like Kyasky, Zeigler and Lash on the outside, Army canstill move the ball, and with speed. (Pictured below is one of its favoriterunning patterns—the "outside belly," a part of the belly series.)
Of course,Colonel Blaik's Great Experiment was designed primarily for use against Navy.Holleder, one of the greatest competitors football has ever seen, may be a bearat his new position in the game that matters. His fine mates in the backfieldshould all be ready. And the Army defense, major team leader in thatdepartment, can be counted on to keep Navy under reasonable control, withsavage gang tackling and tight pass defense. Psychologically, the outcomefavors Army. Colonel Blaik probably wants this one more than any game since hisfirst victory over Navy in 1944. It certainly would be a personal triumph forhim and Don Holleder if the Cadets came through.
ON NAVY: THE KEYIS GEORGE WELSH
Were It Not forthe midseason loss to Notre Dame, this Navy team would probably be regarded asone of the best in the academy's history. All you have to do is look at thestatistics to find the power of this year's team: fifth in the nation in totaloffense, first in passing, third in total defense. On top of that, QuarterbackGeorge Welsh is a leader in total individual offense with 1,163 yards, althoughhe missed the Penn game.
Great as Welshis—and great is the word to describe him—Navy is by no means a one-man show. Itis blessed with a strong forward wall, including Captain John Hopkins, amongthe most rugged and underrated college tackles in business this year, and RonBeagle, the left end, who was good enough for All-America last year. This yearhe is his old self on defense and has even improved as a pass receiver. It isno reflection on George Welsh to say that his great pass receivers,particularly at the ends, have given him a decided advantage over hisquarterbacking brethren around the country.
As noted, Navy isa fine defensive team—not big but scrappy and quick—and against passes they aresuperb. Nonetheless, when you think of the Middies you think of offense. Theirsis one of the most versatile I have seen in college ball. The key is Welsh, alittle 5-foot 10-inch 168-pounder. He can do anything—fake, pass, run, think.He directs the Middie attack with imagination and confidence. When he moves toright or left on Navy's bread-and-butter option play (shown in the diagramabove), his split-second intuition is uncanny. He shows the defensive end theball, and when the man has committed himself, George will either step nimblythrough the line and be off—or pitch out to his halfback. When you think youhave that one solved he'll pass. With that kind of quarterback you simply can'tcover all the possibilities. Colonel Blaik has kept a book on him all seasonand drilled his boys on the percentages when Welsh starts a play, but you can'talways trust the percentages against the likes of Welsh. If Navy beats Army hewill be regarded as the outstanding player in Annapolis' proud history.
So far EddieErdelatz, Navy's coach, has refused to nickname this year's team"Desire," as he did last year's. However, I have yet to see a Navy teamlack desire against Army, and I don't expect to next Saturday. After all,Erdelatz has a 4-1 record against Blaik since reaching Annapolis, and if numberfive is accomplished, happiness will reign supreme in Crabtown and on all theships at sea.
FACTS & FIGURES
EVENT—The 56th meeting since 1890 between the U.S.Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy
PLACE—Municipal Stad., Philadelphia
TIME—Saturday, November 26, 1:30
ATTENDANCE—102,000; all tickets are gone
RADIO—Mutual, 1:15 p.m.
TELEVISION—NBC (color), 1:15 p.m.
SERIES RECORD—Army 28 wins; Navy 23 wins; 4 ties
RECORDS—Army 5-3-0; Navy 6-1-1
1954 SCORE—Navy 27, Army 20
OPPOSING COACHES—Colonel Earl Blaik (Army) in 15thyear at West Point; Eddie Erdelatz (Navy) in sixth year at Annapolis
OPPOSING CAPTAINS—Patrick N. Uebel (Army),, fullback,from Bellevue, Ky.; John I. Hopkins (Navy), tackle, from Brooklyn, N.Y.
KEEP OR PITCH-OUT