The underdog might as well be the favorite in the Army-Navy game. Half the time in the past 10 years, the favorite has been bounced down hard on his presumptuousness. So this year, with Army on the short end of the odds, Earl Blaik of West Point is the man to hear from.
Coach Blaik, a veteran of almost a score of Army-Navy games, speaks in duly measured tones.
"I expect as always," Blaik said the other day, "that the game will go to the last minute of play. This year the Navy will probably be rated the favorite. They have a better record than we do [Navy is 6-1-1, Army is 5-3]. They have three quarterbacks to our one. They have superior halfbacks and a larger line than we do, and their running game must be rated more substantial than the Army's. They have all this on paper but, frankly, I don't think the Navy is any better a football team than we are." (You can be sure that, down at Annapolis, Coach Eddie Erdelatz is making the same point to the Middies, and not just out of courtesy.)
"There was a time when I hated the two weeks before the Navy game," Blaik went on. "Had trouble sleeping. Couldn't eat. But I like it now. Gives me the time I need with the players.
December 3, 1956
"You know, it's amazing what you have to do for a game like this. The detail, the detail. Seventy per cent of coaching is the thought that goes into it. Thirty per cent is your ability to carry it through to the team. Meticulous plans are no good unless you can get them across to the men. And, for a game like this where you have two weeks in which to practice, you have to be sure to bring the team along slowly enough so the boys aren't ready three days before the game."
Blaik said he thought Army, despite losses to Michigan, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, is still one of the top teams in the East.
"People say Army football is on a decline. You don't win every game you play, so right away you're supposed to be declining. We play one of the toughest schedules in the country. We have to expect to lose a few. People should understand that. We may be in a decline so far as material and depth of material go, but you can blame high-pressure recruiting for that.
"When we lost all our players in the cribbing scandal five years ago we had to start building all over again. It's tough to get an outstanding football player who can meet the academic standards at West Point. And the few student ballplayers of this caliber are quickly gobbled up by other institutions with more enticing offers. The Ivy League, the sacrosanct Ivy League, is sitting on their doorsteps all year round.
"So the outlook for improved football at Army is, frankly, not the brightest. We don't have one tackle in our entire plebe class. Five players we considered outstanding who were entered in our plebe class last summer were persuaded at the last minute to change and are now playing for two eastern universities. We cannot compete with high-pressure tactics of this sort. Yet we will always have good football at the Point. There is a spirit here that you don't find at other schools. It makes up for a lack in natural ability. I don't think Army football will ever be second-rate as long as the Corps has that spirit."
The Navy game? Earl Blaik, in his role of underdog, didn't want to talk about it. Caveat Annapolis.