When Army and Notre Dame collide in moleskins in Philadelphia's 101,000-seat Memorial Stadium this Saturday, they will be renewing a rivalry which, for at least the third and fourth decades of this century, typified intercollegiate football to more people than any other annual contest in the history of the sport. The Army-Notre Dame game belonged to the people who later adopted the Brooklyn Dodgers for their own to fulfill a desire for major league baseball in the home town; it belonged to the subway alumni of Notre Dame and to the outposts of the military all over the world and to the millions who never went to college and to whom the Harvard-Yale game meant less than nothing and the Army-Navy game not much more. When the game was discontinued 10 years ago, it cast adrift a big amorphous hunk of the American football public.
The game's very bigness led to the end of the series. Tickets became nearly impossible to get; scalpers sold single seats at Yankee Stadium for $100 and Notre Dame alumni—both real and subway—vied with Army brass to buy them. One million ticket requests flooded the two institutions in 1946. The situation became so impossible that it was mutually agreed to discontinue the series. Now, with its first renewal after a nine-year cooling-off period, tickets are still a problem; yet, in vast Municipal Stadium, scalpers will be lucky to get half of what they used to ask.
Since young Terry Brennan led Notre Dame to a 27-7 victory in the 1947 game which ended the old series, Army and Notre Dame have followed curiously parallel courses. During the heyday of their rivalry, both teams were ranked among the very best year after year. Both continued to overpower opponents for a few years, then, suddenly and surprisingly, fell on lean days.
Now Army and Notre Dame are climbing laboriously back to their past eminence. At this first crossing of gridiron paths in 10 years, they have reached approximately the same place on the road back, as evidenced by their records so far this year. By virtue of its victories over a strong Purdue and a so-so Indiana, the Irish have shown they are no longer willing to be pushed around the way they were last year. Army, with wins over so-so Nebraska and then potent Penn State last Saturday, is starting its strongest season in some years.
Army's sudden fall from power came in 1951, when Colonel Earl Blaik saw not only his own son but also virtually his whole football team expelled from West Point in a cribbing scandal involving 90 cadets. After months of deep self-searching, Blaik decided to remain at the academy and to mend its football fortunes.
"Our situation is a unique one," he said the other day as he sat in his comfortable office at West Point. "First, anybody we want must have an appointment to the United States Military Academy from a congressman. Second, our entrance standards are completely different from any other school and are extraordinarily strict. We have no special courses for athletes; a boy who enters West Point must have a knack for sciences and mathematics. There are no snap courses." Blaik is a tall spare man who looks a little like General MacArthur. He is a precise, meticulous organizer, and his practices are as disciplined as the cadet drills on the wide parade grounds of the academy. His appearance is austere, but he has a tremendous warmth which is not apparent when you first meet him but which comes through quickly in conversation. Now he leaned back in his chair and linked his fingers and said, carefully: "I suppose there are good players on 50 or 60 major college teams who would have liked to come to West Point and could not. We must screen hundreds of boys to get a handful who can make the grade here."
1913 In this game, the series opener, the forward pass, which had been legalized in 1906, first took its rightful place in football's arsenal. As Quarterback Gus Dorais threw time and again to young End Knute Rockne, one of the game's most famous passing combinations was born; and the Irish upset the Army 35-13.
"Then, after the boy is accepted and comes to the Point, the attrition is tremendous. We have to take high school football players right out of high school so they can have their three years of eligibility, while most of the rest of the cadet corps is made up of men who have had some college work already. This means the football players are under a handicap scholastically. Then, when a boy is appointed to the Military Academy, he is here to stay regardless of whether he plays football or not, and some of them find the load too heavy and quit football. After you find a boy who fulfills all the requirements, you still must interest him in West Point as a school and the Army as a career. Now, the boy we must have—intelligent, alert, physically fit—is the boy every other college wants, so the competition is tremendous."
After Blaik has acquired his handful of recruits each year, he has more special problems to deal with. Discipline, for obvious reasons, is very strict at West Point. Should a player be late to chapel, for instance, he may be put "on area" for a month or two, which means that he is lost to the team for that time. Blaik is a man dedicated to football and, were he not equally dedicated to the Army, he might find the strictures inherent in coaching at West Point unbearably irksome.
"Our practice time is restricted, too," Blaik pointed out. "We work an hour and a half a day during the season. The only time I have for a squad meeting is two hours on Sunday morning after chapel. Classes start September 3, so that we have never had two-a-day workouts.
"In the two-hour meeting on Sunday morning, we have to go over movies of the previous Saturday game, listen to scouting reports on the game coming up and go over new offenses and defenses for that game. The hour and a half workout breaks down into a half hour of fundamentals, then a half hour on offense and a half hour on defense. It would be ample time, I believe, if the two-platoon system were to come back so that you could split the squad into offense and defense and spend the whole time on one phase of the game. But it is very little time, now."
1920 George Gipp, the legendary Gipper for whom Coach Rockne later would exhort his teams to "win one," sparked Notre Dame to a 27-17 victory. The Gipper ran for 124 yards, passed for 96. Six weeks later he died of a throat infection and pneumonia.
Blaik leaned forward over the wide, neat desk and looked intently at his hands. He has something of the forensic manner of Frank Leahy, a certain orotund, old-world floweriness of speech and delivery which lends dignity to what he says.
"I had a chance to look at the practice schedule of an Ivy League school earlier this year," he said. "They don't have spring practice, of course, and we do. But in the 20 days of our spring practice and the entire practice before the season starts, I found that we actually spend some 25% less time on the field than the Ivy League school did in its preseason practice alone."
Although Blaik's rebuilding since the loss of his team in 1951 has been slow, it has been steady. This year's Army team is deeper than last year's, and the prospects for the future are good, if not great. For the first time in several years, Blaik enters a season with a proved quarterback in Dave Bourland. After the Nebraska game, Blaik was so pleased with Bourland's performance that he permitted himself a characteristically reserved outburst of enthusiasm: "Bourland has made the progress which goes with attention to detail, and this game should help him, too," he said. "Nothing succeeds like success. He has developed qualities of leadership and poise which were lacking a year ago."
In other respects, too, this is a good Army team. The line is big and tough, and the backs run very hard. Over all, the team lacks dangerous speed, but Blaik hopes to remedy this with an expanded passing attack built around the accurate passing of Bourland and occasional passing by the halfbacks. The receivers are very good. Although the team looked fairly deep in the 42-0 rout of Nebraska, this was deceptive. Actually, against strong opposition, Blaik might be in trouble if he had to rely heavily on his second unit, and he probably would not want to dip down beyond that point at all in a truly tight game. The team's offense is varied and intelligent, and Bourland makes good, opportunistic use of it. However, he will have to retain the poise he showed against Nebraska in full measure to beat Notre Dame.
Some 800 miles away in the wide farmlands of the Midwest, Blaik's Saturday adversary wrestles with similar problems in a way commensurate with his personality. Terry Brennan, possibly the youngest head coach of a major college in the United States, is an intense, handsome man who, after three years of the corrosive pressure of coaching Notre Dame, has a maturity well beyond his 29 years. On the surface, he has a quicker, warmer personality than Blaik's; beneath, he is just as precise and austere and meticulous.
1924 In their senior year, the most famous backfield of all time, Notre Dame's Four Horsemen, got their nickname from Grantland Rice, who wrote—after Notre Dame beat Army 13-7: "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again...."
So far in his relatively short lifetime, Brennan has broken even with Army on the athletic field. He played in the last three games of the old series, losing to the Glenn Davis-Doc Blanchard powerhouse of 1945, 48-0; then playing on a par with both Davis and Blanchard the next year in the memorable 0-0 tie when the national championship was at stake; and performing magnificently in 1947, as Notre Dame closed the series with its 23rd victory 27-7.
This year, Brennan desperately needs a victory over Army. After his 2-8 record of 1956, the young coach is under heavy pressure to prove himself or look for other work. To be sure, this pressure is decidedly unfair, for his coaching difficulties are certainly not of his making, but the pressure on the youngster nonetheless exists.
Notre Dame's fall from power stems from the same roots as Army's—a dwindling in the matriculation of large, able-bodied, lightning-swift new students. But, at Notre Dame, the slackening in new talent came on the heels of two substandard recruiting years—1953, Frank Leahy's last season, and 1954, Brennan's first. The 1953 freshman crop at Notre Dame was a good one, but it was subject to unusual attrition. One bright prospect was injured in an automobile accident and never tried out for football, another transferred to a Big Ten university and a bigger percentage than is normal was left by the wayside scholastically.
1928 In one of his celebrated half-time orations, Knute Rockne first asked his team to "win one for the Gipper," and the Irish did—on a pass play from John Niemiec to Johnny (One Play) O'Brien, who came off the bench for this play and returned immediately.
Then, in Brennan's first year as head coach, he found himself with only 18 athletic scholarships to distribute to promising football material. At Notre Dame every athletic scholarship is awarded for the full four-year academic course and remains in effect regardless of whether the athlete makes the team—so long, of course, as he is not expelled for disciplinary or scholastic reasons. In the three years before Brennan took over, the Irish had awarded a hefty number of such scholarships each year; in Brennan's first year, in order to balance the scholarship budget, he was allowed to give out only a meager 18. Not only that, but since Brennan's appointment was not made until the February 1 preceding his first season as coach, he did not have his staff assembled until mid-March and thereby got a late start in his recruiting. And finally, some of his 18 scholarships had already been committed by Leahy. There are even some who have been unkind enough to say that the illness which brought on Leahy's resignation was due largely to the poor crop of football prospects.
1944 Army gave Notre Dame it's worst beating in the school's football history 59-0. The Army touchdown twins, Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, ran and passed almost at will in what turned out to be the first of their three years as All-America backs.
Last season, those weak-player crops of 1953 and 1954 made up the juniors and seniors of Brennan's team. A total of 33 injuries at one time or another during the season depleted the Notre Dame team even more and, playing a traditionally tough schedule, the Irish were always outmanned. Brennan is not the first Notre Dame coach to suffer from a subpar recruiting year; Leahy's 1950 Notre Dame team, which won 4, lost 4 and tied 1, reflected a substandard crop of freshmen in 1947, when only 21 scholarships were awarded and four of those dropped out, leaving only 17 players on "rides."
Brennan, who owns one of the best football minds in the country, has slowly rebuilt his fences in the last two years. He orders his practices as carefully and budgets his time on the practice field as neatly as does Blaik. The other day, dressed in a gray sweat suit, he stood on the sidelines and watched the Notre Dame team work, the sharp blue eyes missing nothing.
"I screamed for help after that first year," he said. "You can't face a schedule like ours without some relief, and I got it."
Brennan has come up with two good freshman squads in the last two years. He got most of the players he wanted this year and, on this particular afternoon, the Notre Dame green shirts—freshman team—showed good size, spirit and ability in a scrimmage with the varsity. Brennan watched carefully and occasionally demonstrated to a defensive halfback the steps and the position necessary for an adequate reaction to the maneuvers of a receiver coming down. Brennan is lean and fit-looking, and the halfbacks listened with a deep respect. The road back for Notre Dame should be a shorter one than it will be for Army despite indications otherwise in last Saturday's games against Indiana and Penn State, respectively.
"Last season didn't seem to have any effect on the kids we talked to," Brennan said. "And our competition is still using the same old argument to convince boys they should go somewhere else. You know—'don't go to Notre Dame because they recruit so many players you will be lost.' "
This year's Notre Dame team still bears some of the scars of the two lean years. Only three seniors are on the starting team, a rather small percentage. The rest of the Irish starters are juniors, reaped in the first full crop Brennan was allowed to harvest. By next year, the Notre Dame team will be all Brennan's, i.e., it will reflect his player selections for the last four years; and by next year, too, Notre Dame should be at or near its usual position at the very top of the football heap.
The 1957 team which faces Army may feel a bit as if it is looking into a mirror. The teams are remarkably similar in size, speed, depth and degree of skill. The Irish quarterback, Bob Williams, may not throw quite as well as Bourland, but he is a capable passer and a strong, intelligent quarterback. In Aubrey Lewis, the only really great player from the slim 1954 crop of freshmen, the Irish probably have more speed than the Cadets can muster in the backfield. The Irish first-team line is not quite as big as Army's, but it is as hard-nosed and, significantly, this line bottled up a very fast Purdue offensive unit very well.
1946 Playing for the national championship, Army and Notre Dame fought to a bone-rattling, hell-for-leather 0-0 tie, as the Irish finally bottled up Blanchard and Davis for the first time.
The Notre Dame starting fullback, Nick Pietrosante, is a little bigger than Army's Vince Barta. The Irish attack is somewhat more versatile than Army's; Brennan uses the pro slot T a good deal of the time and has experimented now and again with the single wing. The Irish drop-off from first to second unit is roughly comparable to Army's. Saturday's game matches two teams of so nearly equal strength that the result, as has been the case so often in this rivalry, will probably depend on the breaks.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame and Army are scheduled only for this year and next. Officials of the two schools have discussed, tentatively, a possibility of a renewal of the series in 1962.
Over a table in the coffee shop of the comfortable Morris Inn on the Notre Dame campus, Brennan recently reflected on his playing days against Army. "When I played at Notre Dame this was our big game," he said. "Some of the boys on my squad today were only seven or eight years old when the last game was played, but I think that they have some of the feeling even now that we had then. For us, and I'm sure for Army, this is the big one."
THE IRISH SPEED MEETS THE ARMY AIR ATTACK
(NBC-TV: 2:00 E.D.T.)
In the 35th chapter of the Army-Notre Dame series, the two teams are admirably well matched. The Cadets have a strong passing game, but nothing with which to match the speed of Notre Dame. Here are some of the players to watch for:
ARMY: Quarterback Dave Bourland (11) runs with authority, passes very well and directs the thumping Army attack. Fullback Vince Barta (32) runs with good straightaway power, blocks well. Harry Walters (33), Barta's replacement, has more speed and is a more exciting runner.
NOTRE DAME: Halfback Aubrey Lewis (23) will be the fastest man on the field; he is a fine broken-field runner. Quarterback Bob Williams (9) is a good passer but only adequate runner.
MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS
On his way to a 97-yard touchdown run with the opening kick-off of the 1947 game is Terry Brennan (37), who is now the Notre Dame coach. Brennan later scored another touchdown as Notre Dame won 27-7 in the game that brought an end to the long series. Other players shown are Notre Dame End Jim Martin (38) and Army's Arnold Galiffa (16), Bill Yoeman (58) and John Trent (80).
The kick is good as Notre Dame Fullback Milt Piepul makes the score 7-0 in the 1940 game. It ended that way, too, as Army, a heavy underdog, pushed the Irish around handily but could not score. Steve Juzwik's 84-yard run with a pass interception accounted for the only touchdown of the afternoon. Bernie Crimmins, now a Notre Dame assistant coach, played at halfback for the Fighting Irish.
A Notre dame drive Tucker-ed out on this interception in 1946, when Army Quarterback Arnold Tucker picked off a pass intended for Jack Zilly (56), Notre Dame end, and returned it from the Army 10-yard line to the 42, eluding Jim Martin (38) and Jim Mello (65) en route. Tucker, who quarterbacked the Blanchard-Davis teams, later fought in Korea. The game ended in a 0-0 standoff.
A key block on Army's Ed Murphy (69) springs Notre Dame Halfback Bob Kelly loose for a good gain in the 1943 game, won by the Irish 26-0. This game introduced two great stars to football—the Army's Glenn Davis at halfback and Notre Dame's Quarterback Johnny Lujack, both then 18-year-old freshmen. Kelly, incidentally, turned down a West Point appointment to go to Notre Dame.