When Navy Football Captain Leon Bramlett was asked before the Army-Navy game 15 years ago what his team's chances were, he replied, "Last year I thought we would beat Army. This time I know we will."
Bramlett's words, however, seemed to be nothing more than the brave boast of a team captain. For Navy had lost seven straight games in 1946, and Army had only a scoreless tie with Notre Dame to mar its third perfect season in a row. Going into the Navy game, the last on its schedule, Army had rolled through 26 games without a loss and scored 1,158 points while holding its opponents to a meager 143. Although Coach Earl Blaik had lost All-America Tackles Tex Coulter and Al Nemetz and All-America Guard Johnny Green from his 1944 and 1945 national championship teams, All-America Ends Barney Poole and Hank Foldberg, Quarterback Arnold Tucker and, best of all, Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard had returned in 1946.
Blanchard, a three-time All-America fullback, was extremely fast for a 200-pounder (he ran the 100 in 10 seconds flat) and could generate tremendous explosive hitting power from a standing start.
As for Glenn Davis, he could do just about everything. "He was the most exciting athlete I ever saw at West Point," Joe Cahill, the Army publicity director, said recently. "He had an athlete's intuition and knew what to do at all times. He was a wonderful basketball player, was good enough in baseball to be considered by the Dodgers and was an outstanding sprinter in track. With a football under his arm, there was just no one like him."
Army was made a 28-point favorite before the game, but it could just as well have been 56 points. Navy was quarter-backed by a youngster named Reeves Baysinger, and the experts were convinced he didn't have the experience, the speed or the ability to match Tucker. What's more, Navy stars Pistol Pete Williams, Bramlett, Lynn Chewning and Bill Hawkins were just names on a program to the 102,000 people (including President Harry S. Truman, munching a hot dog and sipping hot chocolate) who wedged into Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium on November 30, 1946. Navy Captain Bramlett won the toss of the coin and elected to receive. After fumbles by both teams Army ended up with the ball on its own 37-yard line.
In four quick plays the Cadets scored their first touchdown. A line buck gained two yards. Then Davis took a lateral from Tucker, whisked past the Navy secondary and streaked 46 yards before he was brought down from behind. After Blanchard hit the middle of the line for a yard, Tucker took the snap from center, stepped back and hit Davis. He ran 13 yards for the touchdown. Guard Jack Ray converted, and Army led 7-0. The game was less than five minutes old, and the only issue in doubt appeared to be the size of the final score.
But Navy surprised everyone in Municipal Stadium with their spirited play at the end of the quarter and the start of the second period. With short ground spurts and quick passes, Baysinger took his team to the one-foot line. Then he plunged over himself for the touchdown. Navy missed the conversion, and Army still led—but only by one point.
Embarrassed by the closeness of the score, Army opened up on Navy almost immediately. Blanchard bulled through the center of the line, ran past the secondary and went 52 yards for a touchdown. Ray converted again and Army had a 14-6 lead. Later in the quarter, Tackle Bill Yeomans intercepted a Baysinger pass to stop a Navy drive. Army again moved swiftly. Tucker flipped a lateral to Davis, who then dropped a perfect pass into Blanchard's outstretched hands. Doc hustled the remaining 26 yards for the score, Ray kicked his third extra point and Army led Navy by a more respectable 21-6.
In the second half, however, Navy played as if it had never heard of Army's Blanchard, Davis and Co. About midway through the third period, Bill Hawkins plunged over from two yards out after a 78-yard Navy drive downfield. Hawkins missed the try for the extra point, but the way Navy was playing, it didn't seem to matter. Early in the fourth quarter Bramlett took a pass from Halfback Bill Earl in the end zone, and Navy had another touchdown. The conversion attempt failed again, and Navy trailed Army only by the margin of the three missed conversions.
As the game came down to its final seven and a half minutes, Navy still controlled the ball. In little chunks of three, four and five yards, the Middies edged ever closer to the Army goal line. With fourth down on the Army 23, Chewning broke off tackle and scampered to the Army three-yard line before he was finally hauled down.
Navy had four downs, 90 seconds and three yards to go for a touchdown and what The New York Times said would be "the upset of the ages."
Baysinger handed off to Chewning, but Hank Foldberg and Goble Bryant ripped through the Navy line to stop the hard-charging fullback for no gain. Now it was second down and still three yards to go. Chewning took the ball again, and this time Poole smashed him to the ground for no gain.
Just 60 seconds were left on the clock. Before the next play could begin, however, Navy was penalized five yards for taking too many time-outs. Now they had to go eight yards in two tries.
The Middies shifted quickly from the T to a single-wing formation. The ball was snapped back to Hawkins. He took two steps forward and then lateraled to Williams. Army had the play diagnosed, however, and Williams was snowed under by a mass of Army tacklers at the five-yard line.
Fifty-three precious seconds had gone by. There were just seven seconds left to play. Part of the huge crowd was pressed against the sidelines. Navy Coach Tom Hamilton sent in a substitute in a frantic effort to stop the clock. But the officials didn't see him in time. The second hand on the clock kept moving, and suddenly, before Navy could start another play, the gun went off. Army had held, and their undefeated streak was intact. Blanchard and Davis had played their last game for Army, and an era had ended at West Point.
"That was the most inspired Navy team I ever saw," said Coach Blaik. "You can take a team that is supposed to be inferior and by a great spiritual lift do wonders."