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CHAPTER ONE - Scarcely a Life's
CHAPTER ONE - Scarcely a Life's Work
Earl "Red" Blaik - Chapter 1
Scarcely a Life's Work
By Hugh Wyatt
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Earl Blaik graduated from Miami (Ohio) University in 1918, where he lettered in three sports. (The great number of outstanding coaches associated with Miami have since earned it the nickname, "Cradle of Coaches.") With World War I raging, and wanting desperately to become an officer, Blaik won an appointment to West Point.
There, he played football, graduating from the Military Academy in 1920. By then, though, the war was over, and with no future for a young officer in a rapidly downsizing army, he served two years then left the service.
Back in Dayton, he went into the home-building business with his dad. But he had caught the football bug, and in 1924 and 1925, he was able to arrange his work schedule so that he could coach the ends at nearby Miami. In 1926, he took two months off to assist at Wisconsin, and in 1927 he was persuaded to return to assist at West Point - for one season only.
"After what I had seen at Wisconsin, " he recalled thinking, "I was convinced football coaching was not so stable a pursuit as building houses, and scarcely a life's work to aspire to."
But one season at West Point led to two, and two led to three, and after three seasons at West Point as a "temporary" coach, Blaik finally went full-time in 1930. In 1934, passed over for the head coaching job because of a long-standing policy which required West Point's head coach to be an officer on active duty, Blaik took the head job at Dartmouth, the elite Ivy League college in Hanover, New Hampshire.
There, his West Point training ran smack up against what he called the "spirit of good fellowship" - at Dartmouth, the emphasis had clearly been on having fun. Once the Ivy-Leaguers understood what he was trying to accomplish, though, Blaik discovered that, just like West Point Cadets, "they accepted discipline, sacrifice, and subordination to team effort as a necessary part of success."
Blaik's approach turned Dartmouth into an Ivy power. Perhaps the most famous game he was involved in while at Dartmouth was the so-called "Fifth-down" Game in 1940, in which Cornell, winner of 18 straight and ranked number 1 nationally, was down 3-0 in the fourth quarter, and facing an upset. But in the confusion and excitement as Dartmouth fought furiously to defend its goal line against a final, desperate Cornell drive, a last-minute official's mistake gave Cornell a fifth down. Taking full advantage, the Big Red scored a touchdown with two seconds remaining to pull out a 7-3 win and remain unbeaten. Dartmouth players realized at the time what had happened, and so did most reporters covering the game. So did Blaik. But when Cornell's athletic director and president viewed the game films on Monday, they recognized the officials' error, and to their everlasting credit, conceded the win to Dartmouth, ending their team's 18-game win streak and toppling them from their place atop the national rankings! (Imagine that happening today?)
After seven years at Dartmouth, Blaik had built a powerful football team and compiled a record of 45-15. West Point, meanwhile, was coming off a disastrous 1940 season. "It looks," the Superintendent told the school's athletic board, "as if we are developing the finest bunch of losers in the world." Not entirely pleased with that state of affairs at a school whose mission was to produce winners, and convinced that Blaik was the man to turn things around, the Superintendent arranged to change the active-officers-only policy that had earlier prevented Blaik's hiring, and offered him the job.
When Blaik asked for some time to talk things over with his family, his assistants, and the President of Dartmouth, the Superintendent agreed, "Take all the time you want, Earl, "he told him. "But just remember one thing: West Point needs you!"
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