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CHAPTER FOUR - The Dynasty Continues
CHAPTER FOUR - The Dynasty Continues
Earl "Red" Blaik - Chapter 4
The Dynasty Continues
By Hugh Wyatt
As great as Army's 1944 team was, its 1945 team may have been even better. The first Army team to wear the nickname "Black Knights," the 1945 Cadets swept through all nine opponents and hammered their old nemeses - defeating Notre Dame 48-0, Penn 61-0, and Navy 32-13 - while repeating as national champions.
It was no light schedule that they faced: Navy wound up losing only to Army; Duke lost only to Army and Navy; Notre Dame tied Navy and would lose only to Army and a powerful Great Lakes Naval Training Center Team coached by Paul Brown and loaded with college stars; Michigan would finish second in the Big Nine (Michigan State, the tenth school to join the conference, had yet to be admitted).
(Incidentally, so impressed was Blaik with Michigan coach Fritz Crisler's use of two separate units - one for offense and one for defense - that he adopted the system at Army, where, using an Army term, the expression "Two Platoons" was born.)
Eight members of the 1945 team were named first-team All-America, and Blanchard swept the nation's individual honors, winning the Heisman and Walter Camp Trophies and the Maxwell Award. He was further honored as the first football player ever to win the Sullivan Award, given annually to the nation's top amateur athlete. His running mate, Davis, finished second in the Heisman voting.
With two straight national titles and a winning streak of 18 games, Blaik challenged the 1946 team to carry on: "You are the champions," he told them. "From you, people expect only perfect performance. Even to try to approach what they expect, you must remain a team."
The Cadets faced their first tough test in an Oklahoma team coached by Jim Tatum and just beginning to run the Split-T offense that would become the Sooners' trademark. Blanchard had injured his knee the week before against Villanova, and was unable to play against Tatum, his second cousin.
Although the Oklahoma dynasty of the 1950's was still a few years away, the Sooners were talented. In an interesting sidelight, there were no fewer than five future major college coaches on the Oklahoma squad - Darrell Royal, Jack Mitchell, Warren Giese, Wade Walker and Jim Owens. And up in the press box, spotting for Tatum, was the man who would one day succeed him and take Oklahoma to the heights of college football - a young Minnesotan named Bud Wilkinson. Despite Blanchard's absence, the Cadets still managed to win, 21-7, and extend their win streak to 20.
Army won the next five in a row, carrying a 25-game win streak into the clash with Notre Dame, also unbeaten and spoiling to avenge 1945's shellacking. With the likes of Leon Hart, Bill Fischer, Jim Martin, Johnny Lujack, George Connor, Emil "Six Yards" Sitko - and many, many more talented players - the Irish had shut out four of their opponents and allowed four others just six points each. Among those they had beaten was eventual Rose Bowl champion Illinois, 26-6.
The hype for the game, played in Yankee Stadium, was enormous. "If Yankee Stadium had a million seats," said West Point athletic director Biff Jones, "We would fill it for this game."
True to the tradition of most modern-day Super Bowls, the game could not possibly live up to its billing, and ended in a 0-0 tie. It had its moments, though - in the second quarter, Notre Dame was stopped at the Army four, and in the third quarter, Blanchard broke loose for 31 yards into Irish territory before Lujack - an All-American as a quarterback but also a great defensive back - brought him down.
The Cadets followed up the scoreless Notre Dame game with a big win over Penn, and headed into the Navy game as heavy favorites. Since an opening game victory, the Midshipmen had gone winless. "Nobody gave Navy a chance," said Blaik, "except their coach, Commander Tom Hamilton, the Navy players and the Army coaches. I don't mean the Army players were overconfident," Blaik explained, "but defeat was not part of their thinking."
Nevertheless, a tough Navy team, down 21-18, launched a last-minute drive that took them to the shadows of the Army goal posts. There, a gritty Army team dug in and stopped the Navy offense three times - twice on the three-yard line and once on the four - as time ran out.
Perhaps because of the near-upset by Navy, the Cadets wound up ranked number two nationally - behind Notre Dame, with whom they had played a scoreless tie. Coach Blaik was named Coach of the Year, and this time, it was Glenn Davis' turn to win the Heisman Trophy.
But the Blanchard-Davis era, with a three-year record of 26 wins, no losses and one tie, was over. And 1947 would be a year of reckoning. Defending Rose Bowl champion Illinois and its great runner Buddy Young played the Cadets to a 0-0 tie. Still, including the ties with Notre Dame and Illinois, Army had gone 31 games without a loss when it met lightly-regarded Columbia.
Perhaps the Cadets were looking ahead to the Notre Dame rematch, but in any case, Columbia pulled off a shocking 21-20 upset. At Iowa, where Notre Dame was playing that same day, Irish players angrily pounded their fists into the sod in anger on hearing the announcement that Army's streak had ended - they wanted to be the ones to do it!
The Irish didn't end the streak, but they certainly exacted revenge, defeating the Cadets 27-7. And although a strong Penn team, led by future Hall-of-Famer Chuck Bednarik, tied the Cadets 7-7 the next week, Army ended the season with a 21-0 defeat of Navy.
That season-ending defeat of Navy would launch another Army win streak, this one stretching to 27 games before the Cadets would lose again.
The 1948 team faced a slightly weaker schedule, but included in its record were a 26-21 win over a strong Illinois team, and a 43-0 drubbing of Stanford. And although the season eneded with a disappointing 21-21 tie with a winless Navy team, Army still finished fourth in the nation.
For the next two seasons, until Army met Navy at the end of the 1950 season, the Cadets had only two close calls, a 14-13 win over Penn and a 7-0 win over Stanford.
The 1949 team finished 9-0, including wins over Penn State and Michigan. But pollsters, reacting to accusations that Army's schedule - which did contain such lightweights as Davidson, Harvard and Fordham - was weak, ranked the Cadets only sixth nationally.
Nevertheless, Blaik was no less proud of this team than if it had finished number one, pointing to it as one of the reasons why a man stays in coaching: "Once in a while you are lucky enough to have the thrill and satisfaction of working with a group of men who are willing to make every sacrifice to achieve a goal, and then experience the achieving of it with them. In this, believe me, there is a payment that can't be matched in any other pursuit."
The 1950 Army squad was one of West Point's finest, and its quarterback was a second-classman (junior) named Bob Blaik. The coach's son, Bob was also a star baseball and hockey player at West Point. Young Blaik had played very little in 1949 as the backup to starter Arnold Galiffa, but now, he was Army's quarterback, and its pnter as well. In the words of his own father, "He was superior as passer, punter, ball-handler, and field general."
To be sure, Bob Blaik had earned the job on his own. Coach Blaik called coaching one's own son "a special kind of pressure," and took pains to handle young Bob as he would any other player.
With a stable of seven great runners including newcomers Gene Filipski and Al Pollard, the Cadets beat Colgate 28-0, then decisively defeated Penn State, 41-7, and Michigan, 27-6. After downing Penn 28-13, they traveled to the West Coast to beat Stanford, 7-0 in a rainstorm, running their undefeated streak to 27.
All that remained was lowly Navy. With two weeks to get ready, Blaik chose to avoid the foul November weather and hold all practices indoors, in the field house. Looking back, he would later say, "In my twenty-five years as head coach, I never made a worse mistake. No matter what the weather, I should have ordered some outdoor work."
Army entered the Navy game ranked Number one in the nation and favored by three-touchdowns, but Navy jumped out to a two-touchdown halftime lead, while its defense swarmed all over the favored Cadets.
Army fought back fiercely, but in a frantic fourth quarter, gallant Navy defenders stopped the Cadets four times - on the Navy 21, 15, 6 and 3 yard lines. In the fourth quarter alone, Navy intercepted three Army passes and recovered two fumbles.
Before a crowd of 101,000 people in Philadelphia and a huge national television audience, the unthinkable happened, as Navy, the three-touchdown underdog, ended Army's 27-game win streak, 14-2. Holding Army to just five first downs, the Midshipmen gave up a mere 77 yards rushing and 60 yards passing and intercepted five of Bob Blaik's passes, shutting out the Cadets for the first time since the scoreless tie against Illinois in early 1947. In Blaik's words, they "beat our ears off."
1950 marked Blaik's tenth year at West Point; in that time, he had compiled a record that any man who has ever coached the game would take pride in: 73 wins, 11 losses, 6 ties
More impressive still - spectacular, in fact - was his record since the arrival in the fall of 1944 of Blanchard and Davis: 56 wins, 3 losses, 4 ties.
Playing nine-game schedules, six of his seven teams in that period won at least eight games. Five of his teams finished unbeaten, and three of them were both unbeaten and untied.
Six of his seven teams since 1944 had finished in the top ten. Two of them were national champions and two of them had finished second in the polls.
The Cadets had put together unbeaten streaks of 32 and 27 games.
It is impossible to overstate the importance to West Pointers of a win over Navy (and, of course, the converse). In that respect, Blaik had more than delivered: since finally breaking through with his first win in 1944, his record against Navy was 5-1-1.
Despite the painful loss to Navy, Army still was voted number two in the final 1950 national rankings. Overall, 1950 had been another great season, and as Blaik's thoughts turned to 1951, the memory of the Navy game faded and his optimism returned. His son, Bob, would be returning for his senior year, joined by a talented cast of teammates.
Two weeks earlier, as the Army staff had relaxed in their San Francisco hotel enjoying the win over Stanford earlier that afternoon, there was no way they could have known then that they had reached the summit. "We were sitting on top," Blaik recalled. "The way it looked, we could go on and on. We fully expected to get by Navy, and another fine squad was in prospect for 1951. We did not suspect that everything from then on was going to be downhill for a long time."
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