BACK TO HOME
CHAPTER NINE - The Lonely End Excites a
CHAPTER NINE - The Lonely End Excites a Nation
Earl "Red" Blaik - Chapter 9
The Lonely End Excites a Nation
By Hugh Wyatt
It was during a rare - and brief - post-season vacation at Key Biscayne, Florida that Earl Blaik came up with the idea that would capture the imagination of the sports world, and come to symbolize the 1958 Army team in a way that few teams are symbolized.
The idea was an offensive formation which Blaik called a "far flanker." Actually an end split 20 to 30 yards wide, the "far flanker" was often an extra end, set wide to the other side of the formation and creating an unbalanced line - a variation of the "Bazooka" formation the Army had run the season before. Its purpose was to answer what Blaik considered his offense's most pressing problem: the rolled-up cornerbacks of what would now be called a 5-2 defense, creating a 5-4-2 defense, or, in effect, a nine-man front.
Blaik's logic was that if he could make the corner go out to cover the "far flanker," he would have succeeded in breaking up the defensive front. On the other hand, if the defense chose to leave its front intact and instead cover the "far flanker" with a safety, the entire secondary would have to rotate into a 3-deep look or there would be no one to cover the deep middle of the field.
Experimentation with the scheme confirmed Blaik's theory: "It did something that no other offense in my twenty-five years of coaching had accomplished: it forced a definite weakness in the secondary defense that could not be offset without removing an extra man from the line. And this man could not be spared, because we still had all our backs in close-attacking deploy."
And Army certainly had the backs - not to mention a great surrounding cast. Blaik was, in his own words, "blessed for the first time in four years with a potentially superior passer, several fine receivers, two extraordinary runners at halfback, a solid fullback, and an above-average line."
One of the halfbacks, junior Bob Anderson, was big and strong at 6-2, 205 and in Blaik's estimation was "the best all-around football player at the Academy since Blanchard and Davis." As a sophomore in 1957, he had run for 983 yards, breaking Davis' record of 930 set in 1945.
The other halfback was senior Pete Dawkins. It had taken some time to convince Blaik that Dawkins could even be an Army football player, much less a great one. Dawkins had played his high school football at suburban Detroit's prestigious Cranbrook School, and Blaik admitted to being skeptical at first about his toughness. "I suspected then, and for a long time after, that Dawkins was just another 'silk-stocking' preparatory school athlete," Blaik said. But by the start of the 1958 season, Dawkins' talent and toughness were unquestioned, and by the end of the season, he would be an acknowledged all-time Army football great.
Not to mention an Academy legend. Not only was Dawkins Captain of the Army football team, but he also served as First Captain - West Point's highest military rank - and as class President. He ranked in the top five per cent of his class academically, and was a star on the hockey team as well.
Quarterback Joe Caldwell, a Miami native, was so slender at 6 feet, 156 pounds that his teammates nicknamed him "The Urchin," but he was, in Blaik's words, a "gifted passer."
The line averaged a lean and athletic 6-2 and 210 pounds. No man weighed over 220 or under 205 pounds. Its standout was strongside guard/linebacker Bob Novogratz, from Northampton, Pennsylvania.
And then there was the far flanker himself, the person the formation was inspired by and designed for. Bill Carpenter, a 6-2, 205 junior from Springfield, Pennsylvania, had missed most of the 1957 season because of an injury suffered in a military jeep accident, but he was 100 per cent recovered and ready for 1958. He was a marvelous athlete, "possibly the best offensive wingman in Army history," in Blaik's words.
Blaik unveiled the new far-flanker attack in Army's opener against a good South Carolina team called by its coach, Warren Giese, "the most experienced I've ever had." The Gamecocks had opened the week before with a win over Duke, and would beat Georgia the week following the Army game; they would finish the season a respectable 7-3. But on this day, they never knew what hit them. The Cadets racked up 529 yards of total offense (344 yards rushing, 185 yards passing) to win, 45-8. Dawkins carried nine times for 113 yards and four touchdowns, while Anderson threw five halfback passes from Blaik's "Option Sweep," completing all five, two of them for touchdowns.
Overnight, Blaik's new offensive formation became a national sensation. The sight of Carpenter - split unusually wide for those times and mysteriously never entering the huddle with the rest of his teammates - captured the public's imagination, and earned Carpenter (and the formation) the nickname by which he would become famous. Stanley Woodward, sports editor of the Newark Star-Ledger and a great friend of Blaik, is credited with being the first to call him "The Lonely End."
The idea of leaving Carpenter out of the huddle entirely had come to Blaik in a conversation with former assistant Andy Gustafson that summer at the College All-Star game in Chicago (once an annual summertime coaches' rendezvous). Gustafson, who had gone on to become head coach at Miami (Florida), advised against making Carpenter run in and out of the huddle every play from his isolated position. "Earl, " he warned, "you'll run him into the ground."
(Known for his stern demeanor, Blaik nevertheless had a sense of humor. At least Gustafson must have thought so, because for years after he became head coach at Miami, Gustafson, recalling Blaik's annual early-morning New Year's Day coaches' meeting, would call Blaik every New Year's morning - early - to ask him why he wasn't at the office yet.)
Besides conserving Carpenter's energy (in those days of two-way football, he also played defensive end), Blaik had two other reasons for keeping him out of the huddle.
First of all, without having to wait for Carpenter to deploy, it would cut down on the time needed between plays, enabling Army to get off more plays.
And, second, it would help the quarterback's play-calling. (Remember that quarterbacks then called their own plays.) By splitting Carpenter wide while the rest of the team huddled, Blaik reasoned, Army would force defenses to declare their intentions in advance, giving quarterback Caldwell more time to note the defensive alignment and decide on his call.
In the second game of the season, Army threatened to blow Penn State off the field in the first half, completing 9 of 11 passes for 258 yards - "as exciting a passing team as I have ever seen in college," Blaik said - and running for 93 more to build up 26-0 halftime lead. But when the Cadets failed to score in the second half, Blaik feared a let-down that might carry over to the next week's game against Notre Dame at South Bend.
His fears were unfounded. Playing in a place where it is always difficult for visitors to win, the Cadets avenged 1957's bitter last-minute defeat, winning 14-2. Reminiscent of its 1957 performance, though, Army nearly gave this game away, too. Late in the contest, after twice having stopped fourth-quarter Notre Dame drives into Army territory, Army found itself on its own 34, trying to hold onto a 6-2 lead, when Caldwell threw a pass into the flat to Dawkins.
"We nearly had heart seizures," recalled Blaik, when Caldwell's pass was nearly intercepted by Notre Dame's Bob Williams, with no one between him and the Army goal line. (More was riding on that one play than a single victory. "By that much," wrote Blaik, "went Terry Brennan's job." Irish coach Brennan, fired at the end of the season, might have saved his job with a win over unbeaten Army.)
Caldwell, calmly shaking off the near disaster, then threw 23 yards to Dawkins to move the Cadets into Notre Dame territory. From there, Dawkins ran in for the clinching score, and passed to Anderson for the two-point conversion.
Virginia, coached by former Blaik assistant Dick Voris, fell next, 35-6. (Although 15 of Blaik's assistants went on to become head coaches elsewhere, this would be the only time in his career he would face one of them.)
Pitt was next, and although Army led 14-0 with under two minutes to go in the half, the Panthers scored on a long pass just before the half, then added a second-half score to earn a 14-14 tie with the Cadets. Army, although tied, was still unbeaten.
Colgate's Red Raiders, in the midst of a transition from their role as a strong independent Eastern football program to something more on the order of the de-emphasized Ivy League, were no match for Army, and fell, 68-6.
The unbeaten Cadets almost met their match the next week against Rice, in the tremendous heat and humidity of a fall Houston afternoon. Most of the second half was played in Army's end of the field, and late in the fourth quarter, with the game tied, 7-7 and Rice driving, Blaik wondered how long his men could hold up. But the Cadets managed to stave off defeat with a last-minute block of a Rice field goal attempt from the Army 24, and now, although 76 yards away from a score with less than a minute to play, they were not prepared to settle for another tie - they were going for the win.
A first-down pass gained only 12, and a second-down pass to Dawkins in the left flat was nearly intercepted. But entering the huddle, Dawkins - in those days before coaches called the plays - suggested to Caldwell a flat-and-up to take advantage of the defender who had just overplayed him on the flat route. Starting out once again into the flat, Dawkins this time turned upfield, leaving his defender behind and catching Caldwell's pass in stride to race 64 yards and give Army a 14-7 win.
Blaik well knew how fortunate the Cadets were to escape from Houston undefeated, using a military reference to put things in perspective: "On the undefeated football journey," he wrote, "luck must ride as postillion." (A non-military man, I looked it up. When a team of horses pulls a carriage, the postillion is the left horse in the lead pair.)
The final test before the season-ending Navy game was Villanova, and Dawkins had a spectacular day against the Wildcats. Returning a punt 80 yards for one touchdown, he caught a 46-yard pass from Caldwell for another and ran six yards for a third - after catching a 48-yard pass to set it up - as the Cadets won, 26-0.
And now it was time for Navy. The Midshipmen were 6-2, having lost only to Tulane and Notre Dame, and they were explosive, with a brilliant sophomore halfback in Joe Bellino, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy in another two years.
Dawkins took the opening kickoff, but, hit by his one of his own blockers while making a cut, he fumbled. Navy recovered, and as the Army staff suspected they would, the Midshipmen sprang some offensive tricks, opening with a surprise Double Wing attack. Employing double and triple flankers, Navy drove 40 yards for a touchdown, although missing the PAT.
After an exchange of fumbles, Navy drove 74 yards to the Army 13, and appeared on the verge of scoring again until, on fourth-and-a-foot, linebacker Harry Walters threw Bellino for a 2-yard loss.
Now it was the Cadets' turn, and they drove to the Navy 31 before committing their third turnover of the game - this time an interception . The next time they got the ball, though, they drove 68 yards for a touchdown, with Anderson, heretofore used more as a blocker for Dawkins, carrying most of the load. A second successful drive, this one of 58 yards, gave the Cadets a 14-6 lead.
Army closed out the scoring with a 38-yard interception return by Texan Don Usry, who as the tight end on offense came to be nicknamed "The Gregarious End". The final two points of the 1958 season came, appropriately enough, on a halfback pass from Dawkins to Lonely End Carpenter.
As with other great victories in Blaik's career at West Point, this one elicited a congratulatory telegram from General Douglas MacArthur, long a fan of Army football and a strong supporter of Coach Blaik:
"IN THE LONG HISTORY OF WEST POINT ATHLETICS," the General wired, "THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A GREATER TRIUMPH." MacArthur signed off with a priceless line, one that many of our present-day leaders could profit from hearing: "THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR VICTORY!"
BACK TO HOME