Saturday, November 18, 2006

Army Training, Sir! | by Jay

Here's a bunch of interesting stuff on the ND-Army series, which, as you all know, had much more impact on the lore of college football than any provincial midwest rivalry, no matter how pretentiously-named. These notes are cribbed from Irish Legends, Murray Sperber's book Shake Down the Thunder, and

The first game between Notre Dame and Army was in 1913. Legend had it that an Army student manager picked ND as an opponent at random (backstory here), but the truth is that ND coach Jesse Harper wrote a letter to Army proposing a football game after the Irish baseball team had played Army the year before and made some money on the east coast road trip.

Army agreed to pay ND $1,000 for the match, and the Cadets needed a game. Eastern schools like Yale had stopped scheduling Army because Army, believe it or not, was the biggest cheater in football. They didn't play by the 3-year eligibility rule, and they signed up kids to play who had already been through college, claiming they needed the best of the best for the Army to help defend America. Case in point: Elmer Oliphant. All-American at Purdue from 1911 to 1913, then played at Army from 1914 to 1917.

Army thought the Irish would be an easy opponent, since, as the conventional wisdom went, Midwest football was vastly inferior to East coast football. And coming off the train, ND likely didn't look all that impressive by showing up at West Point with 18 players, and only 14 pairs of cleats.

Yet, the game started with Army taking the ball and only going one yard on 3 downs. ND then took over and started a revolution in college football. Teams passed in that day, but normally only in desperation. ND, however, mixed the run and pass liberally and Army just wasn't ready for it.

The game was 14-13 Notre Dame at halftime (a picture of halftime, above) and then ND started to pass even more. After two incompletions on his first two attempts, Irish QB Gus Dorias finished the day by going 14 of 15 for 243 yards. Dorias had a 40 yard completion to Knute Rockne, which at the time was the longest pass play in the fledgling college football history. ND won, 35-13.

From a NY Times article about game:
Football men marveled at this startling display of open football. Bill Roper, former head coach at Princeton, who was one of the officials of the game, said that he had always believed that such play was possible under the rules, but that he had never seen the forward pass developed to such a state of perfection.
Said Rockne, in retrospect:
"The press and the football public hailed this new game, and Notre Dame received credit as the originator of a style of play that we simply systematized."

In 1920, George Gipp was the Irish superstar. (That's him to the right holding a coat, waiting for the train to go to New York).

It was common in those days for teams to wager on their own games, with each team collecting cash from the players and throwing it in a central pot, winner take all. Gipp and best friend Hulk Anderson organized ND's team share for the 1920 game: $2,100, which was the price of new house in South Bend at the time. Army came up with similar amount. A local shoemaker held the winner-take-all purse.

ND was losing at halftime. Rock says to Gipp "What about you, Gipp? I don't suppose you have any interest in this game?"

Gipp replies "Look, Rock. I got four hundred dollars of my own money bet on this game and I'm not about to blow it."

Back on the field, Gipp and the rest of the Notre Dame squad had a huge second half, and ND won the game 28-17.

In 1923, Rock wanted a game in New York City as opposed to West Point in order to get more media attention for ND. The game was supposed to be at the Polo Grounds in New York City, but the New York Giants made the World Series, so the game was moved to Ebbets Field.

Army enlisted a famous actress, Elsie Janis, for the ceremonial kickoff. The ND prefect of religion, Fr. John O'Hara, quipped that "Elsie Janis will kick off for Army, while Joan of Arc will kick off for Notre Dame." He then gave Joan of Arc medals to all players. It was really the first joining of religion and football at ND, and O'Hara gave players medals of the saints for the rest of his time at ND. The press picked up on the ritual and helped popularize the Catholic boys' practice of wearing medals during sporting events.

1928: Win One for the Gipper. The game was played in Yankee Stadium, and Rock gave his famous speech in the locker room before the game.

The game was tied at halftime, before Army took a 6-0 lead. Then ND halfback Jack Chevigny scored a TD, yelling "That one is for the Gipper!" (Here's Chevigny rushing earlier in the game).

Chevigny got injured just as ND was driving again. Billy Dew replaced him, and Johnny O'Brien (a hurdler from track team) came in as a substitute at end. O'Brien caught a pass, scored a TD, then went back to the bench. He is forever known as Johnny "One Play" O'Brien. Rockne ran up and hugged O'Brien after the play, and legend has it that was the only time that Rockne hugged a player during a game.

But the game wasn't over. Army had the ball and was driving to tie the game, but the clock ran out with Army on the 1-yard line, poised to score.

Author Francis Wallace's account of the final, crazy drive:
Cagle [the Army All-American] got hold of the kickoff, which he was not supposed to have done, set sail with all his fury and speed behind the enraged Army blockers, passed midfield, hit the sidelines, seemed to be going all the way when Collins came across and knocked him out of bounds with a shoulder block-the perfect play at the sidelines for Cagle was as hard to tackle as Blanchard or Davis in full flight.

The next two minutes were as riotous as I've ever seen at a football game, not excepting the finish at Ohio State in 1935. Cagle, on the option pass and run, was a touchdown threat on every play, a wild man, carrying, passing, moving steadily ahead; but Army drew two five-yard penalties- and suddenly Cagle was taken out of the game and Hutchinson came in.

I was never so glad to be rid of any man. Later I asked Biff Jones why he had taken Cagle out. He said time was running short-there was no electric clock for the crowd to see in those days- and Hutchinson was a better passer. Ted Twomey and Moynihan, in there at the time, told me that Cagle had also been arguing in the backfield.

Hutchinson threw a pass into a mass of men on the three yard line -and Army came up with it!

It was getting dark and the crowd was crazy. There was an argument with the officials-and through my field glasses I saw and Army man throw his headgear disgustedly to the ground. That gave me the first tip that the game might be over. It was."
In a tragic and eerie footnote, four of the chief actors in that game died violent deaths: Rock in the plane crash; Chevigny at Iwo Jima; O'Brien in an automobile accident, and Cagle, mysteriously, on a subway platform.

Here's some more on the '28 game and Rock's speech.

1933 was coach Hunk Anderson's last game. ND (2-5-1) was a huge underdog to an undefeated Army team. Like in many of the other games that season, the Irish quickly fell into a hole, this time down 12-0 in the 3rd quarter. But then ND began to claw it's way back and in a huge upset, won the game 13-12. When news reached South Bend, the town erupted in celebration and fans partied downtown until the wee hours of the night. ND fans were pumped up with the display of "old time ND football", and hoped the game meant that Anderson was turning the corner as a coach.

Despite the win though, ND decided that Anderson wasn't going to get it done as head coach over the long term. And so, after only 3 years as head coach, ND announced his resignation the following Saturday.

1936: Watch Your Head!

IrishLegends recounts the tale of the '36 ND-Army game and why ND players took to wearing helmets in the locker room of Yankee Stadium.
When the Notre Dame team was dashing out of the locker room and through the catacombs of Yankee Stadium, Captain Johnny Lautar led the way. Suddenly, Lautar banged his head against an overhanging steel beam and was knocked out cold.

Larry Danbom was right at Johnny's heels and the big fullback had to step over his prone teammate to get through the dugout. The whole team had to step over him, as "Scrap Iron" Young, the trainer, rushed up to work on the unconscious captain.

As a precautionary measure, after that accident the Irish wore their helmets leaving the locker room at the stadium, and guards were posted to remind the players to duck their heads as they trooped out into the arena.

Fully conscious but still a little wobbly, Lautar greeted Woody Stromberg, the West Point captain at midfield for the toss.
In the end, Lautar recovered and ND won the game 20-6.

1946: the 0-0 Tie. This Saturday's game is the 60th anniversary of what was at the time the latest Game of the Century. ND and Army had collectively won the last three national championships (ND in '43, Army in 44-45). Leahy's Irish had beaten Army in '42 and '43, but Notre Dame was embarrassed the following two years (a 59-0 loss in '44, 48-0 in '45) while Leahy was abroad during the war. ND's team chant during the practice week: "Fifty-nine and forty-eight. This is the year we retaliate!"

Leading up to the game, ND students sent daily postcards to renowned Army coach Earl "Red" Blaik, signed "SPATNC" -- Society for the Prevention of Army's Third National Championship.

In the game Notre Dame’s defense contained Army’s touchdown twins — Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis — who were often caught behind the line of scrimmage.

But Blanchard, frustrated by an Irish line that refused to budge, made a last ditch effort to score, and he almost succeeded. Army crossed into Notre Dame territory for the first and only time all day as Blanchard, "Mr. Inside," broke around the end, cut for the sideline and had a clear path to the end zone. Only one man was in a position to try and stop him. As 74,000 fans leaped to their feet, Johnny Lujack sped across the field and dove for Blanchard’s ankles. The All-American was dragged down on the Notre Dame 37-yard line.

Legend says it was one of the only times Blanchard was tackled in the open field. The hard-fought game ended in 0-0 tie. "I suppose I should be elated over the tie,’’ mused Leahy after the game. "After all, we didn’t lose, but I’m not."

Both teams finished the season undefeated and the various national championship polls at the time split their votes between Army and ND. The Irish did end up with the AP national championship, due mainly to their 26-6 victory over USC in the final game of the season while Army played a much closer 21-18 game against Navy.

ND won the game the following year in 1947, but then Army then dropped ND because Blaik didn't want to play Leahy anymore. After Leahy left, Army put ND back on the schedule.

and finally, flashing foward about fifty years...

1995: the Ivory Covington tackle. Whew.