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Football at West Point

1:34 PM, Sep 17, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Fred Barnes reviews When Saturday Mattered Most for the Wall Street Journal:

IN the 1950s, when Col. Earl (Red) Blaik was football coach at West Point, he used to send two emissaries to New York City the Monday after each Army game. They had two assignments: first to meet with sportswriters at Toots Shor's, then to stop at Waldorf Towers with a copy of the game film for an audience on one—retired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, class of 1903. Blaik's emissaries were required to watch the film with MacArthur and discuss the plays. In 1958, Army's last undefeated season, MacArthur's visitors were Barney Gill, the coach of Army's B (practice) team, and Joe Cahill, the academy's sports-information director. MacArthur "knew every damn player by name," according to Gill.

MacArthur not only followed football avidly but thought that the game instilled the fighting spirit in cadets. When he was the academy's superintendent, from 1919 to 1922, he watched the team practice on the Plain, the spacious parade ground, while pacing the sidelines with his riding crop in hand. Indeed, he wrote what is now inscribed in stone on the West Point gymnasium: "Upon the fields of friendly strife / Are sown the seeds that / Upon other fields, on other days / Will bear the fruits of victory." MacArthur communicated regularly with Blaik by mail. In 1944, while commander in the Pacific, he sent the coach a telegram after Army beat Navy, 23-7: "We stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success."

The involvement of MacArthur and the considerable interest of columnists like Red Smith, Arthur Daley and Stanley Woodward were measures of the lofty place that Army football once occupied in the sports world and the nation. The Army-Navy game "was in some ways the Super Bowl of its day," writes Mark Beech, a West Pointer himself (class of 1991), in "When Saturday Mattered Most." Harry Truman came to watch the game four times. John Kennedy was "perhaps the game's biggest fan," writes Joe Drape in "Soldiers First: Duty, Honor, Country, and Football at West Point." Kennedy said that the real winner of the Army-Navy game was "the people of the United States."

Today the Army-Navy rivalry is as intense as ever, but the game is a much less celebrated event. The Michigan-Ohio State and Alabama-Auburn clashes are far bigger and usually have an effect on college football rankings. The Army-Navy game has none. Navy has played its way into top 25 on occasion, but the newcomer, Air Force, has the best record in capturing the Commander's Cup, which goes to the winner among the three service academies. Army has struggled for decades to revive the winning tradition instilled by Red Blaik.

Whole thing here.

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