Soccer is much more than a game for us. And never before was a game as important as the one played by the two service academies, Army and Navy, in December 1944. Randy Roberts, a distinguished history professor at Purdue University, tells the amazing story of a game-a army. – a game of sea soccer that is hardly played – that captivated and united a nation at war.
On December 3, 1944, Army Head Coach Earl “Red” Blaik received a telegram from a man he knew very well, a man who had great respect for soccer. The telegram congratulated Blaik and his Army team on the defeat of their fiercest rival, the Naval Academy, a day earlier. The telegram was from General Douglas Macarthur, who was in the Philippines at the time.
A Team For America begins with the story of Blaik and how he came to be the head football coach at Army. Roberts does a tremendous job of analyzing not only Blaik’s coaching prowess, but also the man’s personality. An interesting story from the book is the original “Fifth Down” play. True college football fans know of the Colorado-Missouri game in the late 1980s when a fifth down was awarded. Well, what many may not know is from a 1940 game between Cornell, one of the top-ranked teams in the nation at the time, and Dartmouth, then coached by a Red Blaik.
Roberts then dives into the myriad of Army players who were important pieces in Blaik’s grand plan to change Army football. If you may have heard of Glenn Davis and Felix “Doc” Blanchard, both Heisman Trophy winners, you may not be as familiar with George “Barney” Poole, DeWitt “Tex” Coulter, Max Minor, or Doug Kenna.
The stories of how these men came to West Point and the stories of their athletic talent and toughness are very intriguing. You will learn about the current military programs that kept the best, brightest, and most talented men from across the country by going primarily to the Naval Academy. As a result, from 1939 to 1943, the Navy had defeated the Army five times in a row and the Cadets had scored just six points in those five losses. Blaik then discovered a way to bring some of that talent to West Point and the tide began to turn.
What makes the story even more incredible is the time period in which it takes place. America was a nation at war. It was the era of rations and shooting. The academies were producing the future leaders of our army and our military needed them now! The cadets at West Point were being pushed through their normal four-year program in two and a half years. Universities across the country canceled their soccer programs because of the war. Even the book’s central theme, the 1944 game between the two academies, came under scrutiny and was nearly canceled.
It’s a compelling story about our most precious game, about young men, about hardship, about country, about service. For true college football fans, this game in December 1944, without masks, a ball that was slightly fatter than the current one; This may have been the most important game in the history of the sport. Read A Team for America and find out why.