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Once No. 1 vs. No. 2, now much leaner times

Second part of a two-part series

Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis would appear in their football uniforms on the front cover of a 1946 edition of Life magazine.

In 1944, the Naval Academy came to the December meeting with Army as the No. 2 team in the land. The Midshipmen had a 6-2 record, losing only once to a college team. The Navy season had begun with a loss to North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight, a group in training for World War II. Otto Graham was the Pre-Flight quarterback and the coach was Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Glenn Davis (center) and Doc Blanchard (far right) with three teammates.

Georgia Tech had trimmed Navy, 17-15, for the Midshipmen’s lone loss on a schedule that had wins over Notre Dame, Penn State, Purdue, and nationally-ranked Duke among others.

One of the most-decorated players on the Navy roster was Clyde “Smackover” Scott, a superb runner from Smackover, Arkansas.

Ben Martin would later become the head coach at the Air Force Academy. Other players whose exploits helped gain recognition from organizations like the Associated Press, United Press International, and Helms Foundation were tackle Don Whitmire, halfback Bob Jenkins, and Dick Duden.

Whitmire and Jenkins had been standouts on Alabama teams before entering the Naval Academy when the Crimson Tide dropped football.

Fabled sportswriter Grantland Rice was one of those calling the coming meeting of No. 1 vs. No. 2 the “Game of the Century”. Rice wrote it would be “one of the best and most important football games ever played.”

However, the location and the stadium where the game would be played had not been chosen.

President Franklin Roosevelt was mindful of the times. Rationing was the rule for many commodities. And spending extra money for gasoline, meals, and lodging for a distant football game wasn’t palatable.

Roosevelt had stated that for the remainder of the war, the game would alternate between the two campuses. In 1944, it was Navy’s turn to host the game. But Navy’s Thompson Field could hold only about 18,500 fans.

When many in the sporting world wanted to see the game firsthand, less than 20,000 seats wouldn’t be enough.

Roosevelt bent. A larger stadium and its crowd capacity would be linked to a new war bonds sales push. And the game site would be Baltimore’s Municipal Stadium. A ticket was available to anybody buying War Bonds through the Maryland State War Finance Committee. All the tickets were sold the first day, and over $58 million was raised to help finance the war.

Over 66,000 lucky fans crammed into the stands for the December 2 kickoff. Blanchard did Army’s kickoff duties. And when his boot was fielded by Navy’s Bobby Tom Jenkins, a reporter quickly wrote to his editor: “There never has been a sports event, perhaps never an event of any kind, that received the attention of so many Americans in so many places around the world.”

Servicemen crowded close to shortwave sets in many parts of Europe. The same scenes could be documented in the Pacific and along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.

As one wordsmith wrote: “This was a game played by boys training to be soldiers and sailors for the benefit of battle-hardened soldiers and sailors dreaming of being boys once again.”

The afternoon at Municipal Satdium was bitter cold . . . and it was windy as well. A few faint snow flurries blew through.

The marbled ground was hard to negotiate for the runners.

Scoring was kept to a minimum for the first three quarters.

Army clung to a 9-7 lead when the fourth quarter opened.

Navy’s Whitmire and Jenkins had been injured and had to be removed. Their absence became critical in the fourth quarter.

Blaik was going to let the game fall at the feet of his best players. The Black Knights had possession on their own 48 to begin a drive. With Blanchard carrying on seven plays of a nine-play drive, Army surged ahead, 16-7. Blanchard had gained all but four yards on the 52-yard march to points.

The next time Army got the ball, it was Davis sliding through a small crack in the Navy front line and then sprinting to a 50-yard touchdown that put the final brand on a 23-7 win for the Black Knights.

Navy had disrupted the Army offense often enough to intercept five passes and force three fumbles. But the Army defense was all but impenetrable. Navy’s total offense total was only 169 yards.

When the Army team got back to the warmth of its dressing quarters, there was a telegram waiting for Coach Blaik.

“The greatest of all Army teams. We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success.” The wire was signed “MacArthur” … as in Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The game has lived up to all the words written about it … and all the world-wide interest in it.

Army had completed another undefeated season. The Black Knights were the national champions. Army would claim still another unbeaten season and national championship the next year.

Blaik coached on through the 1957 season and compiled a 121-33-10 record in his 18 years at West Point.

Both Army and Navy are in danger of repeating losing seasons here in 2012.

But in 1944, both were college football titans … ranking No. 1 and No. 2 … and playing in the “Game of the Century”.

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