The book on a storied rivalry
By Beano Cook
Special to Page 2The first Army-Navy game I ever attended was in 1948. I was 17, living in Pittsburgh, and I had to take a train to Philadelphia to see the game. Army was undefeated and heavily favored, yet somehow Navy ended up with a 21-21 tie. The ride home was long and exhausting -- it took all night -- but the trip was definitely worth the trouble. One game and I was hooked, an Army-Navy addict for life.
Two years later, Army was No. 1 in the country and Navy had a very weak team. Somehow, the Midshipmen prevailed 14-2, a stunning upset that cost the Cadets a shot at the national championship. I've seen other games since, but those two stick out the most for me, perhaps because I was young and impressionable.
These and many other memories came back to me while reading Jack Clary's Army vs. Navy, The First 100 Games. Clary, who also wrote a book called Army-Navy: The Fastest 60 Minutes in Football, obviously can't get enough of this rivalry. In addition to a solid description of every game played in this century-old series, he provides mini-bios on the men who starred, interesting tales (including the missing mascot), a list of every player who participated in every game, and a sea of trivia, stats and factoids.
Did you know, for example, that five Heisman Trophy winners have participated in the Army-Navy game? This might come as quite a shock to younger fans, who only know Army and Navy as fodder for collegiate powerhouses looking to pad their records.
Two of those Heisman winners, Army's fabled Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside duo of the mid-'40s, Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, played their last game against Navy in a 1946 classic that also provided one of the most famous quotes in the history of sports. With the score 21-18 in favor of the Cadets, seconds left and the Midshipmen in easy field-goal range, spectators rushed the field and Navy never got off a final play. To this day, more than 50 years later, Navy fans still feel they got robbed.
If you look at film clips of that game, you'll note fans surrounding the field. President Harry Truman attended the game, but with Army seemingly comfortably in front in the fourth quarter 21-6, he left, taking most of the security force with him. So there was nobody to stop spectators from preventing the Midshipmen from running a potentially game-winning final play.
After the game, Navy coach Tom Hamilton, who was one of Navy's greatest players in the 20s, was asked about kicking a tying field goal. Hamilton, later the athletic director at the University of Pittsburgh, where he gave yours truly his first job in college athletics, famously said, "A tie is like kissing your sister."
Or did he? Years later, I asked him about the quote, and he said that he didn't remember saying it.
Interestingly, in the 1963 game, Navy and Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach won 21-15, when Army failed to get off a fourth-down play. This time it was the Cadets who screamed they had been cheated. In other words, what goes around, comes around.
Sadly, the Army-Navy game no longer has much, if any, impact on the national stage. Combined, they enter this weekend's game with just one win. But as Clary's compelling book makes abundantly clear, this is a rivalry that transcends something as mundane as won-lost records. Every Army-Navy game ends with a great moment. After doing battle for 60 tough minutes, the teams stand at attention while bands from both Academies play their alma maters. This is a true sign of respect in a world where respect is so sorely lacking, the kind of thing that has always stood out when I think about this rivalry.
Once you open this book, you'll begin to understand Clary's -- and my -- love affair with the Army-Navy game. If your experience is anything like mine, you'll tell yourself that you are going to read, oh, five years worth. Then maybe just five more games. Pretty soon you'll be on a roll, and the next thing you know, it's time for the evening news and dinner. You simply can't put it down.
There's one potential problem, however. Army vs. Navy, The First 100 Games is a big book, and it comes with a big tag: $100. Is it worth it?
Well, if you look at it one way, that's only a dollar a year.
If you look at it another way, this is a coffee table book. I have to admit, I have never really understood what they meant by that. Is it a place to put the coffee? Or is it a place where, if you spill the coffee, it lands on this book? My opinion is this: You can put this fine book on a coffee table, but if you leave it there, you are making a big mistake.
Beano Cook, who joined ESPN in March 1986, serves as a college football studio commentator and occasional sideline reporter. He also offers college football commentary on ESPN Radio.
||BUY THE BOOK
To order Jack Clary's new book, Army vs. Navy, The First 100 Games, go to http://goarmynavy100.com/ or call 1-800-422-6310.
The book is available in a black leather cover for Army fans and a dark-blue cover for Navy fans.