A Team For America

Football is so much more than a game to us. And never before was there a game as important as the one played by the two service academies, Army and Navy, in December of 1944. Randy Roberts, a distinguished professor of history at Purdue University, tells the amazing story of one game-one army-navy football game that almost wasn’t played-that captivated and rallied 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 the game of football. The telegram congratulated Blaik and his Army team for its defeat of its fiercest rival, the Naval Academy, a day earlier. The telegram was from General Douglas Macarthur, who was at that time in the Philippines.
A Team For America starts 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 personality of the man. An interesting story in 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 granted. Well, what many may not know is of a 1940 game between Cornell, one of the top-ranked teams in the nation at the time, and Dartmouth, then coached by one Red Blaik.
Roberts then dives in to the slew of Army players who were important pieces in Blaik’s grand plan to turn around Army football. Where you may have heard of Glenn Davis and Felix “Doc” Blanchard-both Heisman Trophy winners, you may not be so 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 talents and toughness are very intriguing. You will learn of military programs in place that kept the best, brightest, and most athletically talented men across the country going primarily to the Naval Academy. As a result, from 1939 through 1943 Navy had defeated Army five straight times and the Cadets had scored only six points in those five losses. Blaik then figured out a way to get some of that talent to West Point and the tide began to shift.
What makes the story all that more incredible is the time period in which it takes place. The United States was a nation at war. It was a time of rations and the draft. The academies were producing the future leaders in our military and our military needed them now! Cadets at West Point were being pushed through their normal four-year program in two-and-a-half. Universities around the country cancelled their football programs due to the war. Even the focus of the book, the 1944 game between the two academies, came under scrutiny and was almost cancelled.
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 one game in December of 1944, with no face masks, a ball that was a little fatter than today; this may have been the most important game in the history of the sport. Read A Team For America and find out why.

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