In any event Blaik may have been only a designated colonel, but he still ran an ordered football battalion, delegating authority well. Twenty of his assistants would become head coaches, including Blaik's unknown back-field coach of that time. His name was Vince Lombardi, and his special student was the quarterback, Bob Blaik, Red's son. Young Blaik was bright, a graduate of Exeter, in the top sixth of his class at West Point. He was a fine musician as well as a good athlete—second baseman on varsity baseball—yet not as gifted as Gil Reich. Blaik was a year ahead of Reich, so he had started during the near-championship year of 1950. Only a huge upset at the hands of Navy in the season finale had prevented Army from finishing undefeated and No. 1 in the nation. As Reich says with a smile now, "Fifty-one was going to be interesting."
"I think we would have been national champions," says Pollard. "The Colonel was counting on it." Soon enough, though, losing to Navy would seem like a minor setback. Before Army played another game, everything around Blaik, the colonel and the coach alike, would come crashing down.
I wish I'd heard about it at the very beginning. I'm sure I would have been able to stop all this business in short order.
—RED BLAIK, Aug. 9, 1951
On April 11, 1951, President Truman fired MacArthur for insubordination, handing the Korean command over to Gen. Matthew Ridgway, who had been Superintendent MacArthur's athletic director at the Point. The dismissal set off a national firestorm. Blaik wired his idol: AMERICAN PUBLIC STUNNED STOP TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE TO OFFSET ADMINISTRATION HATCHETMEN STOP MY AFFECTION AND DEVOTION TO YOU. Blaik had tried to persuade MacArthur to return from Japan in '48 and seek the Republican nomination for the presidency, and now he was even more eager for the general to do so. When MacArthur arrived in New York City for his ticker-tape parade, Blaik visited him in his apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria and urged him to run.
Back at the Point, other grievous events were rushing ahead. Harkins had learned about the cheating, and the investigation had begun. Offenders, an assistant commandant said, were "the same as dead." Independently of Braun, another swimmer had gone to Craigie, the team captain, with an account of cheating, and Craigie had told him to report to Harkins. The commandant quickly understood that the number of cheaters was considerable. He pondered how to compile more evidence.
In fact, cheating was nothing new among football players. It dated back at least to 1947 When the academy enrollment had expanded to about 2,500 during the war, the cadets had been split into two regiments. Both regiments were given the same tests, though, so a football player taking a writ (a quiz) in one section could pass the information on to players in the other section, who would take the quiz later that day. At West Point then all students were required to take the same courses, and many struggled with math and the sciences. In the 1950 game program, for example, the thumbnail sketches of the players, which noted their hobbies and their "drags" (girlfriends), included such pregnant remarks as, "stars in European history, but stumbles a bit in mechanics of solids." Or "a star in social science, he comes off second best at times in his bouts with electricity."
Pollard laughs about the time he and teammate Ray Malavasi, who would become an NFL coach, got lost on maneuvers because they couldn't use a compass properly. Pollard couldn't even practice each week until Thursday, because he was being tutored in math. "If I hadn't received help," he says, "I would've flunked out."
At some point the cheating widened into a ring, including players who fell into it more for convenience than from need. It even took on a name—"getting the poop." Over time the players learned about getting the poop almost as an introduction to the academy's football culture. Says Craigie, "Most people felt betrayed because the vast majority of us believed in the code, but if I'd been a football player instead of a swimmer, and if I'd merely been told about the Honor Code when I arrived and my teammates had said, 'Yeah, but this is the way it really is,' I'd have been sucked in too."
The demands of team and friendship were considerable, especially when they carried with them the possible burden of dishonor or betrayal. Craigie believes the academy never adequately confronted this matter. He says, "When I hear someone say he was taught at home not to lie, cheat or steal, but also not to tattle, I say: Yes, what you learned at home is right. We do not want an Orwellian society where everyone watches everyone else. But you have entered the military, one of the chosen professions, and you are expected to behave differently in the context of this profession's ethics."
At least some players presumed—rationalized?—that the academy knew of the cheating but turned a blind eye so as not to hurt the football team. Indisputably, the temptation to cheat was overwhelming. The Aug. 13,1951 issue of TIME magazine called the Honor Code "unrealistic." Blaik never made excuses for his players, but he did carp that there was "an artificial saintliness" built into the Honor Code. On the other hand, some cadets who might have blown the whistle before Braun had been scared to act. "I didn't report anybody," one would testify, "because Colonel Blaik, the man on the hill, is a big man, and I didn't want to cross his path."