SI Vault
Alfred Wright
November 28, 1955
More than 90,000 fans will pay more than half a million dollars to see the 56th meeting of the nation's future brass and braid. On the following pages Herman Hickman analyzes the team and SI presents its scouting report
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November 28, 1955

Army Vs. Navy

More than 90,000 fans will pay more than half a million dollars to see the 56th meeting of the nation's future brass and braid. On the following pages Herman Hickman analyzes the team and SI presents its scouting report

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Each Year when the Army and Navy football teams meet in Philadelphia on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the game becomes a kind of synthesis of the rivalry, emotion and drama of all the big games across the country. People who would never raise a hackle over such contests as Ohio State-Michigan (see page 48) or Yale-Harvard or Stanford-California run as high a temperature over the Army-Navy game as the plebes themselves.

The excitement and thrills and pageantry of the annual service spectacle are particularly infectious because of the contagious enthusiasm of the 2,400 members of the Corps of Cadets in their well-tailored gray habits, and the 3,600 members of the blue-coated Brigade of Midshipmen, among the very few men in the U.S. Navy who can march properly. On this one day of the year all cadets and all midshipmen are equals—no hazing, none of that "What does a plebe rank, Mr. Dumbjohn?"—and they react with the finest college singing and cheering to be heard anywhere. To the cadet or midshipman grouped in anonymous symmetry in the stands, the victory or defeat is as much of a personal crisis as it is for his companions on the field. Naturally the alumni in the stands (and in Korea and Germany and Alaska and the other outlands where the game is broadcast by Armed Forces Radio) recall and feel this emotion, but scarcely more than the uncountable tens of millions who hang over their radio and TV sets that afternoon.

It hasn't always been so. The Army-Navy game has had some hard sledding through the decades. It started as a rather informal naval invasion of West Point, via the Hudson River, one fall day in 1890, but within four years the contest had grown so villainously rough that the academies called a five-year recess. They resumed playing each other in 1899, and the game grew steadily in prestige and quality until 1928. That year and the next, following a long string of reversals, Navy refused to play Army because the latter insisted on using players who had had previous collegiate experience. The Cadets, then one of the truly formidable football powers in the country, employed such former college stars as Light Horse Harry Wilson and Chris Cagle, and the Midshipmen complained that they couldn't compete.

This ruckus was straightened out in 1930, and since then the series has progressed without interruption. It has constantly sought new and enlarged staging grounds on neutral territory to accommodate the insatiable demand for tickets—first, Franklin Field in Philadelphia, then the Polo Grounds in New York, once the mammoth Soldier Field in Chicago, several times Yankee Stadium and finally, almost always since 1936, the 102,000-capacity Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia. This year Army, the host team, could have sold out the stadium three times.

Commercially, the game is a bonanza for the two academies. They will split the $540,000 in gate receipts (at $6 a seat) and the additional $125,000 for the TV and radio rights. The concessionaire, whose 600 vendors will hawk 150,000 hot dogs, 100,000 cups of coffee and 100,000 hot chocolates, 20,000 candy bars, 25,000 bags of peanuts, 20,000 pennants and badges, 10,000 corsages and 50,000 rain capes, adds another $40,000 to the kitty. Each academy can expect to clear about $300,000 for this one game, and it is this profit which relieves the taxpayer from supporting the athletic programs at the two institutions. In another three years the Air Force Academy will make a triangle of the service rivalry and some day add its own great names to the playing roster to go with those of James Van Fleet, William Halsey, Jonas Ingram and the rest.


Army had one of its very finest football teams last year and seemed destined to be the scourge of the gridiron during the 1955 campaign. It was going to be a tough job to replace pitching Pete Vann at quarterback, but there was a plebe named Bob Schwarze coming on who Coach Earl Blaik felt was a fine prospect and an especially brilliant passer. Tommy Bell would certainly be missed at halfback but Bob Kyasky, Joe Cygler, Mike Zeigler, Pete Lash and Pat Uebel were returning. Don Holleder at end had received national recognition, as did Ralph Chesnauskas at guard.

Then Blaik's troubles began. Plebe Schwarze was "found" because of academic deficiencies. Zeigler ran into disciplinary troubles and was ineligible for the first two games. Kyasky had a recurrence of an old knee injury and Cygler broke his leg. What could conceivably have been a great Army year faded fast, and Blaik was forced into one of the most challenging experiments of his coaching career. He switched Holleder to quarterback—a daring but absolutely necessary move.

Early this year it looked as if Blaik might have been wrong for once. Holleder was having trouble handling the ball, and his left-handed passes were hard but erratic. His short ones were often too "heavy" to hold, and unless he had plenty of time he had trouble finding receivers for his long tosses.

It wasn't long before Army opponents learned they could gang up on the running attack and forget the passes. In only one game did this formula fail to work. Against Colgate, Holleder flashed the form Colonel Blaik expected of him, completing seven of nine passes for three touchdowns. But over the season Don's record is only 22 completions in 63 attempts. Compare that with Army's rushing yardage of 2,272, this despite the fact that the forward pass has not offered even a token threat so far. It just shows that, with Captain Uebel to carry through the middle and speedsters like Kyasky, Zeigler and Lash on the outside, Army can still move the ball, and with speed. (Pictured below is one of its favorite running patterns—the "outside belly," a part of the belly series.)

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