- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"Now, we don't want to kick the ball to him, do we?" the coach asked.
"Then get out there and kill them in the second half!" Hanley concluded with a shout. And they all went roaring out the tunnel, lined up and kicked off for the second half. The ball, of course, went straight to Young, who ran it back 99 yards for a touchdown. Coach Hanley, understandably, was disappointed.
"On the sidelines," Greene recalled, "you could see him, stripping off his uniform item by item, slamming each garment to the ground and jumping up and down on it."
If one were to suggest that the thrust of wartime service football was largely Navy, one would be absolutely right. More nearly correct would be to say that, except for West Point, the thrust of all wartime football, both collegiate and service, was Navy, for pure college teams were fed by on-campus naval training programs—a luxury in which the Army seldom indulged. Colleges rose or fell in proportion to their share of Navy activity, and the Big Six among the service teams—El Toro, North Carolina Pre-Flight, Fleet City, Great Lakes, Iowa Pre-Flight and Bainbridge Naval Training—all were from the seafaring service. Here and there an Army or Army Air Corps team surfaced briefly, but in the crunch of wartime they were the expendables. One rule facilitated things for footballers who joined Navy programs; they were permitted to play intercollegiate football, while the Army allowed no such extracurricular exertions.
This prompted much rhapsodizing among naval officials. "Football! Navy! War!" wrote Coach Tom Hamilton. "At no time in history have these words been more entwined and intermeshed than they are now." From a former director of athletics at Annapolis, Admiral Jonas H. Ingram, came the observation that "the closest thing to war in time of peace is football!"
The supposed benefits of the game as a preparation for combat were, of course, used by Army people, too, but the paeans of the MacArthurs and Eisenhowers were less frequent. And only rarely did there a rise such a comment as that contributed by Lou Little at Columbia. "Let's be open-minded about this," he wrote at the time. "Not even the most zealous of football men will assert that only the men who have played football are good soldiers. That would be silly, of course. The Russians, who have done so magnificent a job of fighting in this war, don't play football, so far as I am aware, save for some soccer, and that is not generally. The same is true of another valiant ally, the Chinese. In England they play the rugby game that was the parent of American football, but hardly recognizable as a relative of our sport now."
The Germans didn't play American football either, with one notable exception. At a prisoner-of-war camp in Kentucky in 1944 an effort was made to teach the game to the captive Panzers. "What you must do," they were told, "is to tackle the man with the ball." And so, with appropriate Teutonic verve, all 21 of them—the 11 guys on the opposing team, plus his 10 teammates—tackled the guy with the ball. (At the University of Chicago, incidentally, they had abandoned football in 1939, but the stadium—Stagg Field—had remained. Instead of playing football there, the site was used to develop the world's first atomic pile in anticipation of the atomic bomb.)
Yet another assent to the football-as-builder-of-warriors concept came from Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, whose memoirs cited Tom Hamilton's comparison of football and war, and expressed agreement with the analogy Hamilton had evoked in applauding America's "foresight to punt and bide time for a scoring opportunity."
No doubt the rigors of football did help equip many men for combat, but there was one player named Swanson at Bucknell whose varsity career could scarcely have done him much good. He became eligible for football on a Monday, played in a game the following Saturday and was transferred out on the following Wednesday. Though he is by no means the last player to have given up sport for the duration, it does appear that in inducting the abortive Bucknellian, wartime football had done a Swanson.