SI Vault
Sarah Pileggi
November 01, 1976
For years they've struggled on—brave old Army teams—but Leamon Hall, whose bullets are on target, once more has West Point sky high for football
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November 01, 1976

A Star On The Back Side Of Heaven

For years they've struggled on—brave old Army teams—but Leamon Hall, whose bullets are on target, once more has West Point sky high for football

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"Me and my friends couldn't see ourselves as West Point cadets," says Brundidge. "I had a friend who quit Annapolis after two weeks and he told us how hard it was and what he had to go through."

Clennie, too tactful to say he had no interest in going to West Point, took to hiding from the Army recruiter. "Sixth period was the time for the recruiters. Someone would bring a slip into class that said to come to the office. I got to anticipating the slip and I'd ask the messenger who it was, and if the messenger said West Point, I'd get out of class and I'd go to the parking lot or go home." Brundidge even successfully evaded Smith's one visit to Oviedo. The visit was to coincide with a baseball game, but the game was rained out and Brundidge had disappeared. "I hunted a good part of the afternoon for Clennie," says Smith. "Couldn't find him, so I left a note and went on my way."

The night before Brundidge planned to sign his letter of intent with North Carolina State, Neswiacheny showed up at his home with a film, a projector and a screen. "Unfortunately for me," says Clennie, smiling ruefully because a rueful smile makes the story funnier and he likes being the butt of his own stories, "he showed all the good things about West Point, a lot of parades and things, and my family went crazy."

Being a sophomore, Brundidge has until next fall to decide whether to stay at West Point. He has learned the ropes and feels comfortable in the life now. Also he has high hopes for the young Army basketball team. He says, "I am positive I will probably stay."

Hall, a junior, is committed. "I have mixed feelings about pro ball," he says. "It was always a dream of mine to be recruited by the pros. In a way, it's the ultimate for an amateur athlete. But I think pro ball is a lot more glamorous on the outside than it really is. You're almost enslaved. Right now I play because I love to play and that's the only reason anybody does here at the Academy. You don't get any bennies [benefits] for doing it."

Homer Smith turned 45 on the day of the Penn State game. The team, at a lunch stop in the Pocono Mountains during the five-hour bus ride back to the Point, gave him a cake with blue icing and sang happy birthday. Smith has been around. He has been an assistant at Stanford, the Air Force Academy and UCLA, and he has been head coach at Davidson and the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. Of West Point he says, "This is a remarkable school, full of remarkable experiences and it's fun to sell a good product. Any school could be good that got its students up at six every morning and made them take certain hard things and tested them frequently."

It would be a lot easier to sell his product if Army could produce a bona fide hero or two in the next couple of years. Army football has needed a hero for a long time now. Felix (Doc) Blanchard and Glenn Davis date back to the mid-'40s, a decade and more before any of the current team was born. Pete Dawkins, Army's last Heisman Trophy winner, graduated in 1959.

With a little more help from his line, Leamon Hall could lead Army into a new era. So could Clennie Brundidge if he stays. But unless Congress rewrites the laws about five-year commitments. West Point football teams will probably not again be competing for national championships. Homer Smith is a realist. He wrote recently, "An immediate recruiting objective of this staff is to put talent on the field that can win games regularly against the North Carolinas, Dukes, Vanderbilts, Northwesterns and Baylors, against the major schools which have what those schools have in common."

In the meantime Army is giving the folks at West Point, from plebes to generals, the time of their recent lives. The noise from Michie Stadium these Saturday afternoons is deafening. Tailgaters fill the parking lots from morning until dark. The band plays On, Brave Old Army Team over and over and the Corps of Cadets, their gray capes flapping in the autumn winds, bark "Yoos-may, Yoos-may, rah, rah, rah." Et cetera.

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