The theft of
tribal lands was a standing source of jokes on the Carlisle football team.
After a bad call from a referee, the Indians said, "What's the use of
crying about a few inches when the white man has taken the whole
The 1912 Indians
were a team of rampant high spirits. It wasn't unheard of on the Carlisle
campus to find the dairy cows locked in the gym or a pig in a bag hung from the
school flagpole. The football players took pride in the fact that so many
disparate characters from so many tribes, regions and circumstances could form
such a brilliant whole. They were also well aware that they were "making a
record for their race," as superintendent Pratt put it. In fact, they would
literally set a record: Carlisle became the highest-scoring team in the
Over the first
four games of the season the Indians averaged almost 50 points. Under
quarterback Gus Welch their offense kept opponents off balance and out of
breath. Without huddling they would run a series of plays as Welch reeled off
audibles or used hand gestures to make adjustments. Some of the gestures were
The team was
improved by the addition of two wildly talented running backs who had recently
been promoted from the Hotshots, Pete Calac and future All-America Joe Guyon.
The Indians experienced just one hitch, in a game against Washington and
Jefferson, which they did not take seriously. Thorpe missed three field goals,
while Welch indulged in overly flamboyant signals that annoyed Warner. As the
coach stalked the sideline in mounting frustration, the Indians fumbled around,
and the game ended in a scoreless tie.
Indians blew out Syracuse 33--0, Pitt 45--8 and Georgetown 34--20. They became
so cocksure that they taunted Lehigh with their signal-calling in a 34--14
victory. A player in the backfield would yell, "What about going around
right end this time?" Then they would race around right end. The Lehigh
victory gave the Indians a 10-0-1 record. But that's when the joking stopped.
The following week they were going to West Point for the fight of their
Army was in the
midst of a four-year stretch during which it went 28-5-1. Cadets tackle
Alexander Weyand was a 200-pound sophomore and a tireless one-man wrecking
crew. In 1911 he sent two Yale men to the sideline, one with a broken
collarbone and one with an injured knee. Leland Devore outweighed Weyand by 40
pounds. In the Cadets' backfield were four future World War II generals:
Eisenhower, Geoffrey Keyes, Leland Hobbs and Vernon Prichard. Eisenhower had
just average speed and weighed only 175 pounds, but, he said, "I so loved
the fierce bodily contact of football that I suppose my enthusiasm made up
somewhat for my lack of size."
game had national implications for both teams. The Cadets, who had the best
defense in the nation, had lost only once, to Yale 6--0. With a win over
Carlisle they had a chance to be No. 1 in the year-end rankings. While the
Indians had the best offense in the land, commentators suggested they had run
up their extravagant scores against weaker competition. A defeat of gritty Army
would end all argument and establish them as front-runners for the title of
best team in the country.
Then there was the
longer view. For Welch, the game couldn't help but recall "the real war out
in the West." Thorpe, especially, "was primed for that battle,"
Warner would say later. "He and I had planned it ever since our trip to
Stockholm, and when the time came to deliver, Thorpe was there."
opening play from scrimmage made football history: Welch and the Carlisle
offense lined up in the first double wing formation, which Warner had designed
and the players had reserved expressly for Army. Both halfbacks shifted closer
to the line of scrimmage, just outside the defensive tackles. The formation
infinitely multiplied the Indians' options for trick plays. Anything could
happen: Welch, Thorpe and running back Alex Arcasa might run, fake, reverse,
pitch, block, catch passes or throw them. "Football began to have the sweep
of a prairie fire," Warner observed.
The scheme played
havoc with Army--and electrified the crowd. The Indians sheared off huge chunks
of yardage. "The shifting, puzzling, and dazzling attack of the Carlisle
Indians had the Cadets bordering on a panic," the New York Tribune
observed. "None of the Army men seemed to know just where the ball