SI Vault
 
ARMY'S RETURN TO POWER
Booton Herndon
November 22, 1954
Three years ago a great West Point football machine was destroyed. Here is the story of how Col. Red Blaik, despite a personal heartbreak, rebuilt Army into a top 1954 team
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 22, 1954

Army's Return To Power

Three years ago a great West Point football machine was destroyed. Here is the story of how Col. Red Blaik, despite a personal heartbreak, rebuilt Army into a top 1954 team

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

Unorthodoxy has been old hat to the American Army ever since a general named Washington ran a wide-end sweep across the Delaware River in rowboats, also in the middle of the night. No movies were taken of that encounter, but there are plenty of the Duke game. In them you can see confusion spread from the ends and tackles throughout the whole Duke team. George Blackburn is convinced the colonel's midnight strategy turned what would have been a dead-even contest into the 28-14 rout it became.

"But the whole point is," Blackburn says, "that we taught our boys a whole new offense in two practice sessions of 90 minutes each. I don't think any college team in the country could have done it. It took cadets with trigger-quick minds, and the inspiration of Red Blaik. The boys believe in him."

Coach Blaik believes in his cadets, too. He believes in football. ("A lot of Earl's former players have come back from combat and told me that they learned more on the football field than anywhere else at the academy," Mrs. Blaik says.)

The taxpayer gets a free ride on this type of training, too. The entire program of 17 varsity sports, from Blaik's salary of well over $15,000 plus quarters to the adhesive tape Rollie Bevan applies, is carried by the nonmilitary Army Athletic Association, which in turn is supported almost entirely by football. The head of the AAA, naturally, is Earl Blaik. In addition to the varsity team, football is practically part of the curriculum at West Point. Each of the 24 companies has its own team, completely equipped and intelligently coached.

When Army and Navy come together in Philadelphia Nov. 27 it will be the thud heard 'round the world. Who would have bet a tarnished button, back in September, that Army would come up to the Navy game one of the top 10 football powers this year? Bob Farris, captain and leader, had been benched for good with an eye injury. End Don Holleder walked the area with a pack on his back during the first two games. There was no other end, no center, no line backer, who had ever played in a varsity game.

SOME CHANGES MADE

In the first game, South Carolina, with experience and depth, soundly beat a green and thin Army team. Sparkling individual performances won the next game, with Michigan. Then, between Saturdays, Blaik ripped his entire line to pieces. He moved Stephenson, his 185-pound sophomore center, into left tackle, a position he'd never played before. He filled the hole at center with a boy named Chance, who'd flopped successively as tackle, end, and fullback. He put Godwin Ordway, who'd played offensive center his plebe year, second-string end the next, into right tackle ahead of Ron Melnik, a bruising 215-pounder. Don Holleder put down his pack and came back to end. The rest of the line stayed the same, with Sophomore Art Johnson at the other end, Sophomore Flay Goodwin at one guard, and Ralph Chesnauskas, an honor student who is one of the best guards in the country, at the other. This patched-up gang turned into a great line.

Now look what happened on the second team. Instead of pouting, Melnik began belaboring the B team something pitiful, trying to get back up there again. Ed Szvetecz, who had been only an alternate center on the plebes the year before, caught fire from Melnik and became the talk-it-up guy. All of a sudden, Army, which hadn't been expected to have one good line, came up with two terrific ones. Why? Ordway has one answer.

"I want to play football so bad I'll play anywhere the colonel puts me, sir," he said.

Billy Chance has another. " Colonel Blaik told me to play center so I did, sir," he said.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5