Three years ago, Rollie Bevan, the short, squat, howitzer-voiced West Point trainer who ranks even General Douglas MacArthur in the Society for the Admiration of Coach Earl H. Blaik, decided he had had a bellyful of the whole United States Army. He had seen 45 young men, the absolute finest in intelligence, courage and leadership, browbeaten and dismissed from the United States Military Academy for "cribbing" but really?Rollie believes?because they played football for Red Blaik. And one of those cadets was a boy Rollie had raised from the age of two, a boy he loved as fiercely and as proudly as he would love his own son.
"I told Colonel Blaik I was through, and I told him he ought to be through, too," Rollie says today. "But you know what he told me? 'No, Rollie,' he said. 'I can't quit and you can't either. We're going to fight this out. We've got to prove that what we're doing is right. We're going to demonstrate for once and for all the utter folly of trying to kill winning football at Army!'
"He got me straightened out all right," Rollie continued. "But all the time he was talking to me God alone knows how he was feeling inside. Because they got his boy, too!"
Bob Blaik, the colonel's boy, would have been All-American that year; he never played again. His ambition was to be a regular officer in the U.S. Army; today he's an enlisted man in the Air Force. Other parents might have left in hurt fury. Colonel Blaik and the stylish, poised woman who is his wife chose to stay and fight.
"I don't know and I don't care where the pip-squeaks who tried to get him are today," says Rollie Bevan, "but I can tell you where Red Blaik is. He's right here at West Point where he belongs, developing leaders of men and putting winning teams on the field. And are we going to knock the very living hell out of Navy!"
Today, four seasons after his entire squad was pulled out from under him, Blaik has brought football back to power at Army, and Army football back to power in the nation. With only nine lettermen and a decisive loss in the opening game, Army has won seven straight and is fifth in the nation.
LEAN AND DANGEROUS
How did Blaik do it? One answer is Blaik himself?reserved, a perfectionist, but with a glowing intensity of inspirational dimension. Another is the caliber of the West Point cadet?lean, of high intelligence, and with a determination that's downright dangerous.
George Blackburn, the new backfield coach in his first year at Army, is still a little awed by what the colonel can get out of those boys. At midnight one Wednesday, for instance, Blaik thought of a brand-new offensive tactic to use against Duke three days later. He telephoned his staff then and there and outlined his idea.
"Duke had a powerful defense," Blackburn says, "an eight-man line with end and tackle pinching the offensive end between them. The colonel worked out a series of unorthodox patterns for our ends to confuse them with. On one, the end would pretend to go out for a pass, then stop short and block. On another, both ends would line up tight, then suddenly jump up and split way out."