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The United States Army is certainly not a reactionary organization, but it has its moments of extreme conservatism. One of them occurred last Saturday in Philadelphia when the Army—or at least that part of it devoted to the education and training of young officers at West Point—returned the game of football to the principles of an earlier day. Army, in short, chose to play almost an entire game by just running with the ball, as if the forward pass had never been invented. The Navy, which was the victim of this retrogressive piece of strategy, refused to admit the fundamental soundness of the old truths. It hid the ball, it passed the ball, it deployed its forces in weird patterns; it gambled and gamboled on the green grass of the Philadelphia Municipal Stadium for nearly 26 minutes as if to prove that football is a game of wiles and deceit. The Army patiently waited out this flamboyant exhibition by Quarterback George Welsh and his fellow Midshipmen, conceding a mere six points while studying and, for the most part, containing the Naval display. Then, in an adult and self-contained manner, the Army began to demonstrate that old-fashioned football is by no means out of date.
Army won the game 14-6 because it did everything simply and well. It accepted its limitations—an almost complete inability to pass and scarcely enough speed to run around the ends—and made the most of what it had: 11 dedicated men who would have taken out the Colossus of Rhodes if he had been playing right guard for Navy. As it was, the Navy right guard and right tackle were considerably less formidable, and it was there that Army found the soft underbelly of the Navy defense. Settling for the slow, grinding, consistent advance of three, four and five yards, the Army runners chewed up the football field and the clock. There was about this primitive kind of football the inevitability of the day after tomorrow.
Some of the better than 100,000 people who filled the Romanesque horseshoe thought they could sense the trend of events even before the kickoff. On the west side of the stadium they saw the big gray patch of cadets, singing, cheering and chanting its taunts across the field at the blue-and-white mass of midshipmen who sang and cheered and chanted back but with something less than the same frisky gusto. Hannibal, the Army mule, escorted by Pancho, his donkey understudy, galloped cheerfully down the gridiron while Billy XIV, the Navy goat, made a solemn and dignified entrance, confining himself to the sidelines. Finally, a great black van bearing the legend "Army's secret weapon" circled the field under the protection of three machine gunners perched on top. Stopping in front of the cadets it deposited two pert young ladies dressed in the sweaters of Army cheerleaders. Never for the rest of the day was there such a roar as greeted this violation of 55 years of undiluted masculinity. Was there an omen in all this? Did Hannibal and Pancho and Billy XIV and the 2,400 noisy cadets in the stands foresee something?
If they did, it wasn't immediately apparent when the teams settled down to the serious business of the afternoon. Navy, which had chosen to receive after Captain John Hopkins won the toss, wasted no time confirming its role as favorite. George Welsh took charge of his team on his own 24-yard line and at once performed like the undisputed virtuoso of the split-T. On the first play he demonstrated the option at which he has no master; running to his left he showed the ball to the Army right end, who lunged just as Welsh pitched-out to Halfback Ed Oldham, who circled the end for five yards. Next Welsh sent a perfect pass to Ron Beagle, his favorite receiver, and Navy had a first down on their 38. After one option play, three forward passes, seven runs through the line and one modified Statue of Liberty—less one incomplete pass and one 15-yard penalty—the ball sat on Army's one-yard line. From there Welsh dove over a tangle of players for six points. The game was seven minutes old, and Army hadn't yet touched the ball.
The rest of the first quarter and most of the second were repetitious. Only once did Army move to a first down, but Don Holleder, who had sacrificed a season of glory as an end to attempt the mysteries of T quarter-backing, threw a pass which Welsh intercepted. Again Navy set sail for the Army goal. In fact, the task force from Annapolis made three such voyages down the field after that first touchdown, but never quite arrived. Twice there were fumbles deep inside Army lines. Once the journey just ran out of fuel on the Army 20. Navy was adopting a look of frustration.
With slightly more than four minutes of the first half left, Holleder collected his troops on his own 13-yard line. By this time he had had the benefit of a sideline chat with his coach, Colonel Red Blaik, while substitute Russ Mericle operated the team. Blaik showed him what Navy was doing to the Army attack—putting six men on the line with the guards and tackles widely separated and a linebacker set between them just a yard or so from scrimmage. The "blackboard six" they call this defense because coaches generally use it to diagram plays, but for this day the Army blocking was diagrammed against other arrangements. Having posted his teammates on this Navy treachery, Holleder was ready to start the Army charge.
FINDING THE SOFT SIDE
It was plain, fundamental football that he directed: Captain Pat Uebel, a fullback who runs with the power of a Percheron, bulling through holes on the Navy's right side; Halfbacks Dick Murtland and Bob Kyasky squirting through quick openings; Holleder himself occasionally keeping the ball and rolling around the ends for variety's sake. Yet time was short, and running plays devour it. With only seconds remaining, Blaik sent in word to use "R 14 pass," the play where Holleder rolls to the left and throws. The crowd was screaming and Holleder didn't hear the key word "pass." He rolled to the outside all right but kept the ball. One play later the gun went off with the ball still on Navy's three-yard line.
Army was anything but discouraged. They had found the Navy's soft side—first located by Notre Dame earlier in the season—and the Cadets came out to punish it in the second half after Red Blaik's locker-room briefing on new blocking assignments. Now it was a totally different game—Navy erratic and fumbling despite the undiminished brilliance of Welsh, Army confident and unhurried as it slogged through Navy's guards and tackles. Holleder tried just one more pass which fell incomplete and then dropped the whole idea. As he said afterward: "I knew we could run against them; I felt we had the better backs. And then when we started to move on the ground just before the half, I remembered what the Colonel always told me: 'If it works, stick with it.' So I did."
The second time he got the ball in the third quarter, Holleder marched the team to a touchdown, and Ralph Chesnauskas, another football chameleon who had been moved from guard to tackle to end during his three years on the varsity, kicked the extra point. Army 7, Navy 6. In the fourth quarter Army again struck Navy amidships, pushing steadily to the Middies' 23-yard line. From there Halfback Pete Lash fooled Jim Owen for the first and only time that afternoon, circling his end for the game's longest run and Army's second touchdown. Chesnauskas' conversion sealed the Navy casket for 1955. The football season was only a few plays away from the final gun.