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When Army and Notre Dame collide in moleskins in Philadelphia's 101,000-seat Memorial Stadium this Saturday, they will be renewing a rivalry which, for at least the third and fourth decades of this century, typified intercollegiate football to more people than any other annual contest in the history of the sport. The Army-Notre Dame game belonged to the people who later adopted the Brooklyn Dodgers for their own to fulfill a desire for major league baseball in the home town; it belonged to the subway alumni of Notre Dame and to the outposts of the military all over the world and to the millions who never went to college and to whom the Harvard-Yale game meant less than nothing and the Army-Navy game not much more. When the game was discontinued 10 years ago, it cast adrift a big amorphous hunk of the American football public.
The game's very bigness led to the end of the series. Tickets became nearly impossible to get; scalpers sold single seats at Yankee Stadium for $100 and Notre Dame alumni—both real and subway—vied with Army brass to buy them. One million ticket requests flooded the two institutions in 1946. The situation became so impossible that it was mutually agreed to discontinue the series. Now, with its first renewal after a nine-year cooling-off period, tickets are still a problem; yet, in vast Municipal Stadium, scalpers will be lucky to get half of what they used to ask.
Since young Terry Brennan led Notre Dame to a 27-7 victory in the 1947 game which ended the old series, Army and Notre Dame have followed curiously parallel courses. During the heyday of their rivalry, both teams were ranked among the very best year after year. Both continued to overpower opponents for a few years, then, suddenly and surprisingly, fell on lean days.
Now Army and Notre Dame are climbing laboriously back to their past eminence. At this first crossing of gridiron paths in 10 years, they have reached approximately the same place on the road back, as evidenced by their records so far this year. By virtue of its victories over a strong Purdue and a so-so Indiana, the Irish have shown they are no longer willing to be pushed around the way they were last year. Army, with wins over so-so Nebraska and then potent Penn State last Saturday, is starting its strongest season in some years.
Army's sudden fall from power came in 1951, when Colonel Earl Blaik saw not only his own son but also virtually his whole football team expelled from West Point in a cribbing scandal involving 90 cadets. After months of deep self-searching, Blaik decided to remain at the academy and to mend its football fortunes.
"Our situation is a unique one," he said the other day as he sat in his comfortable office at West Point. "First, anybody we want must have an appointment to the United States Military Academy from a congressman. Second, our entrance standards are completely different from any other school and are extraordinarily strict. We have no special courses for athletes; a boy who enters West Point must have a knack for sciences and mathematics. There are no snap courses." Blaik is a tall spare man who looks a little like General MacArthur. He is a precise, meticulous organizer, and his practices are as disciplined as the cadet drills on the wide parade grounds of the academy. His appearance is austere, but he has a tremendous warmth which is not apparent when you first meet him but which comes through quickly in conversation. Now he leaned back in his chair and linked his fingers and said, carefully: "I suppose there are good players on 50 or 60 major college teams who would have liked to come to West Point and could not. We must screen hundreds of boys to get a handful who can make the grade here."
1913 In this game, the series opener, the forward pass, which had been legalized in 1906, first took its rightful place in football's arsenal. As Quarterback Gus Dorais threw time and again to young End Knute Rockne, one of the game's most famous passing combinations was born; and the Irish upset the Army 35-13.
"Then, after the boy is accepted and comes to the Point, the attrition is tremendous. We have to take high school football players right out of high school so they can have their three years of eligibility, while most of the rest of the cadet corps is made up of men who have had some college work already. This means the football players are under a handicap scholastically. Then, when a boy is appointed to the Military Academy, he is here to stay regardless of whether he plays football or not, and some of them find the load too heavy and quit football. After you find a boy who fulfills all the requirements, you still must interest him in West Point as a school and the Army as a career. Now, the boy we must have—intelligent, alert, physically fit—is the boy every other college wants, so the competition is tremendous."
After Blaik has acquired his handful of recruits each year, he has more special problems to deal with. Discipline, for obvious reasons, is very strict at West Point. Should a player be late to chapel, for instance, he may be put "on area" for a month or two, which means that he is lost to the team for that time. Blaik is a man dedicated to football and, were he not equally dedicated to the Army, he might find the strictures inherent in coaching at West Point unbearably irksome.
"Our practice time is restricted, too," Blaik pointed out. "We work an hour and a half a day during the season. The only time I have for a squad meeting is two hours on Sunday morning after chapel. Classes start September 3, so that we have never had two-a-day workouts.