IT BEGAN, appropriately, with a challenge. Intercollegiate football at the Naval Academy was already eight years old when a group of midshipmen challenged Army to a game at West Point in 1890.
With Navy's 24-0 victory in that historic game, the Army-Navy classic was born.
When the teams meet tomorrow in Philadelphia for the 91st time, it will mark the end of Army's 100th anniversary season. The Cadets have produced three Heisman Trophy winners in Doc Blanchard, Glenn Davis and Pete Dawkins. They won two national championships in the 1940s. And if they beat Navy tomorrow, it will be their 573rd victory.
In 1891, for the first time since the U.S. Military Academy was founded in 1802, a group of cadets left the grounds to engage in an athletic contest. Led by coach Harry Williams and team captain Dennis Michie, 17 players traveled to Annapolis intent on avenging the previous year's defeat.
"If we're going to have a try at beating Navy," Michie had said early in the fall, "we need somebody to help coach the team, somebody who knows more football than I do. I think we can get Harry Williams. He was a marvelous player at Yale."
Under Williams' tutelage, Army emerged as a team. The Cadets hammered Navy, 32-16. When the score came over the telegraph wires at West Point, the postmaster raced to the evening formation and blurted the news to a corps captain. The captain executed a snappy about-face, announced the score, then said, "Dismiss your companies."
Soon after the war with Spain broke out in 1898, Michie was killed in Cuba at the age of 28. His name will live forev-er in Army football annals; the Cadets' present stadium is named in his honor.
In 1915 Elmer Oliphant arrived at West Point from Purdue, where he had starred in football, basketball, baseball, track and wrestling, and also was the school's heavyweight boxing champ. These were the Oliphant years.
When he failed to score touchdowns, he kicked 45-yard field goals. In the 14-0 victory over Navy in 1915, Oliphant scored all the points.
Fittingly, one of Army's greatest players, Chris Cagle, was a star in 1926 in what has become known as the greatest Army-Navy game, a 21-21 tie. Cagle ranked with Red Grange among the backs of that time. Thanks in part to Cagle, Army was unbeaten against Navy from 1922 to '33.
The decade of the 1930s produced nine winning Army teams. In 1931, however, tragedy struck. Richard Sheridan suffered a broken neck in the Yale game and died two days later.
Red Blaik arrived as coach in 1941 for the war years and remained until 1958, compiling a 121-33-10 record. Football was allowed to continue at Annapolis and West Point during World War II, President Roosevelt having announced it would be good for "the morale of the nation."
In 1944, Army, led by Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Blanchard and Davis, went on a roll that would last three years. Davis, the 1946 Heisman Trophy winner, recalls the Navy game that year as the biggest thrill of his career.
With a 23-7 trouncing of Navy -- which had taken five straight from Army -- the Cadets completed their first undefeated season since 1914. They finished 9-0, won the national championship and outscored their opponents, 504-35.
"My greatest thrill came after my greatest chill, when I flunked out of the academy after my plebe year," said Davis, who was readmitted in the fall after passing a test. "The game was played in Baltimore and $58 million in War Bonds were bought by a
sellout crowd as the price of admission."
After Davis scored his 20th touchdown of the season to clinch the nation's scoring title, Blaik received a telegram from Gen. Douglas MacArthur that read, "THE GREATEST OF ALL ARMY TEAMS. WE HAVE STOPPED THE WAR TO CELEBRATE YOUR MAGNIFICENT SUCCESS."
In 1945, Army defeated Navy, 32-13, for its 18th straight triumph, marking the first time it had ever gone through two perfect seasons in a row. Again, the Cadets won the national title and Blanchard won the Heisman Trophy.
Army's 1946 campaign was sullied only by a scoreless tie with Notre Dame. At one point, Blanchard broke loose and was headed for the goal line when Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame's quarterback and safety, dragged him down at the Irish 37-yard line.
"They said Blanchard couldn't be stopped one-on-one in the open field, yet I did it," Lujack said.
Army finished second to Notre Dame in the Associated Press poll that year and this time Davis won the Heisman. Of the 11 touchdowns Army scored against Navy from 1944-46, Blanchard and Davis rang up 10 of them.
West Point was rocked by a cribbing scandal in 1951. Ninety cadets were dismissed from the academy, 37 of them football players, including Blaik's son, Bob, the star quarterback of the 1950 squad. Army finished 2-7.
By 1955 Army football was back, but Blaik needed a quarterback. He settled on Don Holleder, an All-America end the previous year. Holleder accepted the challenge but proceeded to break an ankle in a spring scrimmage.