Army-Navy game has earned its stripes since it first marched on scene in 1890

Phil Jackman

November 30, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Picture it: It's the first Army-Navy game back in 1890, the Mid are at the line of scrimmage with the ball and the signal-caller is saying things like, "Reef the topsail! Stand by to clear anchor! Down the wind!" The Cadets were still trying to figure out what was going on when Navy was long gone to a 24-0 victory.

The Black Knights of the Hudson take an oath of revenge and on enemy turf, no less. Army gets to work learning about this game of football and prepares for the invasion of Annapolis by scheduling five warm-up games, most of which it wins. Then, on Nov. 27, 1891, a total of 17 cadets, the first allowed to leave the reservation at West Point since only a commandant remembers when, departs for Maryland.

After a night in Baltimore, the travelers ride a train to Annapolis in the morning, dine in the mess hall with the brigade, then have dessert a few hours later to the tune of a 32-16 victory. And it has been just about that even ever since.

When the academies get it on for the 93rd time Saturday at noon in Philadelphia, an Army win would knot the series at 43-43-7.

More snips and snails and puppy dog tails from the annual Corps-Brigade Bash:

* Army's 22-9 victory over Navy in 1913 was such a big deal, after three straight shutout losses, that the following fall a record 200 candidates turned out for football. West Point's enrollment was 550 at the time.

* Edgar Allen Poe started out as a West Point cadet, class of 1834, which might explain some of the themes he explored in his writings. Poe didn't make it all the way through, once explaining that "Benny Havens is the only congenial soul in this God-forsaken place." Havens was the bartender at a tavern in Highland Falls, just off the military reservation.

* They tell the story of a May day in 1947 when, after starring in a baseball game as the center fielder for Army against Navy, football great Glenn Davis jumped into a vehicle for a ride to a different part of West Point to take part in a track meet against the Mids. His warm-up was getting out of his diamond garb and into his running gear. His victories in the 100- and 200-yard --es led the Cadets to victory.

Davis, who was a twin (brother Ralph also graduated from Army), ran the ball 328 times for the 27-0-1 Army teams of 1944-45-46 and came within two inches of averaging a first down on each and every carry. In 1944, when Army outscored nine foes 504-35, Davis averaged 12.5 yards per attempt, but ran the ball only 13 times per game.

* Among the all-time great backs at Army, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, Pete Dawkins, "Onward Christian" Cagle, Charlie Daly, etc., perhaps none was the equal of Elmer Quillen Oliphant. Of course, there might have been a reason.

Before showing up at West Point in the summer of 1914, Oliphant had already turned in quite a career at Purdue, winning 12 varsity letters. He would have won more, but Purdue had a freshman rule, which meant he was restricted to just three letters each in football, baseball, basketball and track.

All the while, Elmer carried himself with class. After not having beaten Army since 1912, Navy really set its sights on Oliphant in 1916. Several men tackled him on every play whether he had the ball or not. The Cadets won, 15-7, and Oliphant was asked afterward if the Mids were guilty of unduly rough play.

"Football's a man's game, sir," he replied. "If I can't take the punishment that's coming to me, I've got no business to be out there."

Cagle, too, came to West Point with a bit more than high school credentials in his dossier. The year before showing up on the banks of the Hudson, "Red" Cagle had scored 108 points for Southwestern Louisiana Institute, making him the fifth leading scorer in the country.

* In the first 50 years of the rivalry, 'tis said, the 1926 game was the most thrilling, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Soldier Field in Chicago played host and an awesome 111,000 spectators turned out. The 21-21 tie left everyone dissatisfied initially, but then the Navy partisans thought to themselves, "Well, at least we finished undefeated and we've got as good a claim as anybody to the national championship."

* The Midshipmen and Cadets didn't compete in 1928 and 1929 as differences in eligibility at the academies led Navy to seek a level playing field. Annapolis wanted West Point to adopt the rule that limited participation in the game to men who had not played a total of three years varsity competition, whether at Army or elsewhere. Annually, the Cadets sent lads out for their sixth or seventh varsity seasons.

No sooner was a compromise (of sorts) reached then the teams were ordered by President Herbert Hoover to meet in Yankee Stadium for a charity game. It was more than a year into the Depression and, in mid-December, 70,000 fans were on hand providing $300,000 for the needy. The idea worked so well, they did it again in 1931 and about the same amount of proceeds were realized.

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