9-1 Army connects with days of glory Success renews links to 'Long Gray Line'

December 05, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Pete Dawkins sits in his New York City office, from where he can clearly envision the daily routine at the United States Military Academy. He can see the cadets lining up for their first formation at 6: 20 a.m. and turning the lights out at midnight.

Dawkins, the 1958 Heisman Trophy winner, the last one for Army, is part of the academy's Long Gray Line, part of the school's history and part of what gives it life.

This blustery campus on the cliffs above the Hudson River has been revitalized by its football team's 9-1 run, re-creating past glory, connecting the dots from one generation to the next.

Dawkins can recall the day Gen. Douglas MacArthur came into the locker room to give the team a pep talk. He can recall a moving part of the speech: "When you go out on that field you're going out there for the ghosts of millions of soldiers who gave their lives for their country."

Dawkins said he and his teammates literally tore the locker-room door off its hinges in their hurry to get to the field for a preseason scrimmage.

Earlier this season, retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf gave the Army team a 15-minute pep talk. Tight end Ron Leshinski remembers the words exactly: "He told us, 'You're fighting a war. You're here to win, and nothing else is acceptable.'

"It was the first time someone actually told us to go out and kick their [rears]. After that, we wanted to go out and play somebody -- anybody -- right then."

There seem to be inspirational messages everywhere on the campus. In the cemetery, the tombstone of Earl "Red" Blaik, who coached Army to national championships in 1944 and 1945, is shaped liked a football and bears the inscription, "On Brave Old Army Team."

Among the quotations on the walls and inside West Point's gray, stone buildings are these:

From Gen. George C. Marshall: "I need an officer for a secret and dangerous mission -- Get me a West Point football player."

From a MacArthur telegram in 1944: "The greatest of all Army teams -- STOP -- We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success."

"I think it really is true," said Dawkins, "that when you play football for Army, you have a real sense of responsibility. It's not just your own glory. It's far beyond that or your teammates'. It's upholding the dignity of the institution. It's giving new life to a noble heritage that dates back 100 years."

The Army team that will wrap up its regular season against Navy Saturday at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia is the first in nearly 40 years to revive the memories of perennial national powers.

This team can become the first at West Point to win 10 games in a season. It can also become the first to beat the Midshipmen five years in a row.

All of this has so excited the academy that West Point superintendent Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman has been spotted doing the macarena with the cheerleaders.

"I think you feel the spirit here," said Army coach Bob Sutton, sitting in his Michie Stadium office on a cold, December afternoon.

"It's a driving force, a great energy. The guys understand everything is team here. That's part of the challenge, working together to overcome."

Sutton grew up in Michigan, went to Eastern Michigan and never gave Army football a thought until 14 years ago, when he was hired as defensive coordinator.

Since then, Sutton has immersed himself in Army lore. And since becoming head coach in 1991, he makes sure his team is aware of that lore, beginning each season by showing a 1944 highlight film.

"I want them to know what they're part of," Sutton said. "One day, they'll look back and say, 'This was unbelievable.' "

Back on the parade grounds, a Blackhawk helicopter swooshes down in front of 4,000 cadets. The copter lands, and five cadets, their faces painted in camouflage green and black, jump to the ground, flop on their bellies and begin crawling toward the brigade with automatic weapons aimed and ready to fire.

This is an air assault mission. Anywhere else, they'd call it a pep rally. The mission's purpose is to awaken the spirit of the "12th Man" in anticipation of Saturday.

"We know you hated that loss at Syracuse," yells Army linebacker and assault team member Stephen King into a microphone. "We know you're feeling hate and resentment and need a passionate destruction of Navy to feel better.

"Don't waste your hate. Save it for Saturday, and then let it out. That's when we need to hear you."

The cadets roar.

"We have a lot of admiration for those guys," said "Mike Man" Wade Brown, a senior from Mitchellville, Md., who leads the spirit cheers at games. "They go through what we do every day and then, on top of it, they go play football. It's a real rigorous-type deal they go through."

It is the rigor and the history that bonds everyone here. It's why Dawkins can sit in his New York office and relate to Army's football revival.

"I'm so tickled for them," said Dawkins, 58, president and CEO of a $140-billion financial group. "I know how tough the game is there. I know how hard it is for cadets to carve out time to line the practice fields, to find the time to practice and how difficult it is to go through everything you do there in the rain, snow and ice.

"And when you go through it all, I know how inspiring it is."

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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