'44 game success for Army, war bonds

June 04, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

When the Army and Navy service academies last met for a football game in Baltimore, FDR was in the White House and the Nazis were beating a bloody retreat across Europe. More than 5 million Americans were in uniform overseas.

Some questioned the propriety of moving the 1944 game from its subdued venues on the campuses of the respective academies, where it had been held during the war. After all, the Allies had landed at Normandy just six months earlier and were engaged in fierce fighting.

It wasn't until the event was linked to a war-bond drive -- one that eventually raised nearly $60 million -- that opposition faded a few weeks before the Dec. 2 game.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the final decision -- in consultation with his treasury secretary after a Cabinet meeting Nov. 17 -- to move the game from Annapolis to Baltimore's giant Municipal Stadium on 33rd Street.

The Treasury Department urged the move because the larger capacity could be used to raise money for the war effort. Every ticket buyer had to purchase a war bond.

The result was a game now remembered as one of the best of the 99 meetings between the two academies. The teams were considered among the best in football that year; Army, with future Heisman Trophy winners Glenn Davis and Felix "Doc" Blanchard, was undefeated going into the game, and Navy was 6-2.

Gen. George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff whose mandatory retirement had just been waived by Congress a few weeks earlier, was there, signing autographs and watching as West Point pulled off a 23-7 victory.

Also in attendance were injured servicemen, driven up from Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington.

The game drew a crowd of 70,000 and decided the national championship of college football that year: Army got the vote.

Afterward, Gen. Douglas MacArthur sent a cablegram from his Pacific base to West Point's coach, Earl "Red" Blaik:

"To the greatest of all Army teams. We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success."

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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