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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Sporting America

article number 398
article date 11-25-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
We See College Football Emerge From World War II
by Lamont Buchanan
   

From the 1947 book, The Story of Football in Text and Pictures.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nothing does justice to this great book like reading the book itself. The book is laid out where pictures are near the text and the pictures have no captions. We usually put the pictures after the text.

* * *

The happy Navy goat went mad in 1943 as he cavorted in front of the Annapolis cheering section. The service schools were war-swollen with young men bent on getting their lieutenant’s bars or ensign’s stripes. Many of them boasted previous football experience and were stars before arrival at Crabtown or the Point.

   

Navy was the first to rise. A mediocre Middy ‘42 season became a brilliant ‘43 year when only Notre Dame — sparked by Angelo Bertelli to the nation’s number one spot — beat Coach Whelchel’s roaring team. The Irish placed four men on Grantland Rice’s 1943 All-America; White and Filley in the line, Bertelli and (next picture) the young man breaking up this Navy Hamberg pass effort with a neat leaping interception, Creighton Miller.

   

Here, a Navy fumble but that flying Blue Devil had the edge when it came to recovery.

   

Still Navy began to beat southern powerhouses, Duke Blue Devils among them. In the next picture the white uniformed ball carrier is a Great Lakes stalwart named Emil Sitko, an important man in springing 1943’s biggest upset—Great Lakes’ 19-14 bludgeoning of the Irish. And to think, they moaned back at South Bend, that Sitko used to run for us!

   

Navy Middies go to work on their special idol and good luck charm, Tecumseh. This bronze figurehead is the god of 2.5, passing grade for Midshipmen. But more particularly, Tecumseh seems imbued with special anti-Army properties when painted bright red, yellow and white on the eve of the West Point game.

Then to really hex the Cadets, the Middies throw pennies at their scowling old warrior god, and give him a snappy left handed salute as they leave for the service classic.

   

The usual 100,000 crowd did not see the Army-Navy game in 1943. The previous year the game was moved to Annapolis, with attendance restricted to those living in the immediate vicinity. 1943 was West Point’s turn and again the service classic was “seen” mainly by radio.

For the fifth straight time Navy beat Army, this time 13-0, despite the presence in a black and gold uniform of a young man named Glenn Davis.

   

Coach Lynn Waldorf of Northwestern smiles at wartime vicissitudes. “After all, it’s tough on everybody,” he thinks.

   

But didn’t Waldorf pilot his Wildcats to a high ranking position in 1943? And what about those fighting, clawing Wildcats of ‘36? Ohio State and Minnesota remember them as well, if more painfully, than the Dyche Stadium habitues. And what about players the Midwest and whole country remembers . . . Haman, DeCorrevont, Alf Baumann and Otto Graham who, many experts said, could pass like Bertelli, run a lot better.

Georgia Tech’s veteran and highly esteemed coach Bill Alexander talks to his boys before a game. He’s saying most likely, to the youngster leaning over his desk, “You’ll start, Clint.” Clint stands for Castleberry which stands for backfield brilliance — trouble for conference or Bowl foes.

   

One of the Bowls, the Orange variety in Miami, is surrounded by palm trees and people watching Texas A & M and Louisiana State in a New Year’s day headliner.

   

Bob Kelly runs for Notre Dame in 1944. And Glenn Davis, a bigger name in grid headlines with each succeeding game Army plays, gets set for the tackle. This was that unforgettable, incredible game that South Bend still has nightmares about and West Pointers could hardly believe. Army 59; Notre Dame 0!

   

The Corps of Cadets swinging along on their way to Baltimore Stadium, the Army-Navy game . . . and an unbeaten season.

   

West Point was the National Champion after a bruising 23-7 triumph over a Navy team that had seemed invincible at season’s start. But despite anything that Don Whitmire, Hamberg, Jenkins and Duden could do, Army had more. And people were beginning to say, “That Davis! That Blanchard!”

Two touchdowns in the Baltimore night as Navy and Georgia Tech meet under the lights. First, Navy’s white shirted Clyde Scott (47) races 45 yards to the end zone.

   

Later Tech’s Peck goes 70 yards for a touchdown despite futile efforts by Middies 17 and 26, respectively. Bob Kelly, ex-Notre Dame and Hunchy Hoerneschmeyer, ex-Indiana, now footballing for Annapolis.

   

Indiana’s All-American jack-of-all-trades Pete Pihos, here a back, bumps over the Purdue line on his neck for a Hoosier score.

   

Michigan and Purdue in ‘43, Ohio State in ‘44 and Indiana in ‘45 were the Midwest conference leaders. As went the ebb and flow of Navy and Marine trainees, plus the quality of 4-Fs and under age freshmen, so went football fortunes.

Bob Waterfield of UCLA, a great passer, top-grade kicker and a reliable field general.

   

Playing with a mediocre Uclan team, Waterfield was a standout. While USC was representing the Far West in the Rose Bowl with a 25-0 pasting of Tennessee — thanks to Trojans John Ferraro, a devastating “All” tackle, and back Jim Hardy, called by his coach Jeff Cravath one of the best T-operators in the business — Bob Waterfield was turning in a brilliant performance in the Shrine East-West game in San Francisco.

He threw passes, caught one himself for the winning touchdown and ran the West’s team cleverly. But what will be best remembered is the kicking record Waterfield compiled that day in San Francisco when he averaged an incredible 59 yards per punt from scrimmage. And it was largely the defensive value of those booming kicks that cooped the East up, 13-7.

Minnesota lays a hand on a scoring Buckeye. Here Ohio State’s solid fullback Ollie Cline bulls over for six points.

   

The Columbus team won this and all other games on its nine game 1944 schedule including a curtain-closing 18-14 thriller with Michigan that clinched the Conference crown for the Buckeyes.

Like all elevens of this measure of greatness, Ohio State had a lot of winning ball players. Men like Bill Hackett at guard, Jack Dugger at end and Bill Willis, tackle.

But the super-Buckeye was undoubtedly Les Horvath. He was the clutch man, the cool veteran under fire who took hold of the Staters in the huddles: “Now gang, this is the way we’re going to do it.” And Horvath and Company did do it.

A heart-stopping post season thriller was this eight-touchdown-and-one-safety Sugar Bowl battle between Alabama and Duke, New Year’s Day of 1945. Duke took ‘Bama 29-26 but not before the lead had changed hands five times.

   

Tom Davis was the Durham back who sparked the Blue Devils despite a great aerial show by Harry Gilmer, who completed several brilliant passes including one for better than 50 yards.

Even as 72,000 watched this excitement at New Orleans, some of them still remembered the Georgia Tech-Navy extravaganza.

Bill Alexander’s Tech eleven was probably the best team in the Southeast. They had to be to edge the Naval Academy in a 17-15 game that, according to no less an expert than Grantland Rice, was one of the top all-time football thrillers. That bright page of Georgia Tech grid history was marred not one whit by a subsequent Orange Bowl defeat by Tulsa, four touchdowns to two.

The camera is often the final arbiter. This evidence was offered after controversial play in the 1945 Notre Dame-Navy game. Colella of the Irish has taken a final minute pass and heads for that last white line only to be collared in coffin corner by Middy Skip Minisi. The referee, who can be seen right on top of the play, ruled No score.”

These photos make the decision look good; Colella’s legs do squirm over after he is grounded but at no time does it appear that the ball or upper half of his body got into the end zone.

   

Another tackle of the 1945 season. Here there’s no question with Glenn Junior Davis nearly doing a somersault as a Duke Blue Devil thinks “This guy can’t score against us standing on his head . . . I hope!”

   

But not Duke, nor anyone else, was stopping those Army caissons from rolling along. If it wasn’t Davis making trouble it was “that other fellow.” The Army mule had a deadly one-two kick.

Here’s that other fellow now, thundering Doc Blanchard on a 68 yard scoring run. That’s a Michigan Wolverine chasing the play but Blanchard was not much easier to catch from behind than his lethal partner Davis.

   

Fritz Crisler’s Ann Arbor youngsters made a plucky fight of it in this one, holding the Kaydets to 28-7, fewest number of points scored by Army in 1945 . . . but then some of those scores were astronomical and unbelievable, like the 61-0 plastering of a good Penn team.

Besides Mr. B and Mr. D there were other Black Knights like Tucker and McWilliams, Coulter and Foldberg and Pitzer and Nemetz and Poole. Any coach in the land would just about give his stadium for one of these aces; Red Blaik had them all and a victory skein that stretched through 1944 and 1945.

Service football was tops in these war years with so much grid talent at enlarged West Point and Annapolis but persistent Bo McMillan and his Indiana were doing all right.

The Hoosiers swept through an undefeated schedule — marred only slightly by a tie with Northwestern — for their first Conference crown. Gains like this one by George Taliaferro (44), a great all-purpose back, helped beat Michigan 13-7.

   

The less highly ranked teams had capable players too. Three of them, Dobelstein of Tennessee, Groh of Colgate and Acocella of Syracuse do a much appreciated “Babe Ruth” at the bedside of a youngster in Shriner’s Hospital before taking part in the charity East-West game.

   

Two teams with Conference aspirations of their own clash at Columbus, Ohio. One of them, the hometown Buckeyes were defending champs, while opponent Purdue still liked to think back two years to the ‘43 season when they had shared the laurels with Michigan.

The Boilermakers apparently had the best memory on how to assume that championship air. They won 35-13. Paul Sarringhaus is the Ohio Stater dribbling the ball over the side-line with a Purdue tackle looking about to give him a helping boot.

   

Sarringhaus was a big man on the Buckeyes’ fine team of 1942, now back after Army service, and he was doing his best to make the Columbus football faithful forget Les Horvath. But Horvath would take a lot of forgetting . . . by friend and foe alike. Purdue lost the big one though against the ‘45 Conference Champs, Indiana, in their annual Old Oaken Bucket clash.

About this one, Coach Matty Bell’s SMU Mustangs could console themselves: “That was a mighty good Texas team. Good enough to take the Southwest title . . . and go on to the Cotton Bowl where it met . . .”

   

. . . The “Mighty Men of Mizzou,” top team in the Big Six league.

Coach Don Faurot celebrated his return to Missouri from the Navy with a fine team, good record. Brinkman, in the black helmet of the Tigers, rides herd on a Kansas State ball carrier who goes nowhere but down. Missouri won here, but lost a 40-27 score-fest to the Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl.

   

Piston Pete Elliot runs for the Maize and Blue, as Michigan tries to uncover another Harmon and recapture some of those peak glories of yesteryear. The opposition closing in on Elliot are the boys of Ray Eliot, Illini coach. Two “Is” were lucky this day. The Wolverines howled last and happily.

   

That big two and a half million dollar stadium at Champaign, packed to the top of its second tier with better than 70,000 spectators, here watching Illinois-Notre Dame, was to see some great and greater sights any time now.

   

The boys were coming home to universities all over the football map. The long-suffering Illini were about to get their share; the best material since Bob Zuppke’s brightest days.

Bowling again, this time the Orange variety as Bob Fenimore, Oklahoma A&M’s running and passing “All” back carries his big number 55 on to further honors in a New Year’s Day 1946 tilt with St. Mary’s. The Gaels didn’t gallop enough; Oklahoma won 33-13.

   

Meanwhile, Alabama was in the Rose Bowl again; this time against Southern California. Here Hodges, Crimson Tide’s explosive 165 pound fullback bursts the Trojan line as ‘Bama star Harry Gilmer (52) hovers behind play as decoy.

   

A light jerseyed man of Troy finally hangs on to a touchdown pass and Southern Cal scores . . . but ‘Bama already had 34 points! This was a fine eleven from Tuscaloosa, where anything less than a fine team is the exception.

   

Greatest of the Crimson Tide band was Harry Gilmer, slender one-man show.

His own coach, the capable Frank Thomas, who has distinctly more than a nodding acquaintance with grid stars, rates Gilmer the greatest passer he has ever seen. And national authority Grantland Rice, who has seen all the sports greats for many years, places Gilmer at the top level of college passers.

The Philadelphia Story of 1946 was also the grid world’s big story . . . and upset! Sports editors and fans alike gasped when the news came through that early November Saturday . . . Princeton 17, Penn 14!

Philly’s Franklin Field was a bedlam of excitement and loyal Princetonians took up where their fighting team left off. Mighty Penn had been humbled but the mounted police were not quite as easy.

   

Still those goal posts came tumbling down and the Princetons went happily back to Nassau Hall, remembering beloved Johnny Poe’s immortal phrase “A team that won’t be beat can’t be beat!”

   

Defeat came only twice in 1946 to George Munger’s Red and Blue squad. Here Quaker heft downs a Navy ball carrier in one Old Penn took handily.

   

But Charley Caldwell’s Princeton Tigers and Red Blaik’s Army potted Penn.

Penn and Yale did not meet, but many experts including George Trevor believed that the Yale November team was just about Ivy tops. Coached by popular young Howie Odell and boasting a formidable line of huskies and some talented backs — the best of these spectacular Levi Jackson here carrying against Princeton who was smothered by Old Eli 30-2 — Yale suffered only an early season defeat by Columbia.

   

Out of the football doldrums came Columbia in 1945 when Lou Little had taken a bunch of freshmen teen-agers and moulded them into a high scoring outfit that garnered eight of nine games.

No present-day coach can get more out of his material than “Professor” Little; he proved it in ‘45, and again in ‘46 when his offensive minded youngsters beat potentially stronger Yale and Navy elevens.

Two bright stars in the Morningside sky were Lou Kusserow and Gene Rossides, the “Goal Dust Twins.” Here it’s fullback Kusserow (30) carrying for a touchdown as Rossides (21) helps clear the way in the 59-21 Syracuse slaughter.

   

Rossides is deemed by many experts to be another Luckman or Governali in the making. Gene’s value to Columbia is enhanced by the simultaneous presence in the backfield of the brilliantly running Kusserow, a star in his own right.

A not-so-good day for the Lion in 1946 was when Cornell came to Baker Field and startled an Alumni Day crowd by upsetting the Blue and White 12-0. Walt Kretz, 21 for the Big Red, shows plenty of leg for the Ithacans as he takes a hand-off and goes 23 yards around right end.

   

Kretz went all the way a few weeks later against Penn in as exciting a Turkey Day game as the two schools have ever played. The Quakers finally won, 26-20, but it was as close as it sounds.

The face in front of the football belongs to North Carolina’s Charley Justice. He’s as rugged as he looks and twice as good. With Justice the Tarheels lost but one of ten tough ones in ‘46.

   

Another Charley for whom the adjectives flowed was performing some degrees south of Chapel Hill. This Charley’s last name was Trippi; he made Georgia forget Sinkwich and also made all major All-American lists in 1946.

Here he lowers his head and goes to town — 65 yards away — for Athens as the Georgia Tech Engineers are buried 35-7.

   

Another big day of the ‘46 season — for Rice Owls at least. It was Rice running with the ball and those white-helmeted Texas Longhorns trying to catch up all afternoon . . . and not quite making it. Rice 18, Texas 13.

   

As Arnold Tucker (17), West Point’s T-general, pirouettes from a South Bend tackle, Army’s great record of consecutive victories came to an end November 9th, 1946 at Yankee Stadium in the annual battle with Notre Dame.

   

As a meeting of two high powered elevens, unquestionably the top two in the nation, it was the star attraction of the year. Both sides left the field disappointed as better than 70,000 filed out of the huge concrete stadium, while the gigantic scoreboard blinked down the final story of 1946 football’s biggest day. Army 0, Notre Dame 0.

For Army it was disappointing because for the first time since December of 1943 a Kaydet team had left the gridiron without the victor’s laurels. For the Fighting Irish . . . because they firmly believed that they were the ones who could defeat Army. But Johnny Lujack and George Connor were not quite enough.

While both teams went on and polished off the rest of their schedules, there was still the memory of that battle of frustration at the Stadium, the kind of game that quarterbacks play over at night in their minds, wondering: “Suppose I’d called this play earlier, and then . . .”

The Corps of Cadets had had an incredulous look for 3 years and why not? Davis scored 51 touchdowns, Blanchard 31 touchdowns. Between them they accounted for 537 Army points.

The men who cheer on that “Brave Old Army Team” look at the titanic Notre Dame fray with mixed emotions as the two best teams in the country battle up and down.

   

Naturally they kept waiting for Davis or Blanchard to get loose for good. While across the field they watched Lujack for one of those great passes to turn the tide. But neither side got its wish; it was that kind of a day.

The West Point magicians who turned fine material into great teams. They are Head Coach Earl Red” Blaik in the middle, flanked by Harvey Jablonsky and Andy Gustafson on the left, Stuart Holcomb and Herman Hickman on the right.

   

Blaik and his staff accounted for twenty-five straight victories between the 1943 defeat by Navy and the 1946 Notre Dame tie. A truly remarkable record, but even as the spotlight of acclaim shines on him, Earl Blaik has a sobering thought. “What of tomorrow ?”

Both service coaches might well look at their graduating and about-to-graduate stars and moan: “Who walks in when you walk out?”

“Tomorrow” almost came on November 30th, as Army met Navy. The Middies had lost seven of eight previous games going into Municipal Stadium and some observers wondered if Blaik would “take it easy” after Army got its predicted four or five touchdown margin.

But Navy had not been cued on the script. Captain Hamilton’s men took the thunder right out of those Army caissons and almost turned the upset of the year. Almost . . . for Annapolis missed a point blank closing-seconds shot at the Cadet goal for what would have been the winning points.

Army held mightily, squeaked through 21-18 but Navy took away with them the biggest moral victory of all time.

Meanwhile the camera identifies a formidable parade of Army-Navy greats in this third quarter scrimmage. Light jerseys (Army): Tucker (17) who has just flipped a pass to Davis (41). Other Pointers, Blanchard (35) and Poole (89). Navy’s big guns identifiable are “All” center Dick Scott (57) hurrying over toward Davis and Captain Bramlett (87).

   

The Rose Bowl, New Year’s Day, 1947. Illinois and Buddy Young vs. UCLA and Ernie Case. Under a new arrangement the Big Nine titleholder comes annually to Pasadena to tangle with the Coast champ. If any party to the contract regretted it, it was not the Illini. They romped, 45 to 14.

   

Rutgers and Princeton, the responsible parties for “starting it all,” get together to reenact that famous day 77 years ago when football was born. Everybody said, after watching the costumed warriors perform between halves of a regular contest, that “the game had come a long way.”

   

Experts are agreed that these coming seasons on the gridiron will be spectacular years. Excitement is what the public wants. And excitement is what the modern game, with its emphasis on high scoring, is geared to give.

   

Some have said, “Give the game back to the boys.” But it never has been taken away from them. For it is not the fan, the alumnus or even the coach who gets the greatest satisfaction out of a well-timed block or tackle, or a run for the winning score.

That incomparable thrill belongs exclusively to the player himself.

So it was in the canvas-jacket era, so it is today — and so it will be as long as football is played.

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