1942 - 55 Black Knights "Blanchard"
(Authentic Reproduction)




A natural crowd-pleaser, the Army-Navy rivalry captured the attention of the entire country with the 21-21 battle in 1926 that saw the U.S. Naval Academy score in the final seconds after a frantic sixty-five yard drive. With a series of wonderfully played games, the 1920's solidified this annual battle's hold on the sporting public with the '26 game still considered by many historians as the finest in the series. While every Army coach was and is judged on the results of the service rivalry, a losing record has never been acceptable and the 1939 team's 3-4-2 mark was the Cadets' first non-victorious season in thirty-three years! Head Coach Bill Wood had debuted nicely at 8-2 in 1938 but '39's loss to Navy and a 1-7-1 record in 1940 sealed his fate and ushered in the greatest period of prosperity for Army football. 1941's new coach, Earl "Red" Blaik had been a four-year letterman at Miami (Ohio), a two-year player at West Point, and an All American when entering the U.S. Cavalry. As Dartmouth's head coach, his seven year tenure was highlighted by a twenty-two game winning streak and although he did not beat Navy in his first three tries as the Army coach, the results of his building efforts, and the unique situation created by World War II reached fruition in 1944. While many institutions were eliminating intercollegiate athletics due to manpower shortages, the service academies were boosted first by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who encouraged all colleges " continue playing your games for the morale and boost it provides a nation much in need of one ", and then by General Francis Wilby who stated that "All of us feel it would be a very sad day if athletics were abandoned at West Point. The body contact types are one of the finest things in the training of a soldier." As the war effort expanded, the Great Lakes Training Center and the Army Air Corps at Randolph Field saw numerous young men who had starred at other universities pass through their gates and if officer or further special training was required, they often were directed to one of the two service academies. Blaik also had an eye for choosing brilliant assistants, including NFL legends Sid Gillman and Vince Lombardi, fifteen of whom became collegiate or pro head coaches. His early staff included Herm Hickman, Andy Gustafson, and Stu Holcomb. Hickman had been a star at Tennessee and was a very successful coach at Yale after taking over the program in '48, later entering the College Football Hall Of Fame. Gustafson developed a much-copied wide-open offense and quarterback George Mira as Miami's (FL) head coach from 1948 through 1963 and he too is in the College Football Hall Of Fame. Holcomb became head coach at Purdue and Northwestern and a successful AD.  
With World War II draining most college campuses of able-bodied men and especially of their athletes, the two service academies had a built-in advantage. There was no threat that any football player would have their studies or season interrupted, as the Academy players were already assigned to service. That some excellent players who had proven their mettle at other schools, some ranked among the very best in the country would go through the
Academies for advanced and/or specialized training guaranteed a reserve of capable gridders. Blaik's first team in 1941 finished with a 5-3-1 record and by the beginning of the next season's schedule, the nation's procedural system for steering specific individuals to  West Point or Annapolis was in place. As almost every college suspended recruiting efforts, not knowing if a targeted player would be available or even stateside by the time he was ready to enter college, Army had what was tantamount to a tremendous recruiting advantage. Blaik ran with two "first teams", two squads that were interchangeable relative to talent. Tackle Frank Merritt was fast developing into one of the best in the nation and HB Bill Mazur was a do-it-all back in Blaik's Single Wing system. Still, Army dropped two in-a-row to powerful Penn and Notre Dame and were shutout against Navy in the finale to finish at 6-3. The '43 squad improved dramatically to 7-2 although once again, before a small crowd limited to those who lived within the fifteen-mile radius from West Point due to war-time travel restrictions, the Cadets were shut out by their major rival from Annapolis. An often injured HB Doug Kenna had minimal help from Plebe speedster Glenn Davis in Blaik's move to add T-Formation plays to his Single Wing though it wouldn't be long before Davis' name was known to all.     
Blaik's 1944 team was undefeated, put up double-digit numbers in every game, scoring forty-six or more in all but two contests, and was awarded the National Championship. Beating Navy for the first time in five years was a bonus. As early as 1942, many of the Army players were introduced to Riddell's new plastic helmet. By '44 restrictions were reduced or eliminated on the production and distribution of many materials as the War wound down. The Cadets were one of the first teams to insure that every team member had access to one of the new plastic helmets and by 1945 every man on the squad was wearing Riddell's plastic RT helmet. The old gold shell with black one-inch center stripe had the addition of one-inch gold and black so-called "Eagles" style identifying numbers placed at the rear of the helmet. This would be he standard Army helmet that Blaik's teams would wear through the 1956 season and the Black and Gold of Army became readily associated with their powerful teams nationwide.
The 1945 team had a similar cast to the '44 squad, led by Heisman Trophy winner Felix "Doc" Blanchard and California's Glenn Davis. "Mr. Inside" and "Mr. Outside" respectively, they were literally unstoppable as an All American backfield tandem, led by a line full of All Americans; tackle DeWitt "Tex" Coulter, guard John Green, and end Hank Foldberg. Blaik's second National Championship was well deserved as the 9-0 squad scored more than thirty points in all but one game. Blanchard had begun his collegiate career at North Carolina but anxious to serve his country, he found himself at the Academy only when his Naval enlistment was rejected. Ironically, when Blanchard attempted to first enlist in the Navy he was rebuffed due to poor vision, ironic as he later served as a pilot, flight instructor, and heroically landed a burning plane in the English countryside as he saved lives by avoiding a more populated area. An overlooked talent was Blanchard's ability to tackle and stifle the opponent's offense. Army was so dominant that Davis and Blanchard appeared in but fifty-six percent of the offensive plays that Army ran for the season. 
In 1946, only a classic 0-0 tie with Notre Dame marred what would have been three consecutive undefeated seasons. With ends Foldberg and Mississippi star Barney Poole playing at an All American level, the line was as potent as the more publicized backfield. Blanchard, despite missing some time with an early-season knee injury, and Davis this time winning the Heisman Trophy, as well as the Associated Press Athlete Of The Year Award,  were everyone's All Americans and Blaik's three year run of 27-0-1 was historic. Another National Championship was denied the Knights and instead awarded to Notre Dame, as an underdog Navy team battled them to the wire in a 21-18 Army win that ended when Poole tackled the Navy ball carrier on the Army four-yard line on the game's final play. After his military commitment Davis played with the Rams for two seasons but a knee injury and time away from the game made him a shadow of his former self.   
Felix "Doc" Blanchard was "Mr. Inside", 6'1", 210-pounds of rock hard muscle who led his Bay St. Louis, Mississippi prep team to an undefeated 1941 season. Believing he could not conquer the rigorous academic demands of the Academy that required graduation within three years due to the demands of World War II, Blanchard eschewed their recruitment to instead enroll at North Carolina. After his frosh year, he believed he needed to serve his country and attempted to enlist in the Navy but was rejected due to vision problems. Allowed to enlist in the Army, his father helped to secure an appointment to the Academy. Glenn Davis was "Mr. Outside", a LaVerne, California speed-burner who scored 256 points in the his senior year of high school and who was named Southern California's top prep track athlete. Davis traveled cross-country and played as a West Point plebe, only to leave in December due to academic deficiencies. Determined to overcome this disappointment, Davis boosted his grades at Pomona JC in California and returned to the USMA. With both in the 1944 T-Formation backfield, the results were devastating and both were outstanding defensive players, Davis as a ball-hawking DB and Blanchard backing the line. During their three seasons together, neither played in a losing game as Army compiled a 27-0-1 record, garnered the National Championship in 1944 and '45, and established a true dynasty. Blanchard was a three-time consensus All American and in 1945, won the Heisman and Maxwell Trophies and was named the Sullivan Award winner as the nation's top amateur athlete. Blanchard's active military duty was marked by heroism and later, election to the College Football Hall Of Fame. Davis too was a three-time All American, the 1946 Heisman Trophy winner (having finished second in both 1944 and '45), and a College Football Hall Of Fame member. With his Olympic-level track speed, he was a slashing runner who thrilled crowds and frustrated opponents, the perfect compliment to Blanchard's bull rushes. Davis had what was an NCAA record of 11.5 yards per carry for the 1945 season and played for the Los Angeles Rams after his active military duty but was limited by knee injuries. To this day, the legacy of "Mr. Inside" and "Mr. Outside" lives on due to the magnificent play and team success these two produced on the gridiron.
In 1947 All American guard Joe Steffy, a former Tennessee stalwart, plowed openings for FB Rip Rowan and former Tulsa letterman Bobby Jack Stuart to generate the majority of the Cadets' offense. Center and ball-tackling demon was Bill Yeoman who had played at Texas A&M as a freshman prior to his Academy appointment. A loss to Notre Dame and a tie with powerhouse Penn was offset by Rowan's record 148 yards on only eighteen carries to assure the 21-0 whitewash of Navy to finish the year at 5-2-2. Slashing through the '48 schedule and standing at 8-0 as they entered the finale against an 0-8 Navy, Army was ranked at number three. The rushing attack led by HB's Stuart and Gil Stephenson and the deft ball handling of QB Arnold Galiffa had carried the team all season and when the two runners went down early in the game, Navy, who had dropped thirteen consecutive contests, was rejuvenated. The 21-21 tie was the upset-result of the season and dropped the Cadets to a final ranking of number six. End Dan Foldberg and center Yeoman were the stalwarts up front and Yeoman of course went on to great coaching success as the long time mentor at the University Of Houston who developed the Veer Formation and is now a member of The College Football Hall Of Fame. All American QB Galiffa and HB Stephenson paid Navy back in '49, leading a 38-0 rout that was described as "not as close as the score might indicate." End Foldberg was impressive the entire season on both sides of the ball. Only their 14-13 victory over Penn was close as they dominated every other opponent to finish at 9-0. Described after the season as "the nearest thing to a paragon of perfection in the East..." Army roared through 1950's schedule without anyone posing a challenge until defeating Stanford in the season's next to last game. Facing Navy in the finale, the Knights had to their credit, a team that had posted twenty-eight straight games without a loss (26-0-2), and had a run of seventeen consecutive wins. Seeking a fifth unbeaten season in six years, their 14-2 loss was a huge upset although they maintained Eastern supremacy for the fifth time in seven years. Guard Ray Malavasi, future head coach of the LA Rams fronted LB's Don Beck and the aptly-named Elmer Stout to the tune of five shutouts and a total yield of twenty-six points. All American end Dan Foldberg stood out on an awesome offense and Blaik expected to repeat his success as 1951 approached.
As the 1951 season neared, the staff expected to again place a national power on the field, but Blaik, the Academy, and the entire nation were horrified by the news of August 3, 1951 that ninety cadets were being dismissed from West Point. Of the ninety, sixty were varsity athletes, thirty-seven of them football players and the toll included the coach's son Robert, President of The Second Class (a junior in civilian institutions) and the team's QB. In almost every case, the infraction of the Honor Code involved tipping off others about the subject matter of a test, not copying results or carrying illegal notes, and no actual classroom cheating was noted. Still, at West Point, this type of violation was of the utmost concern. All involved were otherwise considered to be outstanding officer candidates. On June 8, it was first recommended by the Tactical Board Of West Point that all of those charged be dismissed, in part due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the cadets. After the deliberations of the Secretary Of The Army and a special board of judges and officers, the decision was made to dismiss all who were charged. Among these were Ray Malavasi who transferred to Mississippi State and became the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams and Gene Filipski who transferred to and became an All American at Villanova and then played with the Giants in 1956 and '57.  With assistant coaches Vincent Lombardi and Murray Warmath (who won the National Championship at Minnesota in 1960), Blaik was considered to have done his finest coaching job with this squad. Taking an entirely new team of Plebes, junior varsity players, and walk-ons, and beginning work with them on September 1 with just a few weeks available to piece together a competitive squad, the team went 2-7. Led by QB Fred Meyers who may have been the only player capable of playing on "the real" Army team, the 42-7 loss to Navy was not unexpected.
Continuing to battle back from the scandal, '52's 4-4-1 record was marked by solid wins and terrible losses but they fought Navy to the limit, coming out on the short end of a 7-0 score. Of the '53 squad, many of whom began as the rag-tag bunch of fill-ins in 1951, it was written, "They came up the hard way, and there probably has never been a squad with a finer spirit." OT-LB Bob Farris was the inspirational leader, QB Pete Vann the slick ball-handler and Tom "Train" Bell and big-play man Pat Uebel the often unstoppable rushers. Army surprised everyone with a resurgent 7-1-1 mark and a 20-7 thrashing of Navy. As a first-year man, end Don Holleder marked himself as a definite star of the future. 1954's season finale loss to Navy in a 27-20 shoot-out cost Army a top five National ranking and dropped their record to 7-2. QB Vann often aimed his long passes at Holleder, a runaway All American, and FB Uebel provided the punch. The defense took a hit when Captain Bob Farris detached a retina in the '53 Navy game and could no longer play and end Bob Mischak was called upon to fill the defensive void.
Don Holleder was the story of the '55 squad. His receiving statistics for 1953 and '54 ranked him near the top in Army's long line of great players and he was chosen for a number of All American teams. Giving up all personal glory to learn the QB position in order to help the team, he selflessly did so without hesitation and did it in a manner that so inspired his teammates that he was elected to The College Football Hall Of Fame. Leading a weak supporting cast, Army remained a strong rushing team but tough, consecutive losses to Michigan and Syracuse left them at 6-3. The season was salvaged by defeating an excellent Navy team, led by George Welsh, in a come-from-behind 14-6 slugfest. Holleder died heroically as a Major in Viet Nam at the battle of Ong Thanh, attempting to save others escaping an ambush. The Holleder Center on the USMA campus that houses the basketball and hockey facilities is named in his honor. As the 1956 season opened, once again there was no QB on campus that appeared to be able to run Blaik's offense so oft-injured HB Bob Kyasky was converted to the position, later moved to FB and Dave Bourland took the helm. C-LB Jim Kernan led the charge up front but so much time was spent practicing the defense that the Cadets fumbled forty times, losing half that number to their opponents. Eight fumbles were made against Michigan leading to the 48-14 deficit. 5-3 going into the Navy game, a 7-7 deadlock gave the Knights a final mark of 5-3-1.

If interested in any of these ARMY helmets please click on the photos below.