"Upon the fields of friendly strife, Are sown the seeds That, upon other fields on other days, Will bear the fruits of victory." -- Douglas MacArthur, 1920
It was perfect day for football. But not for West Point. On the friendly field of Michie Stadium, the Black Knights of the Hudson were engaged in a losing battle against a bunch of rough, tough civilians from Baylor.
The warm October sun glancing off the waters of Lusk Reservoir showed the Cadets' problems to be glaring. They were slow; they were small; they were terrible.
By the end of the second quarter, the score was 34-0 and the deep growl from the 12th man in the stands, as the corps of cadets is known -- "Go-o-o Army" -- had abated. Midway through the second half, the visitors' mascot, a bear cub, was running loose on the field, just as Baylor had done all afternoon.
For the second of what would be three times this season, the Army cannon, which fires blanks as a salute to each Cadet score, was silenced. Army lost, 55-0.
Its record is 2-7-1, going into Saturday's game against Navy in Philadelphia.
Army's new head coach, Lou Saban, who fought in Burma during World War II, said after the Baylor debacle, "I'm sure if in battle these men did the job they did today, they probably wouldn't have to worry about it tomorrow."
People have been making the equation between the Army and the Army football teams for a long time. Gen. MacArthur did it and his words are bronzed on the wall outside the gymnasium. Gen. George C. Marshall did it during WW II and his words are bronzed on the south wall of Michie Stadium: "I want an officer for a secret and dangenous mission. I want a West Point football player."
And why not? For decades Army football was a testimony to the potential of American youth. From 1890 on, many of America's finest young men aspired to wear the black and gold and did. Among them were Blanchard, Davis, Cagle, Tucker, Bunker, Garbisch, Merritt, Anderson, Green.
They were stars -- idolized by a nation, and they could win.
In the 1940s, Army compiled a record of 68-17-7. Under Coach Earl Black, from 1941 to 1958, they were 121-33-10.
Closing out the decade of the '70s against Navy Saturday, Army has a record of 36-67-3. Only three seasons in the past 10 has Army been able to post winning a record.
The Cadets have been spotty at best moving the ball, in the air or on the ground, while yielding an average of 406 yards per game. What's a civilian to think?
"I don't know," said quarterback Earle Mulrane. "It's just embarrassing."
Even more embarrassing is an NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations. Last year, after losing 28-0 to Navy, Army fired Coach Homer Smith, who now is in divinity school at Harvard. Smith went public with allegations that the academy had violated 11 NCAA regulations. The NCAA's investigation into Smith's charges may not be completed for another six months, in part because the investigator was fired after eight months on the case.
The investigation, on the top of another losing season, and a widely publicized hazing incident last summer, makes for bad pubic relations. Make no mistake about it, there is a great deal of public relations interest at West Point.
"The Army football team represents the Army and its strength," said Saban. "It is the Army's image."
Which explains why "the loser image is very dangerous" to Lt. Col. Jere Forbus, the public affairs officer at West Point.
"A winning fall, and I don't mean something like 11-0, just 8-3, would make this job of public relations for the academy immeasurably easier for the coming year," said Forbus.
No matter what the record, at West Point a season is not a total loss if it includes a victory over Navy on national television. The Midshipmen, 6-4 this season, should have more than a fighting chance of evening the rivalry at 37 wins each this week in Philadelphia.
According to Donn Bernstein, media director for college football at ABC sports, the Army-Navy game still is one of its biggest college attractions. In 1977, it was the single highest-rated college football game of the season. Last year's game got a 10.8 rating, significantly higher than the 8.9 season average for college football.
"The game does not do poorly even if the teams do," said Bernstein. "It's a staple, a part of Americana."
George Storck, an assistant athletic director at West Point, understands the value of a win on national television. It's easier for us to get good publicity on the sports page by winning than for anything else. We're not building the Panama Canal and getting attention for it today.
"Athletes are very visible to the American public, particularly to boys who would aspire to the military," he added, and their "attitude toward the military is shaped by good performances on the field."
Smith, the former Army head coach who had been at Davidson, UCLA and University of Pacific before West Point, said he never had experienced pressure comparable to that at West Point. That pressure was spelled out in an ultimatum after the 1976 season that he win seven games, and beat Navy. The minutes of the meeting of the Military Academy athletic board at which the ultimatum was made reads, "Although not presented as a goal, but agreed to by the board, was the point that West Point could not afford any more embarrassments, particularly on television or in either of the two games to be played in the Meadowlands in 1977."
George Mayes, defensive tackle and captain of the 1979 Army team, said "You feel a pressure to win and in a way it is different (from other schools) because we're more of a showcase."
Quarterback Mulrane added: "I've heard of people in field training being called in on the radio in order to hear what's happening in the latest Army games."
You should not underestimate the importance of the game to the corps. "Cadets lead a monastic life," said Forbus. "When we lose, the gray rocks get grayer, the winter darker, and it's just unacceptable."
Especially for a plebe. A 1973 graduate of West Point recalled that when the football team lost, plebes did not eat. That is no longer true, according to Forbus, but "they may be a bit less comfortable consuming their meal" when the Cadets lose.
One plebe attending the Baylor game said that when the team loses, "the upper classmen take it out on us."
"They bug us more, especially when we lose by this much. They'll stop and put you up against the wall and ask you a bunch of questions. Then they'll take you apart and say you are disreputable, that your hair is too long even if it isn't; they'll say anything to make you feel one inch tall."
"Obviously," commented Forbus, "if we lose in football, the mood in the corps is not too good and the plebes' lives may be a little grimmer. The result may be palpable to the plebe."
Especially if the game in question is against Navy. There is a tradition at West Point that if Army wins, there is what is called a general "fall out" shortly after the game.Upper classmen may get an extra day leave, and plebes get to relax. In the beginning of the year, Mulrane explained, plebes are required to "square every corner when they walk, sit at attention, eat at attention, and their eyes don't leave the plane of the table.
"The tradition goes that if we do beat Navy, instead of waiting till the end of the year, they can start walking around like a normal person."
There was a time when the expectation of big victories was more realistic. Army won national championships in 1944-46, and had back-to-back Heisman trophy winners in 1945-46. New York Times columnist Red Smith recalled: "West Point attracted a lot of kids during the war who thought it was a lot better than four years in the infantry. They got guys who might in peacetime have gone elsewhere. It was a refuge from the draft for four years."
In 1944, Army humiliated a team from Notre Dame made up of college students too young for the draft and 4fs, by a score of 59-0. The Cadets in the stands at Yankee Stadium roared, "More yet, more yet."
In 1946, many of the vets returned to Notre Dame's campus. One, Smith said, "an old fat tackle named Ziggy Cszrobski, got up and made a speech at a pep rally and said, "We're going down to New York and show those glorified draft dodgers what this war was all about.'" (That memorable game ended in a scoreless tie.)
The struck the priests at Notre Dame as so heretical that they swore the sportswriters in attendence to silence.
Army had four more winning seasons until 1951 when the "naughty 90," 36 of whom were members of the football team, were expelled in an exam cribbing scandal. The team finished 2-7.
But by 1958, Coach Blaik's last year at West Point, the Cadets were back on top. The Cinderella team, led by Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins, won eight, lost none and tied one.
It was, Dawkins recalled, the season of Bill Carpenter, "the lonesome end;" of last-minute victories over hated Notre Dame and Dawkins, who now is a brigade commander of the 101st Airborne Division (air assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky., recalled the Friday night pep rallies in the mess hall "as moments of pandemonium."
"The cadets carried members of the team on their shoulders back to their rooms. I remember them surging out of the mess hall, and the feeling of the strength of the corps of cadets carrying us along with them."
There were other displays "of the power and invincibility of the team," Dawkins said. On the days when the team left for away games, the cadets would escort them out Thayer Gate. "There would be a tank rumbling along in front of the buses and the cadets running along side would refuse to move out of the way. They would take off their coats and run along side for a mile or a mile and a half beating on the sides of the buses. There was no explicit acknowledgement of the corps as the 12th man (on the team), but it was very real."
Memories. Old photos. Yellowed clippings.
Vietnam took the glamor out of the Army, and topnotch recruits out of Army football. "The Vietnam crisis hurt all the service academies but it hurt Army the most," said Navy's Carl Ullrich, former assistant athletic director, "Army had a bigger part to play and it hurt their ability to recruit."
Forbus said, "We're still suffering from the Vietnam syndrome. We didn't get any athletes during Vietnam because the mood of the country was sour against the military."
The job of getting athletes to West Point has become Saban's mission. It is not going to be easy. "We used to be able to get top-notch athletes," he said. The glamor of professional sports wasn't the same then, and the glamor of the Army was more then.We've got to have talent and we have not gotten our share.
"Over the past 10 years, there has been a downgrading of football and its position at West Point," said Saban. "The glory days are long gone. We have to figure out what is good today. Society's changed. The whole country's changed.
"This change in philosophy is difficult to cope with here. We are very strong in tradition and it takes a long time to change that and it may never happen. There are a lot of people here who think that what used to happen 20 years ago should be done today.
"But the Army can not win on blood and guts alone."