Oct. 5, 2011
By Mady Salvani, Army Athletic Communications
WEST POINT, N.Y. - Army turns back the pages of history this afternoon as it pays tribute to one of its finest sons and the most successful football coach in Black Knights history. Earl "Red" Blaik (West Point '20) created a dynasty during his 18-year tenure and is recognized as the man most responsible for transforming Army's proud football program into a national power during the middle of the 20th century.
Not only did Blaik, the winningest coach in Army history, compile a 121-33-10 record, but he won three consecutive national championships. He led the Cadets to six undefeated seasons, along with winning the Lambert Trophy (symbolic of Eastern football supremacy) seven times and compiling winning streaks of 32 and 28 games.
Twice named the National Coach of the Year, Blaik coached 28 first team All-Americans and three Heisman Trophy winners during a career that began in 1941 (just prior to the start of World War II) and ended with Army's last unbeaten team in 1958. Twenty of his assistants went on to become head coaches, with Vince Lombardi, who captured a pair of Super Bowl championships, the most recognized among that group.
Today's modern world of mobile features allows fans to follow games through live stats and text alerts from their BlackBerry and iPhone smartphones. That was not the case during Army's Glory Years. Radio dominated the air waves and television was on the cusp, and if you missed the broadcast, you had to wait until the next day to read about the game in the newspaper. Yet fans were just as die-hard then as today, filling stadiums to capacity in games played at the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium in New York, and the Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia.
Army's formative years under Blaik began when he accepted the call to West Point to take over a floundering program. His first team in 1941 won its first four games, shocking a Yankee Stadium crowd of 76,000 after playing Notre Dame to a scoreless tie as Army went 5-3-1 that year.
Just eight days after the 1941 Navy game, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States was at war. The course of training at the U.S. Military Academy was condensed to three years, but that also meant that plebes (freshmen) would be eligible to play.
Following a 7-2-1 season in 1943 and 6-3 mark the previous year, another outstanding group of plebes entered the academy in 1944. Blaik told the 1944 team they would be the greatest in the history of West Point, and his words proved true. Numbered among the collection were six future All-Americans in Barney Poole, Dan Folder, Arnold Tucker and DeWitt Coulter, along with two of the finest players to don an Army uniform in Felix "Doc" Blanchard and Glenn Davis (Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, respectively).
The Cadets ran roughshod over their opponents (outscoring them 444-35) in 1944 en route to a 9-0 mark. Army trounced Notre Dame (59-0) and Penn (62-7), then snapped a five-year losing string to Navy behind a 23-17 victory as its unbeaten 11 were the unanimous national champions.
Blaik received a telegram (similar to a text message today) from Gen. Douglas MacArthur - "The greatest of all Army Teams - STOP - We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success."
The dynasty continued with the 1945 team sweeping all nine opponents and repeating as national champions. Eight members of the team were first team All-Americans. Blanchard won the Heisman Trophy, the Walter Camp Trophy and the Maxwell Award. He became the first football player to win the Sullivan Award - given to the nation's top amateur athlete.
Blaik challenged his 1946 team to carry on the tradition, and they headed into the annual clash with Notre Dame carrying a 25-game win streak as the teams battled to a 0-0 tie. Army defeated Navy, Blaik was named Coach of the Year, and Davis won the Heisman Trophy as the Cadets claimed their third-straight national title following a 9-0-1 mark.
The Black Knights went 8-0-1 in 1948, 9-0 in 1949 and 8-1 in 1950 when Army was voted second in the nation. Following a pair of losing seasons, Army's reign continued as the Cadets went 40-11-3 over the next six years capped by the unbeaten 1958 team that went 8-0-1.
The 1958 team was Blaik's final year (he retired from coaching on Jan. 13, 1959) and it was one for the history books with Pete Dawkins becoming the third Army player to win the Heisman Trophy and Bill Carpenter exciting the nation as the "Lonesome End." A master tactician and innovator, Blaik's new offensive formation caught the imagination of sports fans and the nation alike with the "Lonely End" that made Carpenter infamous. He never entered the huddle, instead aligning near the far sideline, generating interest and excitement as how Carpenter received his signals.
As a player, Blaik was selected an All-American end in 1919. As a coach, he was enshrined in the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1964, and two years later was presented the Gold Medal Award. Three years prior to his death in 1986 at the age of 92, Blaik received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan. Blaik was also among an inaugural class inducted into the Army Sports Hall of Fame that also included all three Heisman Trophy winners.
On Sept. 25, 1999, the playing surface at Michie Stadium was christened "Blaik Field" during the pregame ceremony of the Army-Ball State game, highlighted by a reunion of his former players. Included among the returnees were Heisman Trophy winners Davis and Dawkins, along with Outland Trophy winner Joe Steffy.
The Black Knights provided a fitting tribute as they dedicated the game to the legendary Blaik by trouncing Ball State, 41-21.