Saturdays matter at Army

sports@macon.comJanuary 6, 2014 

The U.S. Military Academy -- better known as Army in football circles -- hasn’t enjoyed much success on the gridiron in recent years, but the academy hopes that will change under the leadership of former Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken, who was hired to replace the fired Rich Ellerson on Christmas Eve.

Monken, who took the Eagles to the FCS playoffs in three of his four seasons in Statesboro, compiled an overall record of 38-16, with his signature win coming in his final game as Georgia Southern’s head coach, a 26-20 victory Nov. 23 over traditional SEC power Florida.

Monken understands what it takes to be successful at one of the service academies. He was at the U.S. Naval Academy as an assistant to Paul Johnson from 2002 through 2007. During his final four seasons in Annapolis, the Midshipmen defeated Army all four years in what was the beginning of a current 12-game Navy winning streak over its archrival.

The last golden season of Army football was in 1958, a season that is chronicled in a book by Sports Illustrated writer and Army alum Mark Beech. It’s entitled “When Saturday Mattered Most.” I was introduced to the publication by local attorney Chix Miller, who also is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy.

The 1958 team featured Pete Dawkins, who won the Heisman Trophy that season, and the Lonesome End (Also referred to as the far flanker or Lonely End), Bill Carpenter. As a 13-year-old, I remember following that Army team and was especially intrigued by Carpenter because I also played end. That 1958 squad had a Macon connection, as well, with Danny Minor, an All-Southern running back at Lanier in 1955, serving as a defensive back and backup to All-American Bob Anderson.

That Army team was coached by Earl “Red” Blaik. The 1958 season was his 18th and final season with West Point, but he didn’t make the announcement of his surprise resignation until January 1959.

In reading “When Saturday Mattered Most,” I learned of Blaik’s close relationship with iconic general Douglas MacArthur. I was unaware that McArthur at one time served as superintendent at West Point. Blaik wrote to the 78-year-old MacArthur, who at the time lived at the Waldorf Towers in New York City, weekly during that season recapping the week’s previous contest and outlining the game plan for the upcoming opponent.

There is also a chapter on the devastating effect the 1951 Army cheating scandal had on Blaik when more than three dozen of his players, including his son, were involved and expelled from the Academy. Blaik had been led to believe that there were options other than expulsion for the players if they all came clean, but that was not the case. The scandal put Blaik at odds with the Army administration, as he saw somewhat of a de-emphasis of football because of the incident.

That perceived de-emphasis, however, was not apparent with the 1958 team.

That squad, using the forward pass, especially the halfback option, moreso than any previous Blaik-coached team, opened the season with wins over South Carolina, Penn State, Notre Dame and Virginia before tying Pittsburgh at 14 in the fifth game of the season. Following the 14-2 early October win over Notre Dame, the most recent win by Army over the Irish, the Cadets were ranked No. 1 in the nation for two weeks until the tie with the Panthers dropped Army to third.

Army finished out the year with wins over Colgate, Rice, Villanova and a 22-6 beatdown of Navy to finish the season at 8-0-1 and a No. 3 final ranking by the Associated Press.

At the time, Army did not participate in bowl games. Army’s first bowl appearance didn’t come until the 1984 Cherry Bowl in Michigan, when the Black Knights defeated Michigan State 10-6. The Cadets have played in five bowl games with a 3-2 record.

LSU, coached by former Army assistant Paul Dietzel, won the national championship in 1958. Dietzel left LSU in 1961 to become the first non-Army graduate to coach the Black Knights.

Beech provides intimate details about the Army players and about each of the their games in 1958. From the book, you get the idea that Anderson was, in Blaik’s eyes, actually a better player than the Heisman Trophy winning Dawkins.

Monken becomes the 14th head coach at Army since Blaik retired in 1958. Can he restore Army, which hasn’t been nationally ranked since 1962, to the glory it enjoyed in 1958? Probably not, but it is doubtful that anyone could.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at

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