Football Short Story
INNOVATORS AND THE ROUGH RIDER
Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport, Gridiron Glory: The Story of the Army-Navy
Football Rivalry (2005)
He was the Galloping Ghost before there was a Galloping Ghost, the Gipper before there was a Gipper, the Golden Boy before there was a Golden Boy. Long before Red Grange tore up football fields at Illinois and George Gipp did so at Notre Dame, and much longer before Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy with the Fighting Irish, there was Charley Daly with the Army football team.
Before becoming a successful Army coach, Daly was one of football's first superstars in the early 1900s. And the dynamic little quarterback could boast of an accomplishment that none of the other three football legends could claim: Daly won all-American honors at not one but two schools, Harvard and Army.
Because of this, Daly was the center of a controversy. Navy wanted Army to tighten its eligibility rules for athletes. Army permitted Cadets to enter up to the age of twenty-one, allowing experienced players like Daly to join and make an immediate impact on the football program. Navy thought this gave Army an unfair advantage, because Navy only accepted students up to the age of twenty.
Army stood firm—for the time being. In later years, the service academies signed an agreement that anyone with more than three years of football experience at another school could not play in Army-Navy games.
As for Daly, he seemed to save his best for the Navy game. In 1901, Daly became legendary at the Point when he set an Army record with a 100-yard kickoff return as the Cadets beat Navy 11-5. With his field goal and extra-point kicking, Daly accounted for all of Army's points.
The following year, Daly was again the star of the game with his quarterbacking, kicking, and running. When the Middies threatened to rally late in the game, Daly scored the clinching touchdown in Army's 22-8 triumph. Because of the eligibility controversy, Daly decided after the 1902 season not to play at West Point again.
The Middies were glad to see Daly go, although they still couldn't beat Army. At least, not until the 1906 season, when they went airborne with the revolutionary forward pass. ...
The rivalry was starting to draw the attention of an entire nation. When the Cadets and Middies met in Philadelphia's Franklin Field in 1901, upward of 25,000 fans attended. And tickets were being scalped for $40.
L-R: Charley Daly, Theodore Roosevelt, Paul Dashiell
Among the spectators was Theodore Roosevelt, who had moved into the White House following the assassination of President McKinley in 1901. Roosevelt was an old Army man, but he rooted enthusiastically for both sides. At the 1901 game, he sat on the Navy side during the first half and then switched to Army's in the second, the start of a long-standing tradition for United States presidents. When Navy tied the score 5-5, Roosevelt was so excited he leaped out of his seat, broke clear of his security guards and made a mad dash to the Middies bench, where he slapped the players on their backs. In the 1905 game played in Princeton, New Jersey, Roosevelt once more prowled the sidelines and cheered on the teams. He became so animated at one point that his security people had to practically restrain him from running on the field. Roosevelt, a hardy outdoors type who fought in the Spanish-American War, loved football. But he didn't like what was happening to the sport, which was suddenly the center of controversy with an unusual number of deaths and injuries. In 1905, there were more than twenty football fatalities and a number of serious injuries, and many colleges had banned the sport.
One player remembered how violent the game was in the early 1900s, especially for quarterbacks. "He'd have these large loops on his belt and a teammate on each side of him would hoist him up and throw him over the line," recalled Dutch Herman, who played for Penn State in the early 1900s. "They lost a lot of quarterbacks that way."
Roosevelt had seen other things in the game he didn't like. Once, attending a major Eastern game, the president witnessed a player biting away a piece of an opponent's ear. Roosevelt was outraged. He considered banning the sport altogether.
Instead, he invited "Skinny Paul" Dashiell, the Navy coach from 1904 to 1906, and Army captain Palmer Pierce to the White House to discuss what could be done about the increasing violence in the game.
That meeting was the catalyst for rules changes that would eventually transform the murderous rugby style of football's early days into the modern game. This included the elimination of mass momentum plays such as the deadly "Flying Wedge."Minot was quickly revived, as the New York Times reported. He "regained his feet after his face had been washed and a little water poured down his throat." Byrne, however, was not so lucky. Efforts by several Army surgeons and the team trainer failed to revive him. Byrne's father had left his seat in the cheering section to be with his son on the field. After a while, the 21-year-old Byrne was carried off the field and brought to the Army infirmary, barely breathing. Doctors used artificial respiration and oxygen to keep him alive. Miraculously, around midnight Byrne woke from unconsciousness and talked intermittently with his father and others throughout the night. But by dawn, Byrne had died of a dislocated vertebrae and spine injuries.
But even though the Flying Wedge was outlawed, football could still be extremely dangerous. There were "mass plays" that were offspring of the Wedge and still legal. In the 1909 season, Army met Harvard at West Point before a crowd of about 10,000. One of the onlookers was John Byrne, father of Cadet mainstay Eugene Byrne. Byrne weighed only 170 pounds, but like many of his Army teammates was a real scrapper. The Cadets at that time may have not had the biggest or most talented group of players, but they were certainly a battling group.
Harvard, led by two-time all-American tackle Hamilton Fish Jr., had it all: size, strength, and talent. Fish was a specimen at six foot four, 200 pounds. The Crimson were considered the No. 2 team in the East behind only mighty Yale. At that time, being No. 2 in the East was virtually the same as being No. 2 in the country. It was a time when the Ivy League, particularly the "Big Three" of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, ruled college football.
On this fall afternoon, Harvard was cruising with a 9-0 lead late in the game. With only about 10 minutes left, Harvard called for a "mass" play—sending fullback Wayne Minot crashing through the line behind the stout interference of Fish and Robert Fisher. The play was directed at a space on the line between Byrne and Vern Purnell. The big bodies of the Harvard line cracked into the smaller Army line. Byrne, wearing the thin leather helmet of the day that offered little protection, lunged forward and then disappeared underneath a twisting mass of arms and legs. When everything cleared, both Byrne and Minot lay motionless on the ground.
Byrne was one of thirty-three football-related deaths reported across the country in 1909. Army immediately canceled the last four games of the season, including the meeting with Navy.
About this time, the forward pass was becoming an important part of the game. Now the ball could be thrown forward to an eligible receiver. No longer did quarterbacks have to fly through the air with the greatest of unease. Dashiell was among those chiefly responsible for the introduction of the forward pass. The new weapon was much in evidence when Dashiell's Navy team played Army in 1906.
When a fumbled punt gave Navy the ball on the Army 40-yard line, Homer Norton dropped back as if to try a field goal. Instead, he lofted a pass to Jonas Ingram and the Navy receiver ran past the flabbergasted Cadets for a touchdown.
With "Anchors Away" making its debut, the Middies were inspired by the rousing new school song and beat the Cadets 10-0.