A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation at War

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9780547844602: A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation at War

"A rousing celebration of a moment in history when college football was more than metaphor and entertainment, it was a gritty sidebar to real war.” — Robert Lipsyte, author of An Accidental Sportswriter

Each year the Army and Navy football teams meet for one epic game. Across the nation, fans tune in to see who will emerge victorious. But no game will ever match the one that was played on December 2, 1944. America was in the midst of World War II: soldiers and sailors were dying around the globe, and the home front suffered through shortages. But for one day, all that was forgotten.

Navy’s team was ranked number two, Army’s number one and on the verge of becoming national champions. Everywhere, the war stopped as soldiers listened to the broadcast. Randy Roberts has interviewed the surviving players and coaches, bringing their stories to life. For three years, military upperclassmen graduated and joined the fight. For three hours, their alma mater gave them back one unforgettable performance.

“The story of Army’s celebrated 1944 national championship team is a fascinating one, and its victory over Navy that year is remembered as one of college football’s greatest games. But Randy Roberts’s A Team for America tells an even greater story. It is a story of our country. Of a time when college football — and this remarkable Army team — helped rekindle hope and confidence throughout the land.” — Brigadier General Peter M. Dawkins, U.S. Army (Ret.), 1958 Heisman Trophy winner, West Point

"Roberts brings a historian’s thoroughness to the subject . . . A fascinating time in American collegiate sports history." — Kirkus Reviews

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A Look Inside A Team for America
(Click on Images to Enlarge)

Blaik called the squads of 1944, 1945, and 1946 his "storybook teams." Some of the players that carries them to victory were ends Barney Poole and Hank Foldberg, and backs Glenn Davis, Young Arnold Tucker, and Doc Blanchard. (Army Athletic Communications, USMA) "No one in the game had as much speed and as many gears as Glenn Davis," a teammate said."He could be surrounded one moment and gone for a touchdown the next." (Army Athletic Communications, USMA)
Doc Blanchard had size, power, and speed. Sometimes, sportswriters thought, he played like a man among boys. (Army Athletic Communications, USMA) On November 11, 1944, as American troops battled in Western Europe and the Pacific, Army played Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium. The game shocked everyone in sports. (Army Athletic Communications, USMA)


Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Randy Roberts

Q: What drew you to write about West Point football during World War II?

A: Since I was in high school I have had two abiding interests--sports and the history of the two world wars. As a writer I have authored more than a half dozen books about sports and athletes, and as a teacher I have had thousands of students in my course on World War II. Given those twin interests, A Team For America was a natural. I knew that the 1944 Army team, led by two future Heisman Trophy winners, was one of the greatest in college football history. But I wondered, what was it like to play under the shadow of the largest war in world history? And, how did the action on the field contribute to the war effort? Such questions made me want to talk to the players and to tell their story.


Q: Why were the service academies, Army and Navy, so good during the war?

A: Well, initially there was some doubt whether football--as well as professional baseball and other college and professional sports--would continue during the war. The demand for soldiers and sailors was so acute that it seemed to many people that any man strong enough to lug a football should be lugging a rifle. But led by U.S. Navy officials, the government established V-programs in colleges across America to provide education and training for future naval officers, and these youths were allowed to participate in varsity sports. But as they finished their training, they were called into the service. At the academies the situation was different. Although their time at the academies was reduced from four to three years, they could not be called into the service until their three years education was completed. Therefore the academies had a more consistent source of manpower for their teams. It made planning for the Army coach, the legendary Earl "Red" Blaik, easier.

Q: Why was the 1944 season unique and memorable?

A: To begin with, as I said earlier, it was played under the shadow of the war. Think of this: The class of 1945 became upperclassmen when the class of 1944 graduated. The day was June 6, 1944--D- Day. General Brehon B. Somervell, after delivering the graduation address at the Academy, announced, "Only a few hours ago the mightiest undertaking ever attempted by our Army was launched against the enemy entrenched along the shores of France. Today our forces began that grim, tough and bloody march from the shores of the Atlantic to Berlin." Of course, the cadets and spectators at the ceremony cheered wildly. In a way, that was the start of the 1944 season. During the fall millions of Americans opened their newspapers to read about the march of U.S. armed forces toward Berlin and Tokyo as well as the campaign of the West Point football team to win the national championship. For many readers, the actions on the battlefield and the playing field were somehow linked, forming a story about what was good and right about America.

Q: Did the players at West Point during the war end up in combat?

A: Certainly the ones who graduated in 1942, 1943, and 1944 became part of what they called "The Big Show." For example, Henry Romanek and Robin Olds, two friends who played on the same teams at West Point, were both part of the D-Day invasion. Romanek was badly wounded. Olds flew above the beaches in a P-38 fighter. Olds went on to earn ace status both in World War II and the Vietnam War. By the time the class of 1945 graduated the war was almost over. But many of them served in the Korean War, several dying on the battlefield or from wounds suffered in combat.

Q: What was the most important thing that you leaned during researching and writing A Team For America?

A: On one level I learned a great deal about the home front during the war--about the lives that most Americans led while many of their sons, brothers, and cousins were fighting overseas. But on a more personal level, the research brought me into contact with some extraordinary men. Uniformly, they were generous with their time and memories, still close to their teammates, and proud of the Academy. There’s a lot of talk about the "Greatest Generation," and I’m not exactly sure of how far to take the phrase. But the men I met and studied were special. Still today, they inspire awe. Writing their story was a pleasure.

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HMH Hardcover, 2011Previous ISBN: 978-0-547-51106-1

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