“A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation at War” by Randy Roberts
Football (American), college, World War II, Army, Navy
November 29, 2011
3 1/2 of 5 stars (good)
The years of World War II were certainly trying times for college athletics. Many of the potential athletes that would play sports in college were fighting in one of the military branches. The military academies were losing some of their players early as course work and military training was accelerated to get commissioned officers ready for combat duty quicker. This did affect the football teams at West Point and Annapolis, but despite these issues, the two service academies had some of their best seasons during this time.
The climactic game between them in this era was their meeting in 1944, which is the subject of this book written by Randy Roberts. The focus in the book is on West Point, as the book leads up to the big game with descriptions of how West Point was able to hire coach Earl “Red” Blalik, what was done to recruit some of the top athletes, and the overall mood of the campus. That mood, despite the success of the football team, is mostly gloomy and fatigued from war, much like the rest of the nation.
These are entertaining stories for the most part. There are also nice stories about the two top stars for Army, Glenn Davis and Felix “Doc” Blanchard. Davis’s comment about his speed, stating “God gave me that. I didn’t have to work for it” was a nice little human touch in the story behind a legendary player.
Descriptions of the game of football at the time are also well-written as the brutality of the game is illustrated. The story of All-American Robin Olds getting his teeth knocked out and how he made sure the opponent who did so received his payback is quite vivid with its detail. This was also the time when the current T-formation of the quarterback receiving the ball on a direct snap from center was introduce
d – by Army – and the early success of the formation was well-researched and described.
Some war stories are interspersed in the book as well, and this was one of the parts in which I felt the book was more difficult to read as it made the narrative somewhat jumpy and it also was not easy to see the connection between the war story and the football dialogue until well after the war story ended. The one other problem I had with the overall format of the book is that only 16 of the 264 pages on the Nook-formatted book were about the actual game. While this seems like it was enough, as it did not get too bogged down with a play-by-play recap, it felt like the buildup to the game was far more important to the book than the actual game. This seemed to be completely opposite to what the subject of the book would be.
Despite these issues, I enjoyed reading the book as it gives the reader a good look at what the state of college football was in the early 1940’s. For readers who want to learn more about the game at that time, or about that snippet of football history at West Point, this book is one to read.
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