Army vs Navy, 1959

The 1959 and 2002 Army-Navy football games have a lot in common. Army scored 12 points in each game and Navy won big. The 1959 game saw the Midshipmen come away 43-12 winner on a day in which nothing went right for the Cadets.

The New York Times
November, 1959


The midshipmen who handled. the side show gimmicks for the Army-Navy game let themselves be carried away beforehand by a wave of optimism that seemed to border on the ridiculous. Their plans called for the release of a balloon whenever the future admirals scored a touchdown. And each balloon would waft with it into the atmosphere a West Point jacket. If these nautical stage directors had listened to the experts, they would have made ready one or two jackets at most. But they let themselves be swept into the emotional tide of the "Beat Army" fervor that saturated Annapolis last week and rashly brought with them five coats of cadet gray, a wildly extravagant estimate.

Thereupon Navy scored six touchdowns in its rout on the Black Knights. What had appeared to be sheer presumption was nothing of the sort. So the last balloon arose without a cargo. By that time few noticed and none cared. The middies had given the cadets a record trouncing, 43 to 12, as stunning a result as this old series has produced.

The Rout

Once upon a time football was strictly a team game, with responsibility shared by each of eleven men. But the T-formation has so distorted values that the quarterback now is two, or three or ten times as important as anyone else. When the quarterback has a bad day, it invariably means trouble.

It isn't pleasant to point the finger at one young man and pin the blame on him, especially when he's an amateur who plays on one of the most amateur college teams in the land. But there is no way to avoid facts.

Joe Caldwell of Army is certain to get considerable mention for all-America honors this season and deservedly so. He has been one of the finest collegiate forward passers in the land. He went into his final game with a record of ninety-nine completions in 165 attempts for 1,228 yards and an efficiency mark of 60 per cent.

But he started in stumbling fashion against Navy and never regained his equilibrium until the last couple of minutes, when he completed four aerials for 69 yards. Toss that out of consideration. It was too little and too late. The true statistics and the ones that had direct bearing on the result were the ones that were compiled earlier. Here's the horror story in chronological detail: Six incompletions, a touchdown pass for 29 yards, five incompletions, an interception, an accidental completion for 18 yards after a Navy defender deflected the ball, an incompletion and an interception. This strains credulity.

Luck, All Bad

Caldwell just had one of those incomprehensible days that will befall every football player. Cruel fate ordained that it would come against Navy. But Lady Luck buffeted Army all afternoon, especially Caldwell. He is a competent punter. On Saturday, he uncorked one kick that skidded off his foot for 11 yards. He'd boot the ball and the playful pigskin would refuse to roll, but would stop dead or bounce backward. It was a day of almost total frustration.

Navy was no help to Army in its time of dire need. The middies clamped on the pressure early and never relaxed it. Their line hounded Caldwell as he had not been hounded all season. The fleet backfield defenders convoyed the receivers so tightly, that the cadet passer had difficulty In finding targets. When he found them, his hurried throws invariably overshot their marks.

Not only were the sailors rock-ribbed on defense, but they also were afire in every direction. On the offense they tore and slashed almost at will. Joe Tranchini was the quarterback Caldwell was supposed to be but wasn't.

He was a sharp shooting passer and as mystifying as he was adroit as a ball-handler. For much of the game he didn't have a fullback but had three halfbacks behind the line with him. He exploited them shrewdly, especially Joe Bellino and Ronnie Brandquist.

Bunko Game

When the cadets keyed two backers-up to halt Bellino, the alert Tranchini sprang Brandquist for big gains. Then he'd whipsaw Army, using one as a decoy, popping through the other. He faked beautifully on the ride series and Army would converge on a halfback who didn't have the ball. Tranchini would be back to pass against confused defenses. Once he bootlegged for a touchdown.

It was a stunning exhibition of one team getting stronger as it progressed and the other crumbling before an inexorable pounding. The corps of Cadets watched with growing dismay and disbelief.

Wayne Hardin, the Navy coach, thus engineered one of the great upsets of the series. If he coaches at Annapolis for the next hundred years he's unlikely to have a finer hour. Top Stories