The Top 5 Wins Of The Jim Young Era
The ground rules remain simple: Army-Navy Games are their own separate entities, naturally huge in every season. The following list contains no Army-Navy Games. Two of the answers are not hard to arrive at. The other three provide grounds for considerable and extended debate among Army fans.
5) ARMY 24, TENNESSEE 24 – September 22, 1984 .
A tie actually makes the list of the five biggest games of the Jim Young era in West Point? Shouldn’t that be more of a “back end of the top 10” event? A reasonable point, but do consider how poorly Army fared in 1983, and had consistently been for almost all of the previous 11 seasons, dating back to the early 1970s. The Cadets, from 1973 through 1983, won more than four games only twice, and produced just one winning season, in 1977. From 1978 through 1983, Army won a grand total of 18 games. In six seasons, Army won an amount of games it hoped it could win in a three-season span.
As Army began the 1984 season, the journey back to respectability was just starting. In hindsight, one could identify the win over Air Force as the moment the 1984 season truly became a turning point for the program. However, this tie in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville was the formative moment which allowed later conquests to take place. If the revival of Army football under Young is a creation narrative, then anyone in Neyland Stadium that day was truly “present at the creation” of a new day for West Point on the gridiron. Johnny Majors was coaching Tennessee at the time. The Vols beat Bear Bryant and Alabama in 1982, just before The Bear called it a career (and died shortly after coaching his final game in the 1982 Liberty Bowl against Illinois), so it’s not as though Tennessee was an irrelevant program at this point in college football history. Army’s ability to forge a tie against Navy – the Volunteer Navy, that is – set the tone for the rest of the 1984 season. Jim Young left that game with the knowledge (not just the belief) that his operation was headed firmly in the right direction.
4) ARMY 45, BOSTON COLLEGE 14 – OCTOBER 12, 1985 .
It’s true that a fellow by the name of Doug Flutie no longer played at Boston College, one year after winning the Heisman Trophy for the school. Nevertheless, the fact remained that the Eagles had scored 45 points against Army the year before. Boston College, under then-coach Jack Bicknell, was coming off a Cotton Bowl-winning season made possible by the Hail Flutie play on that Thanksgiving Friday evening in Miami. This was a time when football in the Northeast was a lot stronger than it is today. Penn State, Pittsburgh, Boston College – all those schools mattered at the time in college football. Therefore, even though this was a rebuilding year for B.C., Army’s ability to return the “45-point” favor against the Eagles represented yet another sign that West Point football was back in a big way. The 1985 season didn’t reach all the heights it could have, but this was certainly one of two distinct high points.
3) ARMY 28, AIR FORCE 15 – NOVEMBER 5, 1988 .
Army, under Young, won three Commander-In-Chief’s Trophies. The one in 1984 ended a seven-year drought. The one in 1986 was a bright spot in the middle of a season that did not earn a bowl bid. This one felt a little more special. It was the program’s third in five seasons. It displayed the resilience and staying power of the program under Young. It was one of many decisive victories registered by the 1988 Army squad, part of a strong midseason push which made a bowl game (the 1988 Sun Bowl against Alabama) a reality. The other historical detail which makes this 1988 CIC Trophy victory (sealed with a win over Navy later in the year) stand out: Air Force won 13 of the next 14 CIC Trophy championships. Not until 2003, with Navy’s emergence, would Air Force cease to be the dominant service-academy football program in the country. Army was the service-academy team of the mid-1980s, and this win cemented the claim.
2) 1985 PEACH BOWL: ARMY 31, ILLINOIS 29 – DECEMBER 31, 1985 .
Having lost to Navy, and having surrendered sole ownership of the CIC Trophy it won in 1984, Army – despite that blowout of Boston College earlier in the season – had something to prove when it walked inside Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium on New Year’s Eve afternoon in 1985. Illinois was just two years removed from playing in the Rose Bowl as the champion of the Big Ten. Coach Mike White and future NFL quarterback Jack Trudeau were still with the Illini, creating a formidable opponent… and a decidedly different one when compared to the Michigan State team Army faced in its first bowl game a year earlier. Army’s ability to outscore Illinois’ potent offense gave the program back-to-back bowl wins, which stands alongside the three CIC Trophy championships as a signature achievement from Jim Young’s tenure.
1) 1984 CHERRY BOWL: ARMY 10, MICHIGAN STATE 6 – DECEMBER 22, 1984 .
Navy played in a number of high-prestige bowl games in the 1950s and early 1960s, but Army and Red Blaik did not participate in bowl games. That historical reality aside, it still meant the world for Army to finally, after almost a century of college football, dip its toes in the waters of a bowl game.
This contest did not pit the Cadets against one of Michigan State’s best teams; George Perles needed a few more years to take the Spartans to the top of the Big Ten. However, this game was in suburban Detroit, at the Pontiac Silverdome. That building lies in ruins now, but at the time, the dome was under three years removed from hosting Super Bowl XVI. It also gave Michigan State the ability to play its bowl game very close to home.
Army didn’t care.
Jim Young’s defense was completely on point in this game, preventing Michigan State from scoring until the final five minutes of regulation. Army plucked three interceptions in this game and limited the Spartans to under 50-percent completions. West Point held Michigan State to 89 rushing yards and 244 total yards, forcing five turnovers in all. Young’s team committed only one penalty and controlled the tempo of the game by rushing for 266 yards. Over 70,000 fans inside the big dome did not witness an elegant game, but they saw Army football make history and leave the field in triumph.
Jim Young, from the rubble of the previous 11 seasons, had totally transformed the way the nation viewed Army football.
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