1954: Blaik and Army get it done

Most Army Football fans will admit that Earl Henry (Red) Blaik was the finest intercollegiate football coach in the history of the sport. Blaik's won/loss record over 18 glorious seasons at the academy will attest to that fact. The 1954 season was an example of Coach Blaik molding a fine team from one which had many question marks before the season.

Most Army Football fans who are old enough these days to remember those glorious days of yesteryear will also remember too, that during Red's tenure, they would also be a period of the darkest days in West Point's football history. In 1951, the cribbing scandal rocked the academy where amongst others; nearly 40 football players were involved in the sordid mess. Practically the entire football roster was implicated in it and dismissed from the academy, including Red's own son, Bob, who had magnificently led the cadets as quarterback to 8 straight football victories the previous year of 1950 losing only their final game to Navy in Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium, 14-2.

Let's fast forward three seasons to 1954. Red had considered leaving after the scandal in 1951 but after discussing the situation with his close friend and confidant, General Douglas MacArthur and with MacArthur' s insistence, that Red stay on to restore the program. Red did stay on. After compiling a 2-7 record in 1951 with JV players and others who had seen little or no action the previous season, Red improved his record to 4-4-1 in 1952 winning their big game that season in Franklin Field in Philadelphia over heavily -favored Penn 14-13, on halfback Bill Purdue's last minute touchdown scamper and kicker Rox Shain's point after attempt to seal the win.

1953 bought continued success with Red compiling a 7-1-1 log losing only to Northwestern in Evanston, 33-20, and tieing a tough Tulane team down in the old Sugar Bowl Stadium, 0-0. Beating Navy for the first time since 1949 when the Cadets ran all over Navy, 38-0, Army beat the Mids that season, 20-7 on Pat Uebel's three touchdown runs.

In the late summer of 1954, Blaik and his staff were resting as usual before the rigors of another football season at the academy's mountain hideaway at Bull Pond. Winning the Lambert Trophy the previous season, emblematic of eastern football supremacy, Blaik as always was fearful that the team of 1954 would find it difficult to repeat the surprising success of the '53 squad.

Only 9 lettermen returned from that glorious season. Captain Bob Farris, the top lineman of the two-way playing players of that year, was definitely out with a detached retina. Halfback Mike Ziegler, a top breakaway threat, had serious back trouble and was 90% sure he would not see any action at all.

1954 Army Results
Record: 7-2

South Carolina, L 34-20
Michigan, W 26-7
Dartmouth, W 60-0
Duke, W 28-14
Columbia, W 67-12
Virginia, W 21-20
Yale, W 48-7
Pennsylvannia, W 35-0
Navy, L 21-20

However, Blaik had some outstanding skill players returning for that '54 season. Quarterback Pete Vann, one of the finest passers in West Point annals, was back. So too was the Bronx, N.Y. sensation, Tommy (Bowl- ‘em-Over) Bell and an outstanding newcomer out of Ansonia, Conn. named Bob Kyasky, who was being compared to Glenn Davis.

The loss of Captain Farris was a big blow for Blaik as Farris was only the third second-classman to be awarded the captaincy in academy history. He sat on the bench that season with his coach.

Practice time as always in those days, were limited to an hour and a half per day due to the strenuous academic workload placed on all the Cadets including, of course, all football-playing members. The mission of the program was to produce winning football teams and to mold character. With so little time each day to accomplish that task, Blaik consistently performed "miracles" with his coaching ability.

With Blaik's personality, he made a tremendous impression on the men he coached and could give a resume on practically every player he ever coached on what they were doing well after their Second Lieutenant bars were placed on their shoulders. Guys like Charley Gabriel, who came out of Korea who then went to Germany and guys who never came home like Trent, Drury, Galloway, Fuson, Kellum and all the other 17 football players who gave their lives for their country between 1941 and 1954.

Former football players kept in touch with Red, by mail, by phone or a visit. Those busted out in 1951 wrote too. In 1951 many of them gave Red the inspiration to go on and coach as 17 of the men who were dismissed from West Point went on to receive their commissions via ROTC programs at other schools. You could see Blaik was proud of them and it somehow eased the pain of that whole sorry and misunderstood mess.

Yes, the Army Football program in 1954 was back and the future was bright indeed. After all, Army football was in the hands of a great coach and a fine man, Earl (Red) Blaik. The 1954 Army team achieved seven wins with only two defeats, losing only to South Carolina in the opener and to Navy in the closer behind a pretty good Middie quarterback inn George Welsh, 27-20, in one of the greatest Army-Navy games ever played.

Army finished second in the running for the Lambert Trophy that year behind Navy.

Army had three All-Americans on their team in 1954: Halfback Tommy (Bowl 'em Over) Bell; Guard Ralph (Chester) Chesnauskas; and the immortal Don Holleder out of Webster, N.Y. Don later gave his life in Vietnam. The Holleder Center at West Point was named in his honor.


Army and Navy officer visit before big game in '54.


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