1954- A year to remember

Gene Ward was truly one of the great sports columnists of the 1950s. He wrote exclusively for the <i>New York City Daily News</i> in those days and I remember him well for his many articles on Army football for that great paper. He admired Army's coach in those bright and glorious days when the Black Knights were tearing up the opposition-- the coach--Earl (Red) Blaik .

This particular year however, Earl was in the process in the fourth year of rebuilding a team that only three years earlier was decimated by the now infamous cribbing scandal that rocked the very foundation of West Point in 1951. Although the Army team had won the Lambert Trophy the previous season of 1953, Blaik was still rebuilding his program on the banks of the Hudson. Here are excerpts from a Gene Wards column that appeared in early September,1954:

Tucked away in an isolated corner of the mighty military reservation at West Point,N.Y., is a mountain hideway known as Bull Pond. Here the Army Football coach, Earl (Red) Blaik, and his staff are soaking up rest and relaxation before the rigors of the gridiron season begin. It is here, in this bosky biviouack, that the stern-jawed colonel each year at this time contemplates the impossibilities of the tasks before him and directs his iron will toward their accomplishment. This sort of driving determination was the motivating factor behind the great teams of the 40s and now has bought back as a football power once again. The 1951 cribbing scandals, and the ousting of some nearly 40 athletes, all but wrecked the football structure at the academy. Only a man of great character could have survived the shock and bring order from chaos, credit from dishonor. He has done his job superlatively well.

We trecked our way to Bull Pond this bright summer afternoon for the purpose of finding out what the colonel had in store for New York football fans this fall, and it is plenty. A good thing too, what with the Ivy Leagues ridiculous de-emphasis policies, the ban on spring practice and the like. The gridiron pastime around our town has come on sad days and Blaik and his Black Knights are all that's left in a sector which cradled this game of football.

Only 9 lettermen return from the ‘53 squad that finished 7-1-1. Captain Bob Farris is definitely out with a detached retina. He won't see action. HB Mike Ziegler has disc trouble in his back and its 90% certain he wont see action. There are only two line regulars back and no centers or linebackers with varsity experience.

Still with Blaiks particular brand of genius, Army is going to have a good team and a great backfield, perhaps one of the best in the country. The colonel ranks QB Pete Vann one of the best passers ever to perform for the academy. Pat Uebel, leading scorer (10 TDs) and ground gainer (504 yards) last year has grown from 195 to 205 pounds without losing any speed and will be shifted from HB to FB. The Bronx's own Tommy (Bowl ‘em Over) Bell will handle one HB slot and the other will be occupied by a gifted yearling named Bob Kyasky from Ansonia, Conn., who may be another Glenn Davis.

But there are only a half a dozen good prospects up from the plebes, outside of Kyasky, so this is a squad with little depth. The loss of Farris has hurt more than Blaik will admit. Besides, he feels very keenly for the boy himself. The fact that Bob was elected captain before his senior year is testimony of his value as a team player. It was only the third time in Army history a second classman ever had been awarded the captaincy. But he will sit with Blaik on the bench, work with his teammates and do everything he can to be the teams leader. That's the way Farris wants it and that's the way the colonel wants it.

Football as played at Army has two objectives--to produce winning teams and to mold character. Unfortunately, too many of the big college coaches merely give lip service to the second of these goals. Blaiks success hinges on two highly developed talents--his organizational ability and his understanding of men. Without these qualities, Army football would be mediocre. For once the campaign starts, there is just an hour and a half a day, which can be devoted to football. That is all the time the rigid West Point curriculum allows a cadet for gridiron activity.

The colonel thinks things out in fine detail, and much of the advance planning is done at Bull Pond in talks with his staff, which now as a new recruit in Doc Blanchard, on temporary leave from jet flying. Actually, Blaik lives and loves football on a 12-month basis. Those close to him worry about his health but, in recent months he has started to play golf and some of the tense lines have eased from his face. As a personality, he makes a tremendous impression on the men he coaches, one which few of them ever forget. The colonel can give a resume of the careers of almost every player since they pinned on their 2nd lieutennant bars after graduating, Gus Dielens, who got shot up in Korea... Charley Gabriel, who came out of Korea and now is in Germany... and Trent, Drury, Galloway, Fuson, Kellum and all the other 17 football players who have given their lives for their country over the last decade.

Always the old players keep in touch with him, by mail, sometimes by phone or by using leave time to drop in on him. And those who were busted out in 1951, they write too. Those dark days of 1951, they were a constant source of inspiration for him. He told us that 17 of the ousted group had gone on to earn commissions via ROTC, and you could see he was proud of them and it somehow eased the pain of the whole sorry and misunderstood mess.

We had come to find out about Army's football prospects and can report they are very bright indeed. After all, Army football is in the hands of a great coach and a fine man, Earl (Red) Blaik.

NOTE: Blaik's Army team that season of 1954 finished with a record of 7-2 losing their opener against the Gamecocks of South Carolina (of which I was in attendance that day in Michie) and the season finale with the Navy which was one of the finest in the annals of Army-Navy football. That year Navy won, 27-20, behind a pretty good QB in George Welsh and beat out the Cadets for the Lambert Trophy, emblematic of Eastern football supremacy.

Army had 3 All-Americans on that ‘54 team--
Tommy (Bowl ‘em Over) Bell HB
Ralph (Chester) Chesnauskas G
Don Holleder E who years later gave his life in Viet Nam and for who the Holleder Center is named.

1954- a year to remember.


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