The Irish Series and High Altitude Combat

In the fall of 1958, the last year of Col. Earl (Red) Blaiks coaching career and also as Athletic Director at West Point, he was being questioned on two specific points by the media and the fans with a verocity seldom felt by the Master.

The first point was the feeling that after the home and home rivalry with Notre Dame and West Point just completed, that Blaik was the individual who wanted the traditional game to be permanently ended while mostly everyone else wanted to keep the rivalry going on an annual basis.

The second point was the colonels opinion that playing a game against the upstart Air Force Falcons in the rarefied air of Colorado would harm his own players performance. He opted for a home and home series with Army playing their home game at Michie and playing the Air Force game in Soldiers Field in Chicago. This of course was a more than a decade before of the now annual CIC trophy round robin which would pit the three major service academies playing each other on a home and home format.

The following column entitled INSIDE SPORTS was written by Gene Ward of the New York Daily News which appeared in that papers October 24, 1958 edition previous to Army battle with Pitt that year where the Panthers came from behind to tie the Cadets, 14-14, to mar an otherwise perfect undefeated season for the Black Knights. In this article, Blaik explains his position on each topic.


by Gene Ward

Pittsburgh, Oct. 24.-We were an hour out of LaGuardia, winging for Pittsburgh and the make-or-break battle for this injury-riddled Army football team, when I asked Earl (Red) Blaik if he'd care to set the record straight on a highly combustible subject-the discontinued series between his Cadets and the Irish of Notre Dame.

West Point's stern-visaged athletic boss has been blamed for the break in the storied rivalry. He is being burned in effigy by the subway alumni. And there have been rumors that even hard boot West Pointers are beginning to grumble. Blaik didn't bat an eye. His answer came back as quick as Bob Anderson cutting for the hole. "There's no question but what we will renew the series with Notre Dame," he said. "I would guess that the contracts will be signed at the winter meetings coming up, which means a resumption of the rivalry in 1965."

Only two weeks ago, when the Cadets polished off the Irish, 14-2, in South Bend, the series, had been interred forever by football's most expert morticians. Many a lead filed from the press box that afternoon had stressed "the rude goodbye" which Army had bid its most famous protagonist. How come the abrupt about-face?


"It was no about-face," Blaik said, "nobody ever bothered to ask me before. I always have been for continuance of the series with Notre Dame. Not on an annual basis, which doesn't suit either school, but never in my mind has there been any thought of a permanent rupture."

Blaik pointed out that in these streamlined times scheduling is done five and six years in advance. "If we had known a few months ago that the Air Force Academy was pulling out on us after next year, something might have been worked out for an earlier renewal with Notre Dame. As it stands now, Notre Dame is booked through 1964."

We reminded him that some sources said it was he, Blaik, who pulled out on the Air Force Academy. The story had broken just after the Air Force team played Iowa to a stunning tie.

Disdaining the implication, Blaik said it might help to clear the atmosphere if he explained precisely what happened to the Army- Air Force Academy series.

"They were certain their team would be ready for major competition by next year," he said. "It so happens they're ready this year, with Ben Martin doing an outstanding coaching job. But the Air Force Academy was the aggressor in wanting to play Army and we agreed to give them the sixth Saturday every fall right through 1962.

"This was set up under the old regime at the Air Force Academy and, or so we thought, subscribed to by the new commanding general, Buster Briggs. But under no conditions were we to play out there in the rarfied air of Denver. That stipulation was put on paper.

The first game is at the Point next year, and the following year it was to have been played in Soldier Field, Chicago. The Air Force people picked the site.

"So, all of a sudden," Blaik continued,' "they insisted on a home-and-home arrangement. We had to refuse. Out to show our good will, we made them a large guarantee-the largest we've ever made and invited them to come to the Point in 1960 with an identical guarantee."

Blaik shook his head. "They wouldn't go along," he said. "They fled off the series."


The insistence on playing Army every other year in Denver proved very puzzling to all hands at West Point in view of the fact that, just the other day, the Air Force Academy signed a unique nine-year pact to play in the Cotton Bowl once per season.

Blaiks refusal to take the Army team into high-level combat is a set policy. The Army Athletic Association has on file medical surveys which prove that change from low to high altitudes has an adverse effect on athletes if there is no period of acclamation. Because of the rigid academic schedule, Army just have time to make any lengthy adjustment.

It works just the opposite for athletes coming down to lower altitudes, the surveys show. Heavy air acts like a booster shot. Blaik has had some personal experience with rarefied air. He once played and coached a Fort Bliss cavalry post team in the high part of west Texas. "Never did get my second wind," he said. Then there was the suffering of a great Randolph Field club, which included Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis--It went to Mexico City and was clobbered, 60-0, by a U. of Mexico eleven. Doc and Glenn never did catch their breath, nor anything else.

Anyway, the defection of the Air Force Academy from the original agreement left Blaik in a spot. It seems the Department of Army insists that the colossal Cadets show their wares in all sections of the country, and the gap resulting from the Air Force runout has proved most embarrassing. In fact, for 1960, Blaik has hustled up a game with Miami of Ohio, his Alma Mater.

As Army's annual gridiron slate is set up, five games are played at West Point. Navy is opponent No. 6 and Air Force was to be No. 7. The other three dates are reserved for contests in the hinter- lands to fulfill the Department of the Army edict. Top Stories