"YOU HAVE TO PAY THE PRICE" By Earl H.Blaik with Tim Cohane. Illustrated. 430 pp. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. $4.95.
By John R. Tunis
This is far from the usual ghosted job of an athletic star who never sees the book until printed. It is the interesting life of a vital American. Col. Earl "Red" Blaik, coached intercollegiate football thirty four years, twenty-five as head coach at Dartmouth and West Point. During that quarter of a century, his teams were on top or close to it every autumn.
Colonel Blaik states extremely well the case for big time winning football, as well as the purpose and values of the sport for those who believe in it. He suffered when his teams took the field, died a hundred deaths when they lost. Certainly he was one of the greatest football coaches since Knute Rockne of Notre Dame.
What kind of man is he, this Scotsman? He is a complex human being, honorable, intelligent, a worker who always began the season by calling a coaches meeting at 8 in the morning on New Year's Day. He does not trim in this book his strong likes and dislikes, and isn't in the least afraid to express them - - thus he contain his enthusiasm for Frank Pace Jr., one-time Secretary of the Army, now Chairman Of General Dynamics; Gen. Lawton Collins, formerly Chief of Staff; President Franklin D. Roosevelt; military analyst Hanson Baldwin; besides various critics of football such as historian Henry Steele Commanger, Robert M. Hutchins, former president of the University of Chicago, and Yale's president A. Whitney Griswold.
Whom does he like? The majority of sportswriters, above all Stanley Woodward of The New York Herald Tribune, and Arthur Sampson of Boston, once a coach and now "one of the truly ranking sports experts in America." He likes Ernest M. Hopkins, former president of Dartmouth; Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a friend of old Army days; and, above all, his coaches, principally those who followed him from Hanover to West Point.
For all his players and for his great stars: Felix "Doc " Blanchard, Glen Davis, Bill Carpenter, Don Holleder and Pete Dawkins among others, he shows great affection. The ninety cadets expelled from West Point for cheating in 1951, were, he believes, scapegoats.
Colonel Blaik does not enjoy losing and has no use for a good loser. Coaching football, he believes, is a thinking job. He calls it "violent chew." Nobody should coach after 50 is his conviction, and this is one reason he resigned as head coach of the Army in 1959.
In this book he seems to be an undertaking, conservative and rather humorless cavalry officer. Then you read along and wonder. He concurred entirely in the decision to break relations with Notre Dame, feeling the game had got out of hand.
As chairman of a committee to investigate plebe hazing at West Point, he managed to abolish the custom of forcing cadets to do splits on the point of a bayonet. He stopped the punishment of refusing food to cadets, but reports that as late as 1959, this abuse was still prevalent.
Although occasionally he betrays a kind of army stuffiness, he continually surprises the reader. When it came time to change from the single-wing to the modem T formation, he did so without hesitation. He improved football with new ideas and techniques, among them the lonely end--one of the few really novel formations introduced for some time.
The book could have stood considerable trimming and cutting of the description of games, and even a West Pointer and a devout football fan like President Eisenhower will bog down over details of the Army-Michigan game of 1949, but the picture of an individual comes through sharp and clear.
To win, Blaik worked hard, long and late every day all year. Vacations he did not know. He makes this single-mindedness of purpose, this devotion to the ideal of victory seem admirable, and he is a successful exponent of that ideal. But is it a coincidence that as competition in a business society has invaded every aspect of our national life from kindergarten to the grave, the population of our mental clinics and hospitals has grown by leaps and bounds?
One might as well expect Chris Chataway or Herb Elliott to run a six-minute mile as expect an American to regard a loser with anything save pity and contempt. Colonel Blaik has paid the price for victory. Only in his deep heart can he say whether or not the price was high.
A veteran sports writer, Mr. Tunis critically surveyed the state of athletics in "The American Way in Sport."
(A note from RABBLE: Please note the price of Blaik's book at the time
of publication in 1960 - - $4.95. Imagine buying a sports book today with 430 pages of text for that price. Times they have a-changed, havn't they?)