- A Team for America, the Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation at War by Randy Roberts
Did a single football game lift American morale in the final six months of World War II? One might think so after reading Randy Roberts' A Team for America. That team, after all, was Army or West Point, which went undefeated in 1944 and vanquished its toughest foes, Notre Dame and the Naval Academy. Roberts has converted the Army-Navy game into a metaphor for America's victory in World War II. The story begins when Coach Red Blaik arrives at West Point less than a year before America's entry into World War II. Blaik takes over a team demoralized by a 1-7-1 season and humiliated by shutouts by Notre Dame and Navy. Over the next three years he builds a football machine, not unlike the massive American military buildup. Like the country itself, he has by 1944 an experienced squad that is loaded with talent, a gridiron reflection of the American military colossus that came ashore at Normandy on June 5, 1944. After crushing every opponent, Army finally defeats Navy in a much-heralded contest.
Roberts sprinkles his narrative with details of civilian and military life from pre-Pearl Harbor America to the regimented and rationed war years. He uses interviews, newspaper accounts, memoirs, and biographies to sketch the backgrounds, personalities, and on-field images of the most colorful, talented, and sometimes savage players. It was "no ordinary time," in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, a heroic environment that called for outsized personalities and talents. Not to say that academic life at the Academy was a pushover for the football elite, who were expected to master the same math and science as the non-playing cadets.
How did Blaik assemble arguably the best team in Army's history? The war cleared a path that led the best football talent to West Point. A majority of Blaik's players had already spent a year playing college football before transferring to West Point. As long as they were going to join the military, they might as well have a degree from a military academy. As a result, Amy and Navy had a huge advantage—and Blaik's coaching skills helped to mold Army's raw talent into a gridiron juggernaut. Roberts guides the reader into this anomaly of dynasty building as if it were a normal result of four-year turnabout. Others might liken Army in 1944 to a college football all-star team, an atypical team in an abnormal era.
Roberts organizes his book chronologically around the football seasons from 1940 to 1944. Though Army football and its players predominate, Roberts also incorporates the highlights of life in America during the war years. A Team for America does not offer new interpretations other than the Army-Navy game's being a transcending sports event. However, [End Page 506] the detailed account of wartime America makes the book ideal for assignments in survey classes in American history or, for that matter, classes in the history of sport. World War II, like other wars, brought about significant changes in sports as in other areas of American life. Postwar Army teams continued to be powerful in the next decade-and-a-half (in spite of the 1951 cheating scandal that briefly enfeebled football at West Point).
Was the Army-Navy contest, to paraphrase the book's title, "a game for America?" Certainly, for football fans or those in Army uniforms, this game had both personal and symbolic meaning. Of course, just as West Point gets the glory, the Naval Academy provides the foil for Blaik's heroic team. Arguably the Navy was playing a more critical role in the Pacific. When Roberts fades to a combat theater, he finds former Army players, often in Europe. If the 1944 Army-Navy game "rallied" a nation at war, one has difficulty hearing the voices of thousands of naval personnel and...