When retired Navy aviator Thomas J. Hudner Jr. walks toward midfield at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday afternoon for the coin toss to start the 111th Army-Navy game, the 2010 Navy cocaptains accompanying him will both be African Americans.
Wyatt Middleton and Ricky Dobbs will make a fitting honor guard for Hudner, an 86-year-old Medal of Honor recipient whose remarkable life has intersected on at least two historic occasions with black pioneers of the U.S. Navy.
In 1945, at the start of Hudner's final year there, Wesley Brown arrived at Annapolis. Four years later, Brown became the first African American to graduate from the Naval Academy.
Then, on a snowy and bloody afternoon in 1950, despite fierce enemy fire and 30-below temperatures, Hudner somehow landed his plane on a tiny patch of Korean mountainside in an effort to save a downed pilot, Jesse Brown of Hattiesburg, Miss., the Navy's first black aviator.
"I wasn't going to leave him there," said Hudner of that day. "What I had to do was clear."
Sixty-five years after Hudner made his first visit to Philadelphia for the 1945 Army-Navy game (the wartime games had been played on the service academies' campuses and in Baltimore), he will return to renew old friendships and, along with five other Medal of Honor recipients, participate in the pregame ceremony.
"I guess the boys need some advice from me," Hudner joked Thursday before traveling here from his Massachusetts home.
Philadelphia and the world are different places. So is the Naval Academy, where today 22 percent of the brigade of midshipmen is African American.
But the game-day scene in South Philadelphia that Hudner, the only living Naval Academy grad with a Medal of Honor, will experience hasn't changed much since he sat in Municipal Stadium's stands in 1945 watching his No. 2-ranked Midshipmen lose "the Game of the Century" to Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard, and No. 1 Army.
"Oh God," he said, "those were some great games."
At 145 pounds, Hudner never rose above junior-varsity football at Navy. Later, though, he would outshine all the varsity, all his classmates.
Aiming for the sky Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown were born 1,250 miles apart in two different worlds.
While Brown (no relation to Wesley), a sharecropper's son, attended blacks-only schools in Jim Crow Mississippi, Hudner, the white son of a prosperous Fall River businessman, went to prestigious Phillips Academy before entering Annapolis.
But Brown persevered. The salutatorian of his Eureka High School class, he likely never considered the Naval Academy. As of 1944, only five African Americans had ever enrolled there and, having endured various indignities, none had made it beyond their first year.
Brown rejected the advice of those who pointed him toward a small black school and picked Ohio State. That was the alma mater of his idol, Olympic legend Jesse Owens.
Hudner, meanwhile, after graduation from Annapolis in 1946 (study then was compacted into three years; he, technically, is in the Class of 1947), had various assignments at sea and on land, none of which terribly interested him. He was aiming for the sky.
In 1948, he applied for and was accepted at the Naval flight-training school in Pensacola, Fla.
Brown, who had been fascinated by the planes he watched fly over the field his family farmed, also dreamed of being a pilot. At Ohio State, he joined the Navy Reserve.
But the military's segregated walls had not yet crumbled, and he was rejected repeatedly, advised by some that "no [black men] would ever pass the test," his widow, Daisy, once told a Hattiesburg newspaper.
Finally, after graduation and World War II, Brown was enrolled in flight school at Ottumwa, Iowa. Six hundred men, all but one white, began the training session. Only six, including Brown, successfully completed it. In 1949, the year after President Harry S. Truman issued an order desegregating the military, Brown was commissioned a Navy ensign.
Both Brown and Hudner ended up with Fighter Squadron 32 in the Korean conflict. Though Hudner, as a lieutenant junior grade, had a higher rank, Brown had more experience, and the Mississippi farmhand soon had the Naval Academy grad as his wingman.
They became friends and flew numerous missions together, Section Cmdr. Brown receiving the Air Medal for his role in successful raids on Wonsan, Songjin, and Sinanju.
Then, on Dec. 4, 1950, the two were part of a formation of eight F4U Corsairs on a reconnaissance mission near the Chosin Reservoir. An American force of 15,000 Marines battled 100,000 Chinese and North Korean troops there. Planes from the USS Leyte were called in for support.
"We didn't have set targets, but we'd destroy what we'd find," said Hudner. "We were flying pretty low that day, low enough to see people on the ground, and we had to be concerned with the mountains."
Enemy flak hit several of the planes. One round apparently struck Brown's fuel line, and, flying at an altitude of only 1,000 feet, he went into a crash dive.
Nosing into the rocky terrain, the plane slammed into a mountainside. His squadron mates circled back to survey the scene, fearing Brown, 24, had perished. Suddenly, one of them said he'd seen the downed pilot waving.
A rescue helicopter was summoned. Hudner knew that would take time and a pilot trapped in an aircraft that appeared to be burning didn't have much of that.
"I'm going in," Hudner radioed his commander.
He dumped his plane's fuel, circled the spot a few times and, with artillery fire all around and his wheels up, slammed his own plane into the rocks, trees, and snow with a jarring thump.
"I wouldn't have landed that way if I hadn't known the helicopter was coming," Hudner said.
He could see smoke coming from the rear of Brown's Corsair. The pilot was trapped in the cockpit.
"He was alive, but badly hurt," Hudner recalled. "I couldn't get him out of the cockpit. His right leg was crushed and entangled in metal and instruments."
Without an extinguisher and fearing the fire would soon spread, Hudner packed snow around the cockpit as a makeshift fire wall. He put his knit hat and scarf on Brown's icy body but couldn't extricate his friend.
The helicopter arrived with the ax Hudner had requested. The men chopped futilely at the steel wreckage.
"It was late afternoon, and the light was fading. The helicopter couldn't fly at night. We talked about using a knife to cut off Jesse's entrapped leg," Hudner said. "But neither of us really could have done it. It was obvious Jesse was dying. He was beyond help at that point.
"We had to leave. We had no choice. I was devastated emotionally."
A day later, four planes flew over Brown's downed aircraft and napalmed the charred remains.
"Back on the ship, our captain wanted to try to retrieve the body," Hudner said. "But the terrain was too bad, and there were too many enemy soldiers in the area. So to make sure nothing would be done to Jesse's body, he ordered the napalm."
Still feel the cold Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1972, with a soon-to-retire Hudner on board, the Navy christened a new Knox-class frigate the USS Jesse L. Brown, the first time an African American had been so honored.
On April 13, 1951, Hudner had the Medal of Honor draped around his neck by Truman in a White House ceremony that included Brown's widow. He spent 30 years in the Navy, serving as, among other things, the chief executive officer on the USS Kitty Hawk.
The citation that accompanied his medal tells the story as well today as then.
"Quickly maneuvering to circle the downed pilot and protect him from enemy troops infesting the area, Lt. (J.G.) Hudner risked his life to save the injured flier who was trapped alive in the burning wreckage. Fully aware of the extreme danger in landing on the rough mountainous terrain and the scant hope of escape or survival in subzero temperature, he put his plane down skillfully in a deliberate wheels-up landing in the presence of enemy troops. . . . He then remained on the spot despite the continuing danger from enemy action and, with the assistance of the rescue pilot, renewed a desperate but unavailing battle against time, cold, and flames."
Tom Hudner can still feel the cold, still see the flames. Time has not helped him forget.
"It's been 60 years," he said. "And not a day goes by that I don't think of that day. And Jesse."
Like Christmas sales and shortened days, the Army-Navy game is an early December fixture.
The colorful event, to be contested for the 109th time this afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, has been played in all but five of the last 100 Decembers.
World War I canceled it in 1917 and 1918. The 1928 and 1929 games never took place because of institutional disagreements over eligibility rules.
In each of those cases, however, it was understood that the annual football meeting of military academies one day would be resumed.
That wasn't the case in the other year without an Army-Navy game.
The 1909 contest was scrapped because of death. Or rather deaths.
Before the smoke cleared, and football's rules were drastically reworked, it appeared it wasn't just the future of Army-Navy that was in jeopardy. It was all of college football, a sport Stanford president David Starr Wilson would call "rugby's American pervert."
In an Oct. 30, 1909, game against Harvard, Cadet tackle Eugene Byrne suffered a paralyzing back injury that killed him within days. Army immediately scrapped the remainder of its 1909 schedule, including the Navy game.
Navy officials had pondered the same action two weeks earlier.
On Oct. 16, in an 11-6 loss to Villanova, Midshipman quarterback Earl Wilson was paralyzed by a soon-to-be-outlawed flying-wedge tackle. He would die in April.
Those deaths - and that of Virginia halfback Archer Christian in November - reenergized the public outcry against football. While it turned out that Army and Navy never had any doubts about their game's resumption, there were fears that football might be finished.
It was saved in May 1910, when a special committee headed by the presidents of Harvard, Yale and Princeton revamped the sport's rules.
They effectively banned the flying wedge - packs of sprinting players catapulting themselves toward their opponents' weakest point - by mandating seven-man lines and four-man backfields. Pulling, pushing and interlocking holds by teammates were outlawed. Kickoffs now had to travel at least 10 yards. To alleviate weariness, the two 15-minute halves were replaced by four 10-minute quarters.
The desired result was achieved. The game opened up. Those menacing masses of players that had wreaked such physical havoc vanished. Deaths and serious injuries decreased.
But nothing could bring back Byrne, Wilson or Christian.
Col. John Byrne had never been so afraid as when he looked down at his motionless son.
Byrne had seen death. He'd been a Civil War commander, police chief of Buffalo, and now was that city's most prominent private detective. Eight years earlier, he'd been the man in charge of security at the Pan-American Exposition when President William McKinley was assassinated there.
But this was his son.
That afternoon of Oct. 30 1909, Eugene "Icy" Byrne, a 23-year-old Army tackle and the team's acting captain, had gone down on a running play midway through the second half, with the Cadets trailing Harvard, 9-0.
Teammates couldn't stir him. By the time Army's team physician, W.J. Hanna, reached the fallen player, Byrne was the color of fireplace ash.
"I can't move," the frightened young man told the doctor, according to an account in the Buffalo News.
Col. Byrne, then in his late 60s, had climbed a fence and hurried to the crowd forming near his fallen son. West Point's superintendent, Col. Hugh L. Scott, and its commandant, Gen. F.W. Sibley, were there as well.
After 15 minutes, Byrne was placed on a stretcher and taken to the academy's hospital. The game was ended.
"We cannot tell at this time whether the injury will prove fatal," Hanna said.
Days later, Byrne was dead. In December, his father died of a stroke.
Some blamed his death on the flying wedge. Others, like University of Chicago president Harry Judson, suggested it was due to Army's relative lack of practice.
"Army players are under the disadvantage of having only about one hour a day to devote to gridiron work," Judson said, according to a 1909 New York Times story. "At Chicago University the men are out several hours a day and we have never had any fatal accidents."
That reasoning didn't slow the criticism.
"Does the public need any more proof," wrote the Washington Post, "that football is a brutal, savage, murderous sport? Is it necessary to kill many more promising young men before the game is revised or stopped altogether?"
The answer was yes.
On. Nov. 13, as his Virginia team played Georgetown, halfback Christian suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage trying to burst through the line.
Then, in mid-April, Navy's Wilson succumbed to the paralyzing neck injury he'd suffered against Villanova.
Like Army, Virginia and Georgetown canceled the rest of their seasons after the fatal injuries. Navy did not, finishing the 1909 season at 4-3-1.
By 1910, the rules revision had quelled the public's distaste for football.
"The adoption ... eliminated the cruder versions of nineteenth-century football and established the groundwork for a sleeker, faster, wide-open game," football historian John Watterson wrote in American Heritage magazine.
As it turned out, despite the deaths of Byrne and Wilson, the two military academies had no intention of missing another Army-Navy game.
Citing correspondence between academy officials, the New York Times on Dec. 2, 1909, reported that "there is no doubt the game will be played next year whether the rules are modified or not."
On Nov. 26, 1910, Franklin Field was packed with spectators for whom the deaths of the previous fall were an increasingly faded memory.
In the first of three consecutive shutout wins, Navy defeated Army, 3-0.
In 1955, he had been the improbable quarterback in Army's improbable upset of Navy. Twelve years later, heading into a Vietnamese jungle, into the smoky heart of a battle he did not have to join, Maj. Donald W. Holleder was running again.
"I couldn't keep up with him," recalled Tom "Doc" Hinger, an Army medic during that bloody October 1967 clash with North Vietnamese regulars in Ong Thanh. "His legs were churning. He just looked back and yelled, 'C'mon, Doc, there's wounded in there. Let's go get them.' "
Hinger, who had retrieved several injured colleagues already, got close enough to the powerfully built officer to see a sniper's bullet fell him. The medic lifted Holleder's head into his arms and watched the big man die. The father of four young daughters was 33.
Saturday afternoon's Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field will mark the 50th anniversary of that 14-6 Cadets victory that Holleder led and inspired. That game and his heroic death have combined to make Holleder, little known beyond West Point, an Army legend.
His name, which can be found on an Arlington National Cemetery gravestone and on Panel 28, Row 25, of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, lives on elsewhere, too. The military academy's athletic center bears his name. So does a plaque in the National Football Foundation's Hall of Fame. And the Army football team's Black Lion Award, presented earlier this week to backup tailback Scott Wesley, honors Holleder and the Black Lions of the Second Battalion who died along with him that distant day.
There is resonance in his story because his final moments - ordering his helicopter pilot to land, jumping from the craft and sprinting toward his wounded colleagues - so closely mirrored the attributes he displayed on the football field that season a half-century ago.
"People just expected Don Holleder to excel," said Jim Shelton, a retired Army major who served with him in Vietnam and scrimmaged against him at West Point as a Delaware linebacker. "And he expected the same thing of himself."
Tall, handsome, a three-sport star at Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y., crew-cut Don Holleder was an all-American boy and an all-American end for a 7-2 Army team that had the nation's leading offense in 1954. But quarterback Pete Vann was gone in 1955 and coach Earl "Red" Blaik needed a replacement. He turned, almost inexplicably, to Holleder.
The 6-foot-2 200-pounder had never played in the backfield. He understood that the switch would cost him his all-American status and expose him and his coach to criticism. But, after sleeping on Blaik's unusual proposal, Holleder agreed.
"He understood self-sacrifice," said Hugh Wyatt, a high school football coach in Camas, Wash., who once was the personnel director for the World Football League's Philadelphia Bell and who conceived the idea for the Black Lion Award. "In Vietnam and on the field he was willing to do whatever was best for his team."
The criticism came. Heading into the season-ending Nov. 26 game with Navy, Army was a disappointing 5-3. Blaik was ridiculed for the peculiar move and Holleder, who threw just 63 passes the entire season, completing only 22, was labeled one-dimensional.
Holleder himself heard fellow Cadets criticizing his play and even Lt. Gen. Blackshear Bryan, the academy superintendent, made it a point to tell Blaik how much heat he was getting over the quarterback.
"He couldn't throw," Shelton recalled. "He would just roll left or roll right and run it himself. But he was a load to bring down. Tackling him was like trying to tackle a horse."
He was someone, as author David Maraniss noted in his book, They Marched Into Sunlight, which focuses on that 1967 Vietnam battle, "people either loved or hated."
But Blaik demanded and prized toughness above all else. He stuck with his tough QB.
"Holleder was a natural athlete, big, strong, quick, smart, aggressive, a competitor," Blaik wrote in his 1960 autobiography. "I knew he could learn to handle the ball well and to call the plays properly. Most important, I knew he would provide... leadership."
Navy, with a 6-1-1 record and the nation's top passer, future Midshipmen coach George Welsh, was a clear favorite when they arrived in Philadelphia.
The night before the game, Blaik gathered his team at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel and told them he was wearying of those long postgame walks to shake hands with winning coaches.
"That walk tomorrow, before 100,000 people, to congratulate [Navy coach] Eddie Erdelatz would be the longest walk I've ever taken in my coaching life," he said.
There was silence in the room. Then Holleder spoke. "Colonel," he said, "you're not going to have to make that walk."
No one in a Municipal Stadium crowd of 102,000 - President Eisenhower didn't come, but Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was among the spectators who arrived in Philadelphia for the game - was surprised when the Midshipmen took the opening kickoff and drove 76 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
Holleder and Army couldn't do anything offensively and Navy looked to add to its advantage. But it was Holleder - in those days of no-platoon football, the offense played defense, too - who kept them from doing so.
He knocked down a fourth-down pass to end one Navy drive and forced a fumble at Army's 13 to stop another.
In the second half, with Holleder now running the ball and confidently directing the offense, Army scored twice to take a 14-6 lead that held up.
Afterward, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was so ecstatic that he sent a gushing telegram to Blaik.
"No victory the Army has won in its long years of fierce football struggles has ever reflected a greater spirit of raw courage, of invincible determination, of masterful strategic planning and resolute practical execution."
A week later Holleder became the only quarterback to appear on Sports Illustrated's cover after a game in which he failed to throw a single completion. One of his two passes was intercepted, and the other should have been.
After graduating in 1956, Holleder went on to an outstanding career as an infantry officer.
On Oct. 17, 1967, as he sat in a helicopter helplessly observing the closing stages of a North Vietnamese ambush that would kill 58 Americans, Holleder was, in Maraniss' words, "an untamed mustang."
He badgered his commanding officer until Holleder finally got permission to land. The major leapt from the chopper, grabbed a .45 pistol and some nearby soldiers, including Hinger, and made for the bloody jungle.
"He was running hell-bent when automatic-weapons fire got him," said Hinger, who like Shelton is retired and living near Sarasota, Fla. "Then, a moment or so later, he died in my arms. It's funny, I only knew Don Holleder for about two minutes. But that was long enough to know what kind of man he was."
The Lonesome End is still alone, flanked out now on the edge of America, in a remote log house that abuts Montana's Glacier National Park.
Bill Carpenter won't be coming home for tomorrow's 107th Army-Navy game.
Even though the retired Army general grew up here, remains one of the storied series' most memorable participants, and is a military legend to boot, it's been years since he's returned for one of these annual football spectacles.
Friends and Army officials have tried to persuade him, regularly prodding the 69-year-old graduate of Springfield High (Delaware County) to reconnect with his alma mater.
They've told him that Cadets, Iraq veterans, and plain old retirees would love to see the 1959 all-American whose pass-catching skills and gridiron isolation landed him on magazine covers and made him one of that simpler era's more intriguing sports icons.
They've pointed out that the man a colleague once called "the finest officer-leader this country has produced since the Korean War," the Vietnam hero who during a fierce jungle battle in 1966 ordered an air bombardment atop his own position, ought to be present when the Corps of Cadets marches into Lincoln Financial Field.
But just as he stood apart from his teammates in that revolutionary formation Col. Earl Blaik devised for those long-ago Army teams, Carpenter continues to stand alone.
"Bill has always marched to his own drummer," said Bob Anderson, an Army teammate. "I'm probably his best friend, and yet when people have asked me to explain him, I can't. I have no idea."
Anderson, who was Carpenter's initial West Point roommate, asked his friend last year to attend a reunion of their 1958 team. He declined.
Earlier this year, Skip Werley, the ex-Springfield High athletic director who has become a close friend, wanted Carpenter to meet him in South Bend, Ind., for the Army-Notre Dame game since members of his 1959 team, the last to beat the Irish, were gathering there.
"He didn't want to go," recalled Werley, who visits Carpenter every year or two in Montana. "He's a little down on Army. He looks at Air Force and Navy and the success they've had in football and wonders why Army can't do the same thing."
Carpenter shuns attention, turning down an interview request for this story and countless others in the years since his playing career ended with a 43-17 loss to Navy at Municipal Stadium on Nov. 28, 1963.
Since he retired as a three-star general 16 years ago, he and his wife, Toni, have lived in isolated Whitefish, Mont. Whitefish, however, has become a popular tourist destination, and, friends say, he's considering a move deeper into Montana's woods.
"He's not a hermit," Werley said. "He just doesn't like the limelight."
He hikes, fishes and canoes. His children and grandchildren sometimes visit, and occasionally an old friend from West Point or Springfield will journey to his five-acre homesite.
Every few months, with no warning to anyone, he hops in his pickup and drives the 2,000 miles back to Delaware County, where he was one of the 1950s' most accomplished and versatile athletes. He visits his mother, Helen Dunn, at Dunwoody, a Newtown Square retirement community, and then just as quickly, and just as quietly, retreats.
If his solitude on the gridiron added an element of mystery to his football talents, Carpenter's continued isolation has only enhanced the aura that engulfs him in military circles.
"Everyone knew about the Lonesome End and the hero of Dak To," one of his former commanders, retired Col. Terry Roche, told Sports Illustrated a decade ago. "He walked in the back of the room with his fatigue uniform on, and this silence fell across the room. Everybody turned around."
William Stanley Carpenter Jr. was born in 1937 in Woodbury, Gloucester County.
Anyone who doubts the role destiny played in his life need only view one of the first photos taken of the boy.
In it, the tiny towhead is smiling widely, fighting determinedly with his hands and mouth to hold on to a football that is nearly as large as he.
The picture was taken by his namesake father. A few years later, Bill Carpenter Sr. would be killed by a German bullet during the final month of World War II.
"One summer Bill and I traveled around Germany and Holland with my brother," Anderson said. "He wanted to visit the cemetery where his dad was buried. My brother and I started to get out of the car with him, and he stopped us. He asked us not to go.
"I think he was bitter about his dad's death. I think it made him want to join the Army and kill someone."
Since football and West Point were what his father wanted for him, those wishes became the son's.
Carpenter's mother eventually remarried, and they relocated to leafy Springfield. Since his step-dad, Cliff Dunn, was the comptroller at the Philadelphia Navy Base, the boy, already obsessed with the military, got to attend several Army-Navy games during the rivalry's heyday in the 1940s and early 1950s.
At Springfield High, the 6-foot-3, blond, blue-eyed teenager was the quintessential all-American boy. In 1955, senior classmates voted Carpenter "best looking" and "most athletic." He starred on the basketball court. He ran the 100-yard dash in 9.9 seconds as a track star. And he was a hotly recruited, all-county running back on the Cougars' football team.
He excelled at everything but baseball," Werley said. "He didn't care for it. Thought it was boring, too slow."
Carpenter was traveling full speed by the time he graduated. He enrolled at Manlius Pebble Hill School, a military prep institution, and a year later entered West Point.
His first two seasons there were solid but unspectacular. Then, at 4 a.m. on a summer morning in 1958, Blaik awoke with an idea. The Army coach jotted it down on the notepad he always kept on the nightstand.
"In those days, the hash marks were wider apart," recalled Anderson, who was the Cadets' starting tailback. "For a flanker like Bill, it was 20 yards into the huddle and 20 yards back. Col. Blaik decided that was a lot of wear and tear on maybe his best athlete. So he formulated a plan to keep him out there even during huddles."
Blaik tagged the position "The Lonely End." Sportswriters altered it to "The Lonesome End." Whatever it was called, the position seemed made for Carpenter.
He got his signals from quarterback Joe Caldwell. If Caldwell's left foot was forward, it was a running play. If it was his right foot, a pass was coming. There were only six pass routes, and Caldwell indicated which it would be by touching something - his belt buckle, his helmet, his knee pad.
"Simple, but no one ever figured it out," Anderson said.
Carpenter caught a school-record 22 passes in 1958 as Army earned a No. 3 ranking and beat Navy, 22-6. A year later, with Blaik replaced by Dale Hall, the Cadets were a struggling 4-4-1. But Carpenter, the captain and by now a national phenomenon as much for his unusual position as his talents, had 43 receptions for 591 yards, Army records that lasted 21 years.
Maybe his most remarkable athletic accomplishment took place after his final football season had ended. Army's lacrosse coach, aware of Carpenter's formidable mix of size, strength and speed, asked him if he'd ever played the sport.
Though Carpenter hadn't, he agreed to give it a try. After his one and only lacrosse season, he was named an all-American.
The NFL's Colts, knowing he was destined for an Army career, drafted him anyway. The Oakland Raiders of the fledgling AFL also tried to sign him. But, except for a stint with a base team at Fort Campbell, Carpenter was done with football.
"Mr. Outside" picked up speed descending the steps in his Berwyn home, lowered his shoulder as he passed into the family room, cut right to avoid a coffee table, and spun left when a leather recliner came into view.
Then the 76-year-old man many still consider college football's greatest running back dropped the cumbersome Heisman Trophy he had been lugging like a slippery pigskin onto a table and, slightly winded, sank gratefully into his chair.
"There you go," said Glenn Davis, apparently as satisfied with that delivery as after any of the 59 touchdowns he recorded in a legendary West Point career.
Six decades ago, when America was at war, Davis was a fair-haired speedster who seemed to embody the best of military commitment and homefront diversion.
This weekend, with the nation again at war, sending young men into battle in response to the first attack on U.S. soil since World War II, Davis will be an honored guest at the 102d Army-Navy game, in Philadelphia. Most of his time will be spent, as it always is at these tradition-laden clashes of military academies, with countless Army grads and fans approaching him for autographs, photos, or simply stories from the old days.
Some time will also be spent telling the story of three Heismans.
That trophy-lugging journey from an upstairs bedroom earlier this week might have given Davis, the three-time all-American who averaged an astounding 11.7 yards a carry in 1944, one last unbeatable record.
After all, how many times has one Heisman winner carried a Heisman Trophy belonging to his wife's first husband past the photo of a stepdaughter who is married to the brother of yet a third Heisman recipient?
Still a triple threat after all these years.
"Around here," said Davis' wife, Yvonne, "if someone mentions the Heisman Trophy, you have to ask which one."
This peculiar convergence of Heisman Trophies was born, not surprisingly, at a Heisman Family Night banquet in 1995.
In a New York City ballroom, Davis, the 1946 Heisman winner, met Yvonne Ameche, the widow of Alan "The Horse" Ameche, who had won the award given to the nation's top collegian as a Wisconsin running back in 1954.
Ameche, who settled in the Philadelphia area shortly after he and Baltimore teammate Gino Marchetti founded the fast-food chain Gino's in the early 1960s, had died during heart surgery in 1988.
A year after their Heisman meeting, Davis and Ameche's widow married. That made him the stepfather of Ameche's children, one of whom, Cathy, was married to Michael Cappelletti. Cappelletti's brother, John, captured the 1973 Heisman while at Penn State.
"When you think of how few Heisman winners there have been, it's remarkable that three wound up in one family," Yvonne Davis said.
Davis seems more interested in talking about the three Heismans than in talking about his own career.
"Oh, I'm sure it [his career] will come up again [at the Army-Navy game]," Davis said. "It always seems to."
Even now, 55 years after his final Army-Navy game, 50 years after the last time he sped past befuddled defenses, Davis is reluctant to talk about his accomplishments. Retired, splitting time among homes in Berwyn, Stone Harbor, and La Quinta, Calif., he would rather golf than discuss himself.
"In all the years Glenn played football, he was never caught from behind," his wife said.
"Oh my gosh!" Davis blurted out in obvious embarrassment. "Come on, Vonnie!"
He will enjoy this Army-Navy weekend as he does any reunion with West Point classmates. He will enjoy the game, too.
"The two schools are a little down now but it doesn't matter what level they're playing at. When you have two evenly matched teams, it usually produces a great game," he said.
There will be just one regret.
Doc Blanchard, the Army fullback whose name is forever linked with Davis' - "Mr. Inside" to his "Mr. Outside" - will not be there. Blanchard will be in San Antonio, Texas. Alone in the second-floor bedroom he occupies at his daughter's house.
"He lost his wife about five or six years ago and he kind of became a recluse," Davis said. "He's in good health, but he doesn't get out, doesn't attend reunions or anything like that anymore."
Davis' Army career was tinged with the kind of glamour and glory that few collegians, before or since, have enjoyed.
Sportswriters detailed the halfback's every move. Bobby-soxers, including a young Elizabeth Taylor, who later was briefly engaged to Davis, swooned over his Californian good looks. Records fell as easily as faked-out opponents.
Army compiled a 34-2-1 record in his four years there, going unbeaten and winning three national titles in Davis' final three seasons. He was a three-time all-American and won the Heisman in 1946 after finishing second the two previous years. A superb safety on defense, he averaged 58 minutes a game.
Davis' career rushing average of 8.26 yards a carry remains an NCAA record. He scored a touchdown nearly once every nine times he touched the ball, ran for 2,957 yards and caught passes for 855 more. If he had not played alongside a fellow Hall of Famer like Blanchard, those numbers would be significantly higher.
Even in choppy old films, the 5-9, 170-pounder looks to be performing at 78 RPMs in a 45-RPM world. His legs churn furiously, but his movement is swift and graceful.
His coach, the normally reserved Red Blaik, insisted Davis was "jet-propelled" and called him "emphatically the greatest halfback I ever knew."
Davis' story read like a movie script, which, in 1947's The Spirit of West Point, it eventually became.
Ironically, that 107-minute film chronicling the exploits of Davis and Blanchard might have cost Davis the opportunity to become a professional legend, too.
"There was this scene where I was supposed to catch a punt, go to the right, fake a handoff and then cut back to get away from tacklers. I wasn't warmed up or anything and when I cut, I tore the ligaments and cartilage," he said, rolling up his right pant leg to reveal a surgical scar and a misshapen joint that moved as if it had a mind of its own.
After his military obligation, he played two injury-marred seasons with the powerful Los Angeles Rams of 1950 and 1951 and retired. Suddenly, life settled into a more mundane routine.
Davis worked for 35 years as the special-events coordinator for the Los Angeles Times, using his sports connections to plan charitable events. He helped start an NFL all-star game - the Pro Bowl, they called it.
"I was a Southern California boy, and I guess I had a lot of contacts," he said.
Davis grew up on an orange grove in LaVerne, Calif. The fastest schoolboy anyone in Southern California had ever seen, the "California Flash" won 13 letters in basketball, football, baseball and track at Bonita High School.
Years later, when Bonita High built a new football stadium and named it in his honor, Davis donated his Heisman to the school.
"Just something I wanted to do," he said.
Now, when people ask him to pose with a Heisman trophy, he borrows Ameche's.
"Friends joke that not only does Glenn sleep in Alan's bed and drive his car, but now he uses his trophy," Yvonne Davis said, laughing.
Davis ran track at Army too, and no one could touch him in the 110- and 220-yard dashes. He competed in a 100-yard sprint once, his time of 9.6 not far off the world record. Promoters once arranged a 60-yard dash between him and Olympic sprinter Barney Ewell at Madison Square Garden. Davis won.
He could have gone to any college, but with a war raging, he and his twin brother, Ralph, decided on West Point. In August 1943, their mother handed them a bag of fried chicken and waved goodbye as a train pulled out of Los Angeles' Union Station on a four-day journey to New York. They would not see their parents again for more than a year.
"In those days," Davis said, "freshmen at West Point didn't leave the base for a year."
His first game was against Villanova, and he scored on a 4-yard run. Army continued to stockpile talent during the war until they were unbeatable, going 27-0-1 in Davis' final three years.
"It wasn't just me and Blanchard. We played with 14 all-Americans at Army," Davis said.
Navy was almost as good. Their wartime meetings on the first Saturday in December - two of Davis' took place at old Municipal Stadium in South Philadelphia, the others at West Point and Baltimore - became sporting events on a par with the World Series.
"We'd come to Philadelphia on Thursday, spend the night at some golf course out on the Main Line, and then come into town to practice on Friday," he recalled. "The president would be at the game. The stadium would be filled with 100,000 people. The noise was really something.
"I think Philadelphia is a perfect location for the game and now that we live here, I'd like to see it stay here."
He and Yvonne will attend the Army-Navy Gala Friday night, and on Saturday morning they will ride the Broad Street subway to Veterans Stadium. He will be pleased if people recognize him and talk about his playing days, but happier still if they want to discuss West Point.
"I've always said I'm more proud of graduating from West Point than of anything else I've ever done," he said.
And, on that point at least, there was no one else in the house who could say the same.
Army-Navy was bigger than anything else sports had to offer in 1944, the last time the two teams met in Baltimore.
Baseball's war-weakened 1944 World Series, by comparison, had featured a mediocre matchup of the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns. The NFL remained a tiny blip on America's radar screen. Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, and a lot of Joe Blows from professional sports were wearing military uniforms that December.
World War II patriotism mixed with normal sports fervor to create enormous interest in the Army-Navy football game. Nearly every American household had a personal connection to the military and, thus, a strong rooting interest.
Army-Navy will be played in Baltimore for the first time in 56 years tomorrow, leaving its traditional home in Philadelphia for a year. Things have changed in that time.
Baltimore has spent $15 million to turn the annual spectacle into a kind of mini-Super Bowl, while fans and tourists flock to the Inner Harbor for interactive experiences, pep rallies, parades, and tours of technology-loaded ships and helicopters. The game itself figures to be obscured by the hoopla.
The Army and Navy teams that met in Baltimore in 1944 were the top two teams in the nation. This year's teams have combined for a 1-19 record, the victory belonging to Army.
"To the national sports fan, Army-Navy just doesn't mean the same thing," said Bo Coppage, a former Navy athletic director, who played in the 1944 game.
The gap between the pageantry and the quality at the 2000 game is close to the reverse of the situation in 1944. Then it was the football and not the fanfare that fueled interest.
As its white-jerseyed players ran through snow flurries onto the field at Municipal Stadium that Dec. 2, Army was the No. 1 team in the nation. Navy, wearing blue jerseys, was No. 2. There were a total of nine first-team all-Americans on the two squads, whose talent levels had been enriched by World War II.
"People were lining up to get into the academies in those days," said Coppage, 76, now retired and living in Annapolis, Md., where the Naval Academy is located. "Both teams were remarkably deep in wonderful athletes."
Led by Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, Army had annihilated every opponent that season. It had steamrolled its last three opponents by a combined 204-7, beating Villanova by 83-0, Notre Dame by 59-0, and Penn by 62-7.
But Navy's defense, anchored by tackle Don Whitmire, had permitted fewer than 40 rushing yards a game. After losing two of three to start the season, the Midshipmen had won six straight.
Wartime travel restrictions had forced the 1942 and 1943 games to be moved from Philadelphia to the academies' campuses. The '44 game had been set for the Naval Academy, but when Army shockingly demolished Notre Dame on Nov. 11 and polls ranked the Cadets No. 1 and Navy No. 2, publicity-minded officials shifted the event to Municipal Stadium, just a long pass away from Annapolis.
The move to the much larger facility on Baltimore's 33d Street not only helped satisfy the public's interest in the game, it allowed government officials to sell more war bonds. Ticket-buyers among the 70,000 fans had to purchase a bond with every seat. By game's end, more than $58 million had been pledged. "You hear a lot of different reasons why that game was moved," said Coppage, who played tackle on both offense and defense. "But the real reason, I believe, was because of the war bonds. They thought, 'Hey, imagine how much we could sell at a game like like this.'
"That's what made the game so special. All schools had interested alumni, but for this game, you had the father of a [Navy] chief in Montana betting $50 on the outcome with the father of a corporal. I'll bet you nearly every radio in America was tuned in that day."
The 2,300 cadets traveled from West Point to Baltimore that week on a troop ship. Fearing the German U-boats that were suspected to be patrolling less than 100 miles off the East Coast, three destroyers surrounded the transport. Rough seas made the two-day journey hell on water for the land-based future officers.
"There were a lot of green faces over those gray uniforms," Coppage said.
Navy's 3,000 midshipmen, meanwhile, had to make just a short hop on a steamer across the Chesapeake Bay.
"We had gotten there the previous day, but the rest of the midshipmen got up early that Saturday and ferried over from Annapolis," Coppage said.
When they arrived, they marched through the streets of Baltimore toward the stadium. Once at the stadium, they filed past the usual assortment of admirals and generals, President Roosevelt's daughter Anna, and more than 250 disabled veterans occupying 50-yard-line seats.
Temperatures were in the 20s, and a 25-m.p.h. wind blew through the stadium. Players had difficulty gripping the ball at first, and the early play was sloppy.
Army's players appeared to target Whitmire immediately, and with five minutes remaining in a scoreless first half, he left the game with a damaged knee.
"I think Army definitely went after him, but then, again, everyone on both teams was going after everyone hard that day," Coppage said.
Two plays later, the Cadets' Dale Hill ran 20 yards for the game's first points. The score was 9-0 at halftime.
Navy's Clyde Scott scored in the third quarter to make it a 9-7 game, but a 9-yard touchdown run by Blanchard and a 50-yard TD run by Davis on a newly designed play - the "California Special" - gave Army its 23-7 victory.
Notre Dame coach Ed McKeever sat dumbfounded in his little office long after Army had annihilated his football team, 59-0, in 1944. Finally, composing himself, he jotted down the words of a telegram to be sent to a friend.
"Have just seen Superman in the flesh," it read. "He wears No. 35 on his Army jersey. His name is Felix 'Doc' Blanchard."
Blanchard, the powerful and speedy son of a South Carolina physician, was only a sophomore that afternoon. A year later, the 6-foot, 205-pound fullback who could run 100 yards in 10 seconds would become the first junior - and the first service academy player to win the Heisman Trophy.
Blanchard's Heisman victory not only helped kick off the golden era in Army-Navy football - the period from 1944 through 1963 - but it was only the first in that period for players from the two schools. Five players from Army and Navy took the award in those two decades. None has come close since.
West Point halfback Glenn Davis, Mr. Outside to Blanchard's Mr. Inside, won the Heisman in 1946; Rhodes scholar Pete Dawkins, an Army halfback, in 1958; tough Joe Bellino, a Navy halfback, in 1960; and Roger Staubach, a Navy quarterback, as a junior in 1963.
Despite Staubach's spotless reputation, both at Annapolis and when he starred for the Dallas Cowboys, the most gifted of the five was probably Davis, the lightning-quick halfback from Burbank, Calif.
Like Blanchard a three-time all-American, Davis rolled up 59 touchdowns and 4,129 yards rushing, receiving and passing as his West Point team went undefeated from 1944 through 1946. (Only a 0-0 tie with Notre Dame in 1946 kept the those Cadets from perfection.)
Davis, who also played defense and averaged 58 minutes a game, ran or threw for a TD every nine times he touched the ball. And in 1946, he averaged 11.7 yards a play - still an NCAA record.
In the 1946 Army-Navy game, one in which the heavily favored Cadets barely held on, 21-18, Davis scored on a 40-yard run, threw a 27-yard TD pass, and caught a 30-yard pass while racking up 265 yards of total offense.
"Davis, on his own, would have been a phenomenon," his West Point coach, Earl "Red" Blaik, said after Davis graduated. "But when you think that he was paired with Blanchard for all those years, you know why people say we will never see another tandem like that again."
Bellino and Dawkins won the Heisman in what, in retrospect, were down years in college football. Both were versatile, but neither compiled the statistics that Blanchard and Davis had.
In the Army-Navy game in 1960, in his senior year, Bellino ran for 88 yards, caught two passes and returned two kickoffs. After Army, trailing by 17-12, drove to the Navy 32 in the final two minutes, he saved the game by intercepting a pass by Frank Blanda and returning it 40 yards.
Dawkins, a heady runner and lefthanded passer for the undefeated Army team of '58, turned down a chance to play with the Baltimore Colts. He went to Oxford, became a brigadier general at 43, ran for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey (losing to Frank Lautenberg in 1988), and became a top executive with Travelers.
The old horseshoe stadium in South Philadelphia, with its 102,000 bottom-busting bench seats, dreadful sight lines, and no amenities, is gone. So, too, are many of the downtown hotels that, once a year, anyway, came to life with cocktail parties and full-dress soirees.
Instead of traveling in the plush boxcars that unloaded them at 30th Street or the B&O Station or at private sidings closer to Municipal Stadium, medal-laden generals and admirals will travel to this year's game in planes and limousines. And the Philadelphia blue bloods who once turned out in minks and tailored suits for the event are more likely to be in Palm Beach this time of year.
The Army-Navy football game, played for most of its existence in Philadelphia, is no longer the overwhelming event it was in the decades before and after World War II, when virtually every household in America had some personal connection and allegiance to Army or Navy.
Then the game dwarfed the NFL championship as both a colorful spectacle and a popular attraction. It was Philadelphia's bowl game, lending the city the prestige of hosting one of the sporting year's most fascinating events.
"It is," often hyperbolic sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote from his press-box perch at Franklin Field in the 1920s, "the biggest show on earth."
Even now, in its modern, downsized version, the Army-Navy game remains a fiercely competitive contest and a tradition-rich monument - especially in this double centennial year of the 100th game between the service rivals and the 100th anniversary of their first meeting in Philadelphia, which came in 1899. It will be the 75th Army-Navy game played in the city.
Veterans Stadium will be filled tomorrow, as will local hotels. A national television audience will be watching. And when the Cadets and the Midshipmen march en masse onto the artificial-turf field and the bands start playing stirring fight songs, memories of games and faces past will come alive.
Some may recall 1926, when Army-Navy took place in Chicago, dedicating the new Soldier Field. The draw of that first Midwestern meeting was so strong that Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne attended - even though his own team was playing that same day. (Under assistant Hunk Anderson, the Irish lost to Pitt, 19-0, in a famous upset).
Old Navy grads will remember the sportsmanship displayed in 1942. Because of wartime travel restrictions, the Army's corps of cadets couldn't get to the game in Annapolis. So the Navy ordered the Third and Fourth Brigades of midshipmen to sit on the visitors' side of the stadium and cheer for Army. A year later, the scene was reversed at West Point.
Others will look back to 1944, when, following a victory by the great Army team that included Felix "Doc" Blanchard and Glenn Davis, this cable from Douglas MacArthur, the 1903 team's manager, arrived in the winners' locker room: "We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success."
Famous names - in sports, politics and the military - cling to this game's history like barnacles to a ship bottom.
Blanchard and Davis, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, starred during and just after World War II. Those two and 1950s halfback Pete Dawkins won Heisman Trophies at West Point.
Bill Carpenter, the Delaware County native who later became a Vietnam hero and then a general, was an all-American receiver for Army in the late 1950s, even though, as the famed "Lonely End," he never entered an Army huddle.
Earl "Red" Blaik and Tom Cahill coached Army to greatness. Paul Dietzel guided the Cadets through the "Chinese Bandits" era, when the Cadets lost five straight to Navy.
Dwight Eisenhower played halfback for Army, but was sidelined by injuries. He was a "student assistant" in the 1914 game at Franklin Field. Omar Bradley, who became a fellow World War II general, was on the team, too.
World War II admiral William "Bull" Halsey, who commanded the U.S. Pacific fleet, played for Navy in 1902 and 1903.
Navy running back Joe Bellino won a Heisman in 1960, and three years later, so did Navy's greatest star, quarterback Roger Staubach, after capping his career with a sensational performance in South Philadelphia.
The Navy team wore the first uniform numbers in 1891. An Army player donned the first football helmet in 1893. Instant replay debuted during an Army-Navy game. And the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a World War II naval officer and an enthusiastic spectator at the previous two games, caused the 1963 game to be postponed for a week.
In those days, presidents - and sometimes their entire cabinets - annually watched from the Municipal Stadium stands. Major bowl games awaited the Army-Navy result. Television ratings were astounding.
All that color began to fade in the late 1960s. College football and the nation changed. Compulsory military service ended. The academies tightened their recruiting standards. And, despite the outraged yelps of those who wanted big-time football at the two schools, the game was downsized.
"We've gotten so nutty over who has the best scientists, we or the Russians, that we have gone overboard on the egghead and have forgotten the sound, solid athletic leader," said Dietzel, the Army coach, in 1963, lamenting the end of an era when Army and Navy could compete for the best athletes.
The rivalry between Army and Navy, between land and sea, had existed as long as those two branches of the service. But it wasn't until 109 years ago, on Nov. 29, 1890, that the first football game between them took place on a campus green at West Point.
Legend has it that the 11 members of Navy's team, wearing padless, helmet-less outfits that, to modern eyes, would look more like long underwear than football uniforms, disembarked from a boat alongside the Hudson River that day, made their way up the hillside to the campus, and defeated a ragtag Army team, 24-0.
That first Army team was captained by Dennis Michie, who later was killed on San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War and who was memorialized when Army's football stadium was named after him.
The first game met with resistance before and after it took place.
Two months before it was played, the New York Times carried an article on faculty displeasure at West Point. Few believed that it made sense for men who would be relying on each other in battle someday to be pummeling one another senseless on the bloody gridiron.
By 1893, the rivalry was so hot that the game was marred by numerous fistfights in the stands at Annapolis. A few hours later, a general and an admiral challenged each other to a duel at the Army-Navy Club in Washington, D.C. That embarrassment led President Grover Cleveland to ban the game.
"The excitement attending it exceeds all reasonable limits," said Maj. Oswald Ernst, then the U.S. Military Academy's superintendent.
In 1899, with the popularity of football soaring, with promises of decorum from the academies, and with the sound idea that it might be more fairly contested at a neutral site, the Army-Navy game resumed. Partly because of its geography - it was midway between Annapolis and West Point - and the availability of state-of-the-art Franklin Field, Philadelphia was selected as the host.
Just before the first Army-Navy game, the Navy team, seeking a mascot, allegedly had stolen a goat from an Army officer's backyard. So in 1899, on the day of the first game in Philadelphia, an Army fan in the city found an old white mule that had recently been retired from pulling an ice wagon. When the mule proceeded to kick a charging Navy goat into the stands and Army went on to a 17-5 victory, the Cadets had their first mascot, "Big White."
Many memorable games followed.
Navy won the 1910 game, 3-0, on a field goal by Jack Dalton - his only success in seven attempts. That unbeaten Navy team compiled one of the greatest defensive records ever, not permitting a single point all season.
In 1914, under coach Charlie Daly, Army beat Navy, went 9-0, and won its first national championship.
It was, however, the two-decade stretch between 1944 and 1964 - with all but the first of those games played at Municipal Stadium - that would Army-Navy's Belle Epoque.
During and after World War II, the military was in the forefront of the national consciousness. Most young men ended up in the service, and Army and Navy had first pick at the most athletically talented among them.
Army was No. 1 and Navy was No. 2 when they met in 1945. Those Blaik-coached Cadets did not lose a single game from 1944 through 1946, with only a 0-0 tie with Notre Dame in '46 marring perfection.
When the 1946 Army-Navy game rolled around, Army hadn't been beaten since falling to Navy in 1943. Navy was just 1-7, a 30-point underdog. What followed on that sunny afternoon in South Philadelphia, in front of a crowd that included President Harry S Truman was a game that Rice would describe as "the greatest ever played."
When the final whistle blew, Navy was on Army's 3-yard line. Its players were arguing with the officials that running back Pete Williams had gone out of bounds and that the clock should have stopped. But the crowd had pushed onto the field before that last play, obliterating the out-of-bounds marker. Navy narrowly lost, 21-18, just missing a spectacular upset.
"We had them beaten," said a disconsolate Tom Hamilton, Navy's coach. "Beaten."
Blaik's reputation was scarred by a West Point cheating scandal in the early 1950s, one that included his son Bob. He retired after an 8-0-1 season in 1958 with an overall record of 166-48-14.
In 1961 and 1962, President Kennedy attended and, though he switched sides of the stadium at halftime, privately was pleased with a pair of Navy victories. After his assassination the next November, eight days before the game was scheduled to take place, there was pressure to cancel it. But the Kennedy family insisted that it be played, and on a gray Dec. 7 - Pearl Harbor Day - Navy won again.
Wayne Hardin, who later moved on to Temple, coached Navy then, and he had a Charley Finley-like flair for the dramatic gesture. In 1962, he painted his receivers' helmets a fluorescent orange to help his quarterbacks spot them.
Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh outplayed Staubach in 1963, scoring a pair of touchdowns and a two-point conversion and recovering an onside kick. But Navy held on, 21-15, and moved on to the Cotton Bowl, where it lost to national champion Texas, 28-6.
That year, Hardin's players' wore huge "Beat Army" lettering on the backs of their jerseys. On each helmet was a skull and crossbones and, in Chinese script, the words "Beat Army." Both were mocking references to Dietzel's nickname of "Chinese Bandits" for his Army team.
The next season, Staubach's senior year, Barry Nickerson's 24-yard field goal in the fourth period gave Stichweh and Army an 11-8 victory, the Cadets' first win in the series since 1958.
As changing views of the military coincided with the divisiveness of the Vietnam War and as college football became more lucrative and competitive, the game's popularity slipped.
Navy thumped Army by 51-0 in 1973 - the most lopsided result in the series' history. A year later, Gerald Ford became the first president since Kennedy to attend the game. In 1979, only 77,000 showed up at Municipal Stadium, leaving acres of empty seats.
In 1980, the game was moved to the more compact and fan-friendly Veterans Stadium. There were no more Heisman winners or national championship contenders taking part, but the competitive spirit never waned.
The five games between 1992 and 1996 were decided by a total of 10 points. Army has won six of the last seven games, by four points or less. America might not view Army-Navy as a big game anymore, but by the bay in Annapolis and along the Hudson in New York, the fires burn just as brightly as they did a century ago.
"I used to think Army-Navy was just a game," Navy safety Gary Lane said. "Then I saw players crying in the locker room. The toughest guys I knew were just blubbering like babies after we lost - and hugging the Army team, even though we didn't know any of them.
"Army-Navy is like playing your brother. You play harder, but you share something because you know what the other guy has been through."
In the fading South Philadelphia twilight of Nov. 30, 1946, in the closing moments of a football game that sportswriter Grantland Rice would call the greatest ever played, Municipal Stadium's field was shrinking.
Thousands of fans at this 47th Army-Navy game, unrestrained after police and guards left with the departing President Truman, had surged from their seats, surrounded the sidelines, and pushed onto the field.
Navy, a 30-point underdog, was 3 yards from an upset as stunning as any in college football history. This great Army team, with Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, had not lost in more than three years.
What happened next has been debated for 50 years - as it surely will be again, at another Army-Navy game this afternoon at Veterans Stadium. Even grainy film clips - the game was one of the first televised nationally - do not resolve the chaotic conclusion.
As the crowd of 102,000 roared in anticipation, referee Bill Halloran stopped play to push fans back toward the sidelines. One sportswriter described the scene, with mink-coated women bouncing in delight on wooden benches, as "a turmoil of mad excitement."
When the clock started, Navy lined up in single-wing formation for the first time all afternoon.
"I was there on the field, and I can't tell you what happened next," Jim Carrington, then a Navy guard, said of the three plays that followed. "It was all a kind of blur. It was all so remarkable."
Carrington, 72, is a retired naval commander with an air-conditioning and heating business in suburban Baltimore. "Afterward, we were so frustrated," he recalled of Army's still controversial 21-18 victory.
"Then when we got back to the locker room, the door was locked. If you recall, at old Municipal Stadium, the locker-room doors were big, and they were made of metal. Well, we were all so upset that we kicked those damned doors down."
* Last night, Carrington, Davis and 25 other participants gathered at the Convention Center to reminisce about that afternoon half a century ago.
The 1946 game was the pinnacle of the Army-Navy series. The service academies never again would have the pick of talent they enjoyed during World War II.
Then, they recruited such players as Blanchard as soon as they left other colleges to enlist. ("Ideal officer material," one West Point scout noted of Blanchard at basic training, then added, "also an outstanding athlete.")
Army was No. 1 and Navy No. 2 when they met in 1945, and Army's last loss had come against these Midshipmen in 1943. This 47th meeting would mark the final game of the Davis-Blanchard era at West Point. Army had not lost in the 26 previous games that "Mr. Outside" (Davis) and "Mr. Inside" (Blanchard) had teamed in its backfield.
Navy, meanwhile, had lost seven straight after a season-opening victory over Villanova, and now in '46 was a disappointing 1-7. Still, the lure of Army's unbeaten streak (the Cadets and Notre Dame played to a 0-0 tie at Yankee Stadium earlier that season) and America's postwar euphoria made the game a monumental spectacle.
Too monumental for some.
Earlier that month, the Army and Navy Bulletin had urged that ticket speculators (getting as much as $55 for a $3 seat) be banned from this tax-supported event, that some of the seats occupied by congressmen and Washington dignitaries - besides Truman, the crowd would include Chief Justice Fred Vinson, Pennsylvania's governor and two U.S. senators, six Cabinet members, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Admiral Chester Nimitz - be given instead to disabled World War II veterans, and that the game be restored "to its clean, sportsmanlike traditions unfettered by the ugly commercialism of recent years."
Shortly after dawn on that sunny, mild Saturday, commercialism was evident everywhere at the 20-year-old stadium, which was later renamed JFK Stadium and is now the site of the CoreStates Center.
Seven hundred vendors lined up for 55,000 game programs. More than 100 IRS agents looked for scalpers, not to arrest them but to claim a tax on their transactions. Dozens of special railroad cars - 17 alone from New York - dumped fans along sidings constructed on nearby Terminal Avenue.
Since this would be one of the first nationally televised sporting events, cumbersome TV cameras were being positioned around the stadium. Philadelphia caterer Jack Cohen and his staff prepared the hot dogs, chicken and ham sandwiches, coffee and hot chocolate that would be served in abundance. (For Truman's lunch - a hot dog, hot chocolate and an apple - Cohen provided a white linen napkin.)
Navy had arrived in Philadelphia on Thursday, eating Thanksgiving dinner on the train.
If the Midshipmen "looked like lambs being led to the slaughter," Inquirer sportswriter Allen Lewis noted of their arrival at the old B&O station in West Philadelphia, "at least they were well-fed."
They spent the two nights before the game at South Jersey's isolated Pine Valley Golf Club. Army arrived a day later and set up headquarters at the Ben Franklin Hotel on Chestnut Street. Both teams worked out Friday at the stadium.
Finally, shortly after 1:30 p.m., after the dramatic entrance of 2,130 Cadets, 2,709 Midshipmen, 2 Army mules and 1 Navy goat, the game began. Army, as expected, took an early lead. By halftime, Davis and Blanchard had combined to score three touchdowns, and the Cadets held a handy 21-6 lead.
Navy coach Tom Hamilton delivered an impassioned halftime speech, and the players responded with two third-period touchdowns to pull within 21-18 - all three of their conversion attempts, a kick and two runs, failed.
Then, with five minutes remaining, 175 Secret Service agents, eager to hustle Truman away before the game ended, escorted the president from his seat to a waiting train. Hundreds of Philadelphia policemen and stadium ushers hurried to assist.
Unimpeded now, fans descended from the stands and surrounded the field, more and more of them as each fourth-period minute passed. They pushed even farther onto the field as a 20-yard run by Navy's Lynn Chewning made the stadium erupt with noise. That gave the Midshipmen first down and goal to go at the Army 3. There was 1 minute, 27 seconds remaining.
"Three yards stood between Navy and the upset of the ages," Allison Danzig of the New York Times wrote.
Hamilton, though, saw another obstacle besides Army's defense.
"We didn't have any time-outs," Carrington recalled.
Twice, with time ticking away, Chewning, a 193-pounder, tested the middle of the Army defense. Twice, the Cadets - Blanchard, Barney Poole and Goble Bryant - stopped him.
Less than 30 seconds remained when Hamilton, desperate to stop the clock, made an illegal substitution to do so, knowing it would cost Navy a 5-yard penalty.
The ball was moved back to the 8, the clock was restarted, and Bill Hawkins took the third-down snap. He took a few steps toward the sideline and pitched the ball to halfback "Pistol" Pete Williams.
Williams was met by several tacklers at the 4 but, knowing he had to halt the clock, strained to reach an out-of-bounds line that the crowd had long since obliterated.
"We, of course, believe he got out of bounds," Carrington said.
Referee Halloran did not. And as the official turned to check the stadium clock, Navy players clamored for his attention.
"Obviously, we were desperate to stop the clock," Carrington said. "I'm lying at his feet groaning (faking an injury) and Lee Bramlett, our captain, was doing the same thing. I had a perfect view of him, and he was looking over his shoulder at the clock, not noticing us."
Hamilton sent in another illegal sub, Bill Earl, but Halloran never acknowledged him.
The clock reached zero. The official raised his arms. The game had ended, with Navy stranded on the Army 4. Forever.
"We had them beaten, beaten," a disappointed Hamilton said as he spoke with reporters in a stadium tunnel.
Hours later, Annapolis alums held a postgame dinner on the 18th floor of the Bellvue-Stratford Hotel. By then, some moods had improved, something that upset an obviously distraught Philadelphia woman who watched the Navy men walk through the hotel's lobby.
"How can they be so happy so soon after the war?" the tearful woman, whose fiance had been killed in the South Pacific, asked a reporter.
"No one was happy," Carrington recalled. "Grown men were crying and sobbing in that locker room. It was a wonderful game, and I was proud to be a part of it, but we'll always be disappointed."
Last night, Villanova resident E. Newbold Smith, who played for Navy that day, showed the old men the primitive television film of the game.
"The ways the cameras were positioned, you couldn't tell if he [Williams] really got out of bounds or not," Carrington said. "So I guess we'll never really know."