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When Saturdays mattered most

A good book can take you back to simpler times, allowing one to explore yesteryear when life was different and much less complicated.

“When Saturday mattered Most,” is a treatise about Army’s last undefeated football team. A good and well told story by Mark Beech and brought to you by St. Martin’s Press.

To begin with, I have always had a high regard for service academy football and, as a traditionalist, believe the college game lost something when we reached the point that Army and Navy were rendered inadequate to compete for the national championship.

The game today is a much more exciting game because we have tweaked it to where it is more like the professional game where speed is acutely accented and the bigger you are the better you can compete at the highest level. A bluntly honest view spawns this question, however. Are we better off with what we have today?

In 1958, Earl “Red” Blaik, a close friend of General Douglas McArthur, was the Army coach who enjoyed flag waving success at West Point. Blaik was reaching the end of his career.

In that epic season for Blaik and the Cadets, the coach had come up with an idea for a new formation during the off-season. He positioned his flanker out 15 yards, initially calling him the “far flanker.” Next, the far flanker was referred to as the “lonely end” and ultimately, it went down in history as the “Lonesome End.”

The first “Lonesome End” was Bill Carpenter who would earn fame in Vietnam, when he and his company, woefully outnumbered, were pinned down by Viet Cong troops. Carpenter radioed a helicopter to drop napalm directly on top of his unit — unthinkable, but it won the day and enabled Carpenter and his men to escape. Gen. McArthur would likely have suggested that football influenced Carpenter’s extraordinary leadership.

Carpenter never huddled with his Army team and communicated with the quarterback with hand signals. At 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and 210 pounds with excellent speed, Carpenter was blessed with good hands which meant that he could be counted on for big plays to complement Blaik’s ground oriented offensive attack.

What the Army coaches wanted was for the defense to commit to double coverage of the far flanker. When that happened, Army could exploit the defense with its effective running game which featured Pete Dawkins, who would win the Heisman trophy that season, and Bob Anderson, an underrated back who could be counted on to come through when a play, drive or game was on the line along with clutch play making from the lonesome end.

From this book, there are two vignettes that resonate. One had to do with Col. Blaik’s words of encouragement about the game he loved. Blaik was known to remind his players that to succeed in football one had to “pay the price.” Anybody familiar with the career of Georgia’s Wallace Butts will pick up on the fact that Butts always spoke of the importance of paying the price to achieve excellence on the gridiron.

Which one originated the slogan? Nobody living likely knows, but since Blaik was born seven years before Butts, it would be natural to assume that he, having begun his career as a coach earlier, is likely to have come up with the slogan. Not sure if the coaches ever compared notes. For all we know, each could have come up with the slogan independently of the other.

All this a reminder, once again, that there is nothing new under the sun. Except, perhaps, the lonesome end, once upon a time.