Monday, September 2, 2013

The mystique of Army vs. Notre Dame 1946

The mystique of Army vs. Notre Dame 1946

By Sakura Honda
The Daily Magi
September 4, 2052

The 1946 Army vs. Notre Dame football game was a regular season college football game played on November 9, 1946. Army (the football program of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York), then ranked Number 1 in the Associated Press college football poll, played the University of Notre Dame, of South Bend, Indiana, ranked Number 2, at Yankee Stadium in New York City. This game is regarded as one of the 20th century Games of the Century.

Both teams were undefeated going into the 1946 game at Yankee Stadium. Both teams averaged over 30 points per game.

Army had a 25-game winning streak, last losing to Notre Dame in 1943 (26-0), but had won the last two contests between the schools by scores of 59-0 and 48-0. Army had the defending Heisman Trophy winner, Doc Blanchard, also known as "Mr. Inside," the man who would win it that year, Glenn Davis, also known as "Mr. Outside," and one of the nation's top quarterbacks in Arnold Tucker.

Notre Dame had the quarterback who would win the Heisman the next year, Johnny Lujack, and end Leon Hart of Notre Dame won the Heisman in 1949(the only time ever that a college football game had four Heisman Trophies winners.) Both Tucker and Lujack were also outstanding defensive backs at a time when football players, college as well as professional, usually played both offense and defense. Notre Dame had defeated eventual 1947 Rose Bowl participant Illinois in Champaign-Urbana 26-6 to open the season. On October 26, they won at #17 Iowa 41-6. The game leading up to this one was a 28-0 Irish defeat of Navy at Baltimore.

Despite the high-scoring and much-hyped offenses, the game ended in a scoreless tie, with each school's best chance at a scoring drive coming back-to-back: Tucker intercepting Lujack, and Lujack then making a touchdown-saving tackle on Blanchard a few plays later. Notre Dame's defense did something no other team had ever done — it held the famous "Touchdown Twins," Blanchard and Davis, to a total of 79 yards. As an indication of how the defense of both teams dominated, seven linemen in that game were nominated for Lineman of the Week honors in the weekly Associated Press poll. Joe Steffy, an Army guard who helped shut down the Notre Dame running game, won the honor, followed closely by Notre Dame right tackle George Sullivan and freshman lineman Jim Martin, who helped stifle Army's running attack and dropped Davis on consecutive plays for losses totalling 17 yards. Both Notre Dame coach Leahy and Army coach Blaik called the game "a terrific battle of defenses.

Both teams would finish the season undefeated with this one tie, but it was Notre Dame that was awarded the National Championship by the Associated Press, with Army coming in second. Neither school accepted bowl bids in that era, and so neither put itself at risk of a loss that would have tarnished their National Championship bid. The Pacific Coast Conference and the Big Nine Conference, the forerunners of the Pac-12 and Big Ten, signed the agreement to start with the 1947 Rose Bowl of matching their conference champions. The national sports writers wanted to match either Notre Dame or Army with #4 and undefeated UCLA. Instead, #5 Illinois was the first Midwestern team to go by the terms of the agreement and routed UCLA 45-14.

With Blanchard, Davis and Tucker having graduated, Army's unbeaten streak would be broken the next year, by Columbia University. Notre Dame would not lose until early in the 1950 season. Sporting News named the 1944-45 Army Cadets and the 1946 Fighting Irish the second and fifth greatest teams of the Twentieth Century respectively.

This was only the sixth time that the number one ranked team faced the number two ranked team since the inception of the Associated Press Football Poll in 1936. This would not happen again until the 1963 Rose Bowl.

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