21. July 2009 · Comments Off on Michigan, Army & Yankee Stadium · Categories: Archive 2009

With the talk of the Irish returning to Yankee Stadium, I thought it and ideal time to recall the trips the Wolverines made to the House that Ruth Built.  

From an April 2009 post, here’s a bit about the trip to the Bronx to face Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis in 1945:

Associate Press photo from Yankee Stadium [Nice tackling form by Teninga (42), and what’s the deal with Ref-Boyardee’s hat?  Does he toss flags or pizza dough?]

This morning I learned that Doc Blanchard, Army football’s great back, died at home in Texas.  The 1945 Heisman trophy winner was 84.  From 1944 to 1946, Blanchard and Glenn Davis formed a nasty backfield that helped the Cadets roll to a 27-0-1 record.

Fritz’s Crisler’s Michigan men squared off against the Army machine twice, in 1945 in New York and again in 1946 in Ann Arbor.

The first battle was held at Yankee Stadium on October 13, 1945 and the Cadets rolled through Crisler’s men 28-7 in front of nearly 63,000 fans.  The next day the Chicago Tribune declared, ‘ARMY WHIPS MICHIGAN’ and started the game summary like this:

Michigan sent its young football men on a man’s errand this afternoon in Yankee stadium..”

It’s a man’s game.  And the two biggest men of all were Blanchard, who ran off tackle for a 69 yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Davis, who added a 70 yard score in the fourth.  Between them they covered 370 yards on the ground, with Davis adding 47 passing yards.  Mercifully the Tribune featured a photo where apparently Michigan stopped Blanchard (the same as the AP photo above, enhanced with the Trib’s graphics):

image The Tribune’s account gives some credit to Crisler’s men for battling hard, in fact, Michigan nearly tied the score at 14-14 before fumbling away the possession.  After that Army’s machine took over, rolling to the 21 point victory.

The game holds more historical significance than just two great football powers meeting in the House that Ruth Built.  The battle against Davis and Blanchard prompted Fritz Crisler to employ a strategy of substituting or ‘platooning’ players, the first time in college football.

Sports Illustrated writer Gerald Holland wrote a wonderful piece on Crisler in its February 3, 1964 issue titled, ‘The Man Who Changed Football’.  Holland talked with the old coach about the origins of his substitution strategy:

What made him decide to go to platooning in 1945?

“Sheer necessity. You see, almost all colleges were playing freshmen at the time, because the older boys were in the service. Now, before the Michigan-Army game I figured that I would have to start nine freshmen against Red Blaik’s great Blanchard-Davis team. By comparison with Michigan, Army had a team of mature men. I asked myself, ‘How are our poor, spindly-legged freshmen going to stand up against these West Pointers all afternoon?’ I knew I would have to spell them off during the game. So I picked our best defensive men and said, ‘When we lose the ball, you fellows automatically go in.’ Then I got my best offensive men and ball handlers together and said, ‘When we regain possession, you fellows automatically go in.’ As it turned out, I only platooned the lines, and the linebackers on defense. We lost the game 28-7, but it should have been much, much worse.

The Wolverines made a return trip to New York five seasons later in 1950.  Here’s more an August 2008 post:

1950 Army Michigan from Yankee Stadium

1950 was a special season in Michigan football history. Many M historians know this is the year that the Wolverines defeated Ohio State 9-3 in the epic Snow Bowl. That classic win earned the Blue a trip to Pasadena where they defeated Cal 14-6 on two late touchdowns.

All’s well that ends well, but things didn’t start well and included a trip to New York. The next edition of eBay Watch features this ticket stub from the Army-Michigan game held October 14, 1950 at Yankee Stadium:

1950 Army Michigan stub

You can see the full auction here.

Army was riding a twenty-two game winning streak heading into the game and dropped the Wolverines 27-6 in front of 67,076 fans including General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Gazing solely at the boxscore you might have figured the Victors prevailed or at least kept the score respectable:

1950 Army Michigan from Yankee Stadium

The New York Times commended the Wolverines effort that day and reported that Oosterbaan’s men put a bit of a scare into the Black Knights, scoring early and threatening often. In the end Army was too tough, capitalizing when they needed to pull safely away. Army’s streak eventually ended later that season in a 14-2 loss to Navy.

While the football squad took a bit of a beating in a hard fought battle, the Michigan Marching Band made a few headlines with a legendary performance on the historic field. Their effort earned a few inches in the Times post-game coverage:

1950 Army Michigan from Yankee Stadium

Brush away tear after reading that. My god, Revelli pulled out all the stops!

Conclusion: Given the two sound beatings Army put down, perhaps the players should hang in Ann Arbor and we should send the marching band to the Bronx to do their thing.