1948 Army-Navy: “The Mismatch Of The Century” That Wasn’t

1948_Army_vs_NavyIn the immediate postwar years, the three dominant college football powers were Notre Dame, Michigan and Army, with a combined 69-6-8 record among them between 1946 and 1949.

Notre Dame and Michigan have been major powers for forever and a day, but for the Cadets these four years marked the greatest stretch of peacetime gridiron glory that their program has ever known., with three undefeated seasons and a national ranking as high as second. A few writers were even comparing them to NFL teams.

While Army was scaling the heights, however, the Navy program seemed to be in a fast-sinking paddleboat, with but one win each in 1946 and 1947 and an embarrassing no wins in 1948. So going into the traditional Army-Navy game, it was understandable that Allison Danzig of The New York Times called it “the mismatch of the century” with the unbeaten Cadets facing the winless Middies. With Army installed as a prohibitive 21-point favorite, in a point spread that was still rising on the day of the game, the bookies apparently agreed

But if anyone had looked a bit deeper into how those two teams had reached their respective “perfect” records, they would have taken their opponents into consideration. While the Army had faced an array of Ivy League opponents and teams with losing records, the Middies had had to run the gauntlet of unbeaten Notre Dame and Michigan in successive weeks, plus 4th ranked California, 19th ranked Cornell, and 8-win Missouri. Navy may have been playing the part of Don Quixote, but nobody could accuse them of being afraid of windmills.

And of course the glory of the Army-Navy game is that once the opening kickoff is in the air, all bets are off, as the Army discovered to its shock and sorrow. With President Truman sitting on the Navy side of the field, a mysterious banner arose over the crowd that read “GALLUP PICKS ARMY.” With happy memories of the recent election in mind, where the Gallup poll had forecast a landside win for the Republican Thomas E. Dewey, the president roared in laughter. And once again, “Gallup” was sent to the woodshed.

Buoyed by the return from injury of their star fullback Bill Hawkins and halfback “Pistol Pete” Williams, the Middies broke out on top with a long touchdown drive and then twice fought back to a tie after Army had gone ahead. The last two touchdowns were made by the now-healthy Bill Hawkins, who then preserved his status in the Naval Academy’s History of Heroes by swatting down an Arnold Galiffa pass that was headed for an end zone-heading Army receiver with only 58 seconds left on the scoreboard.

With their hats flying in the air in approval, the Middies could celebrate a “win” that rivaled the one pulled off by their cheering Commander-in-Chief in the stands.

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