The date: November 17, 1945
The matchup: No. 1 Army (7-0) at No. 6 Penn (5-1)
The stakes: This was a potential trap game for the monstrous Army crew. The Cadets had just demolished No. 2 Notre Dame (48-0) and had new No. 2 Navy on deck. But in between, they had to travel to Franklin Field to take on George Munger’s strong Penn squad. The Quakers had lost only once — 14-7 to Navy.
Otherwise they were playing excellent ball; they had beaten North Carolina 49-0 and walloped Brown, Dartmouth, and Princeton by a combined 90-0. The week before, as Army was pounding Notre Dame, Penn was manhandling No. 10 Columbia, 32-7.
This was a really good team, in other words. And it couldn’t hold a candle to the No. 1 team.
The back story: I shared my 50 Best* chapter on Army last December. This was a squad of ringers, and Blaik knew just what to do with them. You’ve heard of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, a.k.a. Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. The two were the most dominant backfield duo in the game. But it was everybody else who truly gave you no chance.
Because of loose wartime transfer rules — the service academies were basically able to recruit all-star teams — and because Blaik was relentless in milking every advantage, this team featured plenty of stars from other schools.
Halfback Shorty McWilliams was an All-American for Mississippi State in 1944 and returned to Starkville in 1946; in 1945, he was a backup good enough to finish eighth in the Heisman voting. Fullback Bobby Dobbs helped Tulsa to the Sun Bowl in 1942 and backed up Blanchard in 1945. Guard Joe Steffy played for Tennessee in 1944, when the Volunteers when unbeaten in the regular season again.
End Barney Poole played for Ole Miss and would return to Oxford to lead the Rebels to the 1947 SEC title. End Hank Foldberg played for Texas A&M, halfback Dean Sensanbaugher played for Ohio State, fullback Bob Summerhays would thrive at Utah, etc.
Plus, the show was run by quarterback Arnold Tucker, a steady enough hand to finish fifth himself in the Heisman voting (third on his own team) in 1946.
The skill positions were stocked three-deep with star power, and the line was extraordinary. It featured All-American captain John Green and future first-round pick DeWitt “Tex” Coulter, plus Herschel “Ug” Fuson, an athlete versatile enough to play both halfback and center and star at lacrosse.
Coulter would later say that this team had better depth than the 1946 NFL East champion New York Giants team he would join.
Coulter might not have been exaggerating. Penn was a really good team. Penn got demolished.
The game: From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Colonel Earl Blaik yesterday adhered rigidly to that principle of war which says a good general never underestimates the strength of the enemy. But in rating the University of Pennsylvania as his sternest foe thus far, the Colonel took into absolutely no account the awesome power of his own U.S. Military Academy football forces. The result was swift and inevitable: Army 61, Penn 0.
Seventy-three thousand, relaxing in a friendly autumn sun, were electrified by a 27-yard run before two and a half minutes had elapsed, and from there the West Pointers went on to score again in the first period, once more in the second, four more times in the third and yet twice again in the final quarter -- nine touchdowns in all.
The Quakers fought bitterly and boldly, sometimes too boldly. But when they braced along the line, the Cadets ran around them--or passed over them. When they spread to envelop the opposition, the West Pointers ran through them. In defeat the Pennsylvanians had not even the chance to prove heroic. Army was just too strong, too fast, too cohesive.
This might be the single most impressive performance of the year from the most impressive team ever. This was a sandwich game, and the Cadets did this to probably the third-best team on the schedule. Absolutely ridiculous.
The box score: NSFW.
Rushing yards: 383-56.
Passing yards: 139-92.
Total yards: 522-148. Penn was a really good football team.
The funniest part about this: Army scored nine touchdowns with 13 first downs. Penn moved the chains almost as many times! But if you’re scoring on long run after long run, you’re not really giving the chain gang much to do.
Actually, no, the funniest part might be that Army lost four fumbles. Turnovers cost them a chance at hanging 80 on one of the best teams in the country.
Again, the depth was ridiculous. Army hung 61 on Penn with Davis and Blanchard carrying 23 times for 176 yards. That’s a solid day at the office, for sure, but the other Cadets carried 27 times for 207, too.
To its credit, Penn rallied. The Quakers blew out Cornell the next week, 59-6, to finish a strong campaign. Army, meanwhile, burst out of the gates against Navy, taking a 20-0 lead after one quarter and cruising, 32-13.
Army would remain strong in 1946 — Davis and Blanchard were still around, after all — but a lot of those wartime additions had matriculated back to their original schools. The Cadets would go 9-0-1, suffering only a 0-0 tie against Notre Dame. But the scoring margins tell the tale. In 1945, they outscored a rugged slate of opponents, 412-46. In 1946, the margin shrunk to 263-80. The defense was nearly as good, but the offense was no longer perfect.