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WHEN SATURDAY MATTERED MOST by Mark Beech

WHEN SATURDAY MATTERED MOST

The Last Golden Season of Army Football

By Mark Beech

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-54818-6
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Sports Illustrated editor and writer Beech debuts with an account of Army football’s last great season, 1958, when the team finished 8-0-1 and declined a Cotton Bowl invitation.

There are no structural surprises here. An introduction tells how football fans began shifting their allegiances to the NFL after 1958, how that year was “the end of an era.” The author then proceeds through the season, game by game, pausing to sketch settings and biographies of his principals. The leading character is the coach, Earl Henry “Red” Blaik, who retired at the end of the season after a 121-33-10 record at the U.S. Military Academy. Beech portrays the coach as a near-divine presence on the campus (players waited to be spoken to), a man whose assistants always deferred and who maintained a close relationship with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who received game films every week. The author also deals with the great crisis of Blaik’s life—the 1951 academic cheating scandal that involved his own son, who was dismissed from the academy along with scores of others—and profiles a number of players, including Heisman-winning halfback Pete Dawkins, the talented runner Bob Anderson and the celebrated “Lonesome (or Lonely) End” Bill Carpenter, who never entered the huddles but stayed far down the line of scrimmage, where he received signals from his teammates. The author deals carefully with the intrateam rivalries and jealousies and relates highlights of each game, sometimes excessively so, with occasional sports clichés (“blaze of glory”). Beech neglects discussion of the racial composition of the lily-white Army team, and the final chapters belong to the where-are-they-now genre.

A competent sports book, but a sharper edge on the author’s narrative knife would have sliced more deeply below the surface.