There was a time in college football when domination was symbolized by the sight of Army’s cadets marching into a stadium.
Not only was it visually inspiring, a sign of the strength and devotion of the United States military, but it foretold the supremacy of West Point’s football team. The Cadets were a perennial national powerhouse before the 1950s. They won national championships in 1914 and 1916 and three straight from 1944-46 when they were 27-0-1.
The program produced three Heisman Trophy winners in Doc Blanchard (1945), Glenn Davis (1946) and Pete Dawkins (1958). And from its staff of assistants, Vince Lombardi and Bill Parcells were spawned.
The 1912 team produced a United States president, Dwight Eisenhower, and a five-star general, Omar Bradley.
Eisenhower, a running back and linebacker, remained connected to Army football for the remainder of his life, famously sending this telegram to the 1964 team before the Army-Navy game.
“You will always have what you give today. The more you give the more you will keep. Every Army man is with you all the way.”
By the way, Army beat Navy, quarterbacked by Roger Staubach, 11-8. Cadets always follow a general’s orders.
Over time, the appeal of playing football at a service academy faded and with it the national attention the program once demanded. Admit it, the only time most us ever think about Army football is during Army-Navy week.
But over the last two seasons, Army has become very relevant again. And this week, for the first time since 1996, the Cadets were ranked in the Top 25 by the Associated Press. Army is No. 23.
Dating to the 1960s, Army’s program has operated in comparative anonymity. It compiled only one winning season from 1997-2015. Only twice from 1963-2017 had it been in Top 25. The 1985 team was ranked as high as No. 19 for one week. The 1996 team finished the season ranked No. 25 after being nationally ranked in four of the final weeks.
After going 10-3 last season, the Cadets are 9-2 and guaranteed of a third straight winning season under Jeff Monken, who came to West Point in 2014 after his predecessor, Rich Elleson, won only 20 games from 2009-13. How significant is this? No Army team since its 1945-46 national champs had won at least nine times in consecutive seasons.
“One of the goals our team set during preseason was to finish the year in the top-25,” head coach Jeff Monken said. “It’s certainly nice for our team to be recognized at this point and it is a testament to the dedication and commitment of our players and staff. But we have two of the biggest games of the year still to play … the Army-Navy Game and the bowl game. We are now focusing our efforts entirely to the game against Navy in three weeks. We are thankful to those that voted for us and feel we are worthy of a ranking in the top-25. Hopefully our team will continue to win and earn the same recognition when the season is complete.”
Monken was 6-18 in his first two seasons, the 2014 campaign likely remembered for the 49-43 battering Yale administered in New Haven. The Bulldogs had not beaten an FBS team since dropping down in classification in 1982.
But this season, Army has won seven straight since losing in overtime at Oklahoma on Sept. 22. The significance of that performance seems clear considering what the Sooners have accomplished this season.
The Cadets won their 13th straight home game on Saturday by beating Colgate by two touchdowns. Colgate, ranked eighth in the FCS, was 9-0 and on a 14-game winning streak. Not only that, the Red Raiders defense had five shutouts and had allowed only 29 points this season, just 12 in their previous eight games.
Of course, the regular season ends Dec. 8 with the Army-Navy game. The Cadets have won two straight since ending a 14-game skid against the Midshipmen. And then they’ll play in their third straight bowl game. Army won the 2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl and last season’s Armed Forces Bowl.
“The two biggest games of the year are coming up,” said Monken. “We’d trade any ranking for a win over Navy to be sure. But it’s nice to be recognized. And it’s nice to see that our guys and how hard they’ve worked, they’ve gotten themselves in position where people are taking notice of Army football.”
What has made Army football so impressive over the last two seasons is knowing its accomplished great things by basically abandoning the pass.
In 2017, the Cadets attempted only 61 passes. But they averaged 362.2 yards rushing, relying on misdirection and basic power football.
This season, Monken has only slighted deviated from the plan. Army has thrown 85 times, but still has averaged 303 yards rushing and 30.8 points. And it’s been hard to stop. The Cadets have scored on each of their last five opening drives.