Guest column: ’45 Aggies over Army? Coaches’ revisionism slap to Cadets, writers 1

Editors Note:  Bob Hammel, former award-winning Sports Editor of the  Bloomington  (Ind.) Herald-Times, was the FWAA’s President in 1992 and the 1996 Bert McGrane Award recipient. In the following  column, he throws a red flag on the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) for its recent move to retroactively name Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) the 1945 National Football Champion.  

By Bob Hammel

Throw a flag, for heaven’s sake. It’s time to introduce the Statue-of-Liberty world to the statute of limitations.

The American Football Coaches Association announced in early October it has awarded the 1945 national championship to Oklahoma A&M, which now is Oklahoma State. How and why are questions raised and unanswered by the ludicrous AFCA move.

A&M had a nice team in ’45. Unbeaten. No. 5 in the season-ending Associated Press poll.

No. 1 that year, and ranked as one of the best college teams of all time, was Army.

Blanchard and Davis. The Touchdown Twins. “Mr. Inside” and “Mr. Outside.” That Army.

The one that in early November that year squared off with No. 2-ranked Notre Dame and won, 48-0, then three weeks later closed against the new No. 2, Navy, and won, 32-13.

It’s too bad the AFCA’s only five-time national Coach of the Year, Joe Paterno, wasn’t still around to dress down this modern group with an “Are you serious?” rebuke. Because he would have.

Fifty years after Blanchard and Davis entered the scene, Paterno had a high-scoring national power at Penn State and was asked on a Big Ten telephonic press conference when the modern game began to emerge, when the high-powered change came? With Blanchard and Davis and those great Army teams?

Over the telephone you could feel Paterno smiling.

“My high school coach took me up to the Polo Grounds to watch them play Duke,” he said. “They beat Duke 19-0 and Blanchard hit the second or third play from scrimmage and ran the whole distance.

“But I don’t know whether that combination changed football. The Army thing was just a matter that all the great athletes were located in one place, and they were playing against people who weren’t as great as they were.

“That’s not to say that Davis and Blanchard were not great players. They were.

“But what they were doing was not different from what anybody else was doing at that time. They just happened to be better.”

Than anybody.

The recent nonsense came about because somebody noticed that the AFCA was in business for almost 30 years before anyone gave coaches a voting voice in picking the national champion — back in the times when champions were picked by polls, not playoffs. In 1950, United Press started a weekly poll of coaches and the leader of the last one was UP’s — hence, the coaches’ — national champion. That was 14 years after the rival Associated Press had begun a national sportswriters’ poll. It certainly wasn’t the best way to pick a champion, but coaches and administrators and eventually the gigantic TV dollar wrangled for years about the right way to conduct a playoff, or if even to have one. We’re into just the third year of their common-sense solution, and someone at the AFCA recently decided coaches should select the real national champion from all those years — 1922 through 1949 — when there was an AFCA but no coaches’ poll.

The 1945 selection should be enough to end that folly.

There was an AFCA in 1945. It named an 11-man All-America team and four were from Army, two more from teams Army beat. Bob Fenimore, an outstanding back, was on there from Oklahoma A&M — with, it’s a good bet, fewer votes than Blanchard or Davis. One AFCA All-American was from a team the Aggies beat.

That final 1945 AP poll had Army (9-0) No. 1, Navy (8-1, the loss to Army) No. 2, Alabama (9-0) No. 3 and — imagine that! — Big Ten champion Indiana (9-0-1) fourth. Yes, the final vote was taken before the bowl games. Army and Navy — like Notre Dame and the Big Ten — did not go to bowls then. Oklahoma A&M (8-0) did and beat No. 7 St. Mary’s in the Sugar Bowl, 33-13. But, perfect-record Alabama won the much more prestigious Rose Bowl over No. 11 Southern Cal, 34-14. In the poof that made Army and Navy vanish, what happened to ’Bama, not to mention Indiana — which won at Michigan, at Minnesota, at Illinois, at Iowa and at Pitt (and 54-14 over Nebraska)?

Old data can look different, crunched into one of today’s computers. But nobody computes football data better than Jeff Sagarin, and the news from the AFCA made him gasp. He has run the ’45 season, too. He pulled it out and found his numbers had Oklahoma A&M 24th — calculated to lose by three touchdowns to Army.

The 1945 Associated Press poll had votes from 116 writers, coast-to-coast. Army was a unanimous No. 1, which undoubtedly meant that a qualified voter or two or three from Oklahoma — fully versed in Oklahoma A&M’s virtues — went for Army.

There’s a group called the Football Writers Association of America, which has been around almost as long as the AFCA. Its membership was the heart of the AP poll, and that group — through to its modern-day membership — has just been given a 71-year-late slap in the face.

But a weak one. The AFCA has entered a courtroom in which it has no case.

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Pillars of the FWAA: Bob Hammel (1936-), Bloomington Herald-Times

ffaw_redesignThe Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish sketches of the FWAA’s most important leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.

The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.

For a list of all the winners go to:  http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.

The following is the 24th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Bob Hammel  was the 1996 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.

By Gene Duffey

In 1967, Bob Hammel’s second year at the Bloomington Herald-Telephone and first season full-time on the beat, John Pont coached Indiana to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth. For a guy such as Hammel, who grew up in Indiana with its nasty winters, a week in Pasadena, Calif., in late December was more than welcome.

Bob Hammel, 1996 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

Bob Hammel, 1996 winner of the Bert McGrane Award

“This is kind of fun,” Hammel said to himself. “We ought to do this every few years.”

Nearly a half century later the Hoosiers still hadn’t made it back to Pasadena. But Hammel made it to plenty of other places in his 42 years as a sports writer. He retired from sports at the same paper with a different name, the Herald-Times,  in 1996, never wanting to work anywhere but Bloomington, where, for much of his career, he covered the exploits of  Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight.

“It was a great spot,” he said. “The paper was awfully good to me. If I wanted to go somewhere, I went. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.”

Hammel covered five Olympics and 23 Final Fours. His final assignment was writing about the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. But the most meaningful, undoubtedly, had to be the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, infamously remembered for the Black September terrorist group that murdered Israeli athletes and coaches.

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