I got my grandfather a book for Christmas called A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game that Rallied a Nation by Randy Roberts. The book details the perhaps most important game in the history the legendary match-up, which took place on December 2, 1944, right in the middle of World War II. Simultaneously, the country suffered shortages of turkey and pie for Thanksgiving, and President Roosevelt was only a few months away from death. During West Point's quest to win the national championship, Americans were also reading about the military's march to Berlin and Tokyo, forever linking these two conquering battles in their minds.
The game was important not because it was Army, ranked number one, versus Navy, ranked number two, but because it made Americans forget about their problems for the duration of the playoff. The time off was particularly poignant because Army upperclassmen were poised to graduate and then join the fight overseas, like the three years of classes before them had done.
Randy Roberts, a Purdue University history professor, says that he was always interested in WWII and sports. For his research, he interviewed the players that were still living. Although many of the players from these teams did not serve in World War II, a number of them went on to fight and die in Korea, which began only a few years later. He says that the men were still proud of their school, and were willing to share their memories and mementos from their time at West Point with him. Roberts says that the question that primarily drove his research was how the war affected the players on the field, specifically if it mattered to them whether they won or lost.
Roberts was also particularly interested in why both the army and the navy teams were so good at football in the middle of wartime. Some were skeptical if any professional or collegiate-level sports would continue at all during wartime, because so many of the men were overseas in the war. However, college sports continued because the government's V-programs, which trained future naval officers and let these students play sports in the process. At West Point, students were guaranteed a three-year education before they could be drafted, ensuring that there would be enough students to fill out a football roster.
Are you interested reading in A Team for America? Had you heard about the Army-Navy game of 1944 before?