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Today's Tidbit... A 1919 Press Pass And Grass Drills
I recently came across the press-photo pass shown below. Since it only cost a few bucks, I decided to buy the item, research the game's story, and find something interesting to share with you. So, a few paragraphs from now, you’ll know whether I succeeded in that task.
Since the photo-press pass did not identify the year it was used, my first task was determining the year they played the game. Thankfully, Army's football website lists the dates and results of each game by opponent. It shows Army won the nine pre-1970 games with BC and has gone 4-24 since then. I also learned the teams met on October 25 at West Point in 1919 and 1969 and at Chestnut Hill in 1980. Since the pass looks more like something printed in 1919 than 1969, we are going with that game as the basis for this story.
As for the 1919 game, I could regale you with tales of the punting duel that occurred between BC's Fitzpatrick, whose high school team outscored opponents 425-0 his senior year, and Army's McQuarrie, who proved the better punter that day and contributed a 60-yard run on the way to Army's 13-0 victory.
I could also tell tales of Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium, who attended the game or, at least, its first three quarters. He volunteered for the Belgian Army at 14 when Germany invaded his country in 1914. However, his surrender in 1940 -against his government's will- made him persona non grata post-war, forcing his abdication.
I might also mention West Point's senior end, Earl Blaik, who earned a place on Walter Camp's third-team All-American team that year. However, none of those storylines could match that of Boston College's coach Frank Cavanaugh, who would be one of football's most hated men if more people knew he was behind one of football’s most dreaded drills.
Cavanaugh played for Dartmouth in 1896 and 1897. He then bounced around coaching at a few places before returning to Dartmouth in 1911, where his teams went 42-9-3 over the next six years. While there, he conditioned his team using his invention, grass drills, which he took with him when he joined the Army in 1917. Since the country was ill-prepared for war, lacking guns and ammunition for training, his grass drills became popular and kept the troops busy at Army training camps nationwide. Grass drills remain part of Army training regimens today, though they seem less popular in football circles.
Cavanaugh was severely wounded during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and returned in 1919 to take over at Boston College and publish his book Inside Football, which touted the value of grass drills:
…this exercise leads to perfect muscular co-ordination through movements arduous but interesting, because involving both mental and physical effort besides an intense spirit of competition. The drill demands and teaches immediate response to the word of command. It has the priceless value that the test of endurance which it provides takes place under the direct supervision of the coach.
Cavanaugh continued using his grass drills at Boston College and during his days at Fordham from 1927 to 1932. Newspaper reports confirm they were used at Fordham in 1933, Vinny Lombardi's freshman year and young Lombardi found them sufficiently painful to use them during his tenure coaching the Packers.
Given Lombardi's stature in the coaching community, others used the sloppy drill that bears no relationship to football for several more decades. Some coach likely uses them today to haze their youngins rather than teach them some football.
So, whether or not the story was interesting, at least you know how I feel about grass drills.
Postscript: Someone confirmed the press-photo pass was actually from 1969. I am happy to be corrected on that issue but remain violenting opposed to grass drills as typically implemented.
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