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Today's Tidbit... Four Heisman Trophy Winners In One College Game
A 2016 NFL game between Baltimore and Tennessee had five Heisman Trophy winners suit up for the game. Baltimore had Lamar Jackson (2016), Mark Ingram (2009), and Robert Griffin III (2012), while Tennessee had Derrick Henry (2015) and Marcus Mariota (2016). The previous record of four in a game came in 1998 when the Raiders, which included Tim Brown (no relation), Desmond Howard (also no relation), and Charles Woodson (also...), lost to the Doug Flutie-led Buffalo Bills in Week 15.
While those games make for interesting NFL trivia, they pale compared to a college game with the defending and three future Heisman Trophy winners on the same field. (We will pause here while you consider the likely year and teams competing in the game.)
Played at Yankee Stadium on November 9, 1946, the Game of the Century featured two undefeated teams, #1 Army against #2 Notre Dame, averaging more than 30 points per game. In the first season of relative normalcy after the way, the nation's football fans were on pins and needles. The game attracted so much interest that Baker Field, the site of the Penn-Columbia game that day, banned portable radios so fans watching the game in Philadelphia would not hear the play-by-play of the Game of the Century coming from other fans' radios.
The Army-Notre Dame series had history, both old and recent. Gus Dorais had tossed the pea to Knute Rockne repeatedly in 1913. Notre Dame's Four Horsemen received their nickname after the 1924 contest, and Notre Dame was up against it in 1928 at Yankee Stadium before winning one for the Gipper.
In the 1940s, they tied 0-0 in 1941. Notre Dame beat Army 13-0 in 1942 and 26-0 in 1943, while Army walloped ND 59-0 in 1944 and 48-0 in 1945, so one side or both had gone scoreless in five straight games. Notre Dame's 1943 win over Army had been the cadets' last loss, so they rode a 25-game winning streak as Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis took the field. Notre Dame had many returning war vets on the roster, including quarterback Johnny Lujak, a Navy veteran, and freshman Leon Hart, who spent most of his time on the bench because ND had five returning lettermen playing end.
The Red Blaik and Frank Leahy-led teams fought ferociously that day, with most of the ferocity coming from the defensive side of the ball. Notre Dame drove 84 yards to the Army 3-yard line in the second quarter but did not score on their only offensive drive into Army territory. Notre Dame also recovered two fumbles on Army's side of the midfield stripe but could not make anything of either opportunity.
Meanwhile, Blanchard averaged only three yards per carry in 20 attempts, while Davis gained 33 yards in 15 carries for Army. Neither team did much through the air. Notre Dame completed only five passes and Army four, with both teams netting 52 yards.
Alas, while four Heisman Trophy winners warmed up for the game, only three participated. Buried behind several veterans, Hart watched Notre Dame substitute two other players at the end as his name went uncalled. Nevertheless, the 6-4 225-pound freshman earned All-American honors for the next three years and became the NFL's No. 1 draft choice.
Although both teams finished the season undefeated and Army played the more challenging schedule, Notre Dame was named the 1946 national champion.
With apologies to Ohio State's silliness, the 1946 Army-Notre Dame game may have the best claim to being THE Game of the Century. Army was stocked with talent accumulated during the war, and Notre Dame had hordes of returning veterans. The game likely featured the most outstanding collection of talent in a Game of the Century. Of course, both teams were all-White, so that an argument could be made for a post-integration Games of the Century. Nevertheless, the game remains the only college game to see four Heisman Trophy winners on the teams' rosters. And as Keifer Sutherland once told us, "... these are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed."
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