When Navy Dragged Army Through the Mud

The Army-Navy Game at Franklin Field, December 1, 1934.

“Bands, crowds, spectacles, chevrons and gold lace, brass hats, officials, politicians and dignitaries and still just a football game,” wrote Paul Gallico in the days leading up to the annual Army-Navy game the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1934. “Of all the thousands of football games played all over the country from October to December, this is the one game that really matters…”

“Borries and Buckler, two star backs, are playing their final game and both should throw a party worth attending,” read folks as far away as Los Angeles. The day before the game, Gallico urged ticket-holders to “take a look at Midshipman [Buzz] Borries tomorrow as he fades back to make a pass. Note how cool and unflustered he is; how with a quick glance he takes in the situation and adapts himself to it immediately. Ten years from now, Borries will be a commander, perhaps in charge of a destroyer, or a sub, or a nest of war birds.”

The game took place midway between West Point and Annapolis, in Philadelphia, but the game-day scene unfolded in Washington, D.C. as “seven special trains pulled out from Union Station at an early hour carrying hundreds of members of Capital society, clad in… their best furs and smartest sports clothes… women wearing either the navy’s yellow chrysanthemums tied with huge blue bows, or the Army’s knots of black, gray and gold.”

Franklin Field couldn’t begin to accommodate all of those who wanted in. Leading up to the game, according to The New York Times, 40,000 were turned away. With all 78,079 tickets sold, prices “rocketed to $40, $50 and $75 a pair, as scalpers began to infest cigar stores, shoe-shine parlors and restaurants.”

After all the anticipation, excitement and expense, the final score had Navy on top by 3, a single field goal kicked by “Big Slade Cutter, the Middie’s right tackle.” Did a mere 3-0 score dampen the day’s excitement? Not hardly, claimed Gallico, who wrote: “Of all the Army-Navy games I have seen this was by far the most beautiful and the most awesome.” And he wasn’t talking about the game.

“Wind and weather and nature set the scene,” Gallico wrote in an article titled “Weather on Parade at Big Service Game.” Here, “inside the giant fortress of the field, the entertainment was the “storm tortured sky to the west seen over the grim ramparts of the stadium…while to the east, the sun still sent slanting rays to the earth and illuminated the massed throngs in the east stand like a stage set lit by spotlights from the balcony.”

“With the first…dash of rain the massed thousands on the sides of the stadium turned themselves into a tapestry woven of colors as the women donned their colored rain capes against the downpour. Powder and marine blues were the prevailing colors, with sprinklings of reds, greens, yellows and whites. The west stands…resembled a tulip bed in Holland in springtime. The colors were so sharp and well defined.”

“There was one weird moment of flatness such as I have never seen before,” Gallico continued, “in which, due to the way the light struck from the storm overhead, and the mud that covered the football men from head to toe and rendered them all an even, ghostly grey, the whole scene resembled nothing so much as a photographic negative. Everything was inverted. Blacks were while, whites were blacks, and the gray men running on the field shining with mud and water looked like the negative film one sees run thorough in the cutting rooms of the newsreel studios.”

“Football in the mud is a much more fluid and rhythmic game to watch than on a dry field because …the 22 men do not come to a stop as abruptly as they do where the turf is solid and sure. The pileups dissolve in the grease and the ball carriers move to come sort of completion, either forward or backward, depending on how hard they are hit until they skid gently to a stop.  Blockers, too …slide gracefully on their chests for 5 and 6 yards at a clip… “

If you don’t believe Gallico (who quit sports writing two years later for a prolific and successful career as a novelist) see for yourself in this vintage video when Navy dragged Army through the mud—and vice versa.