Glenn Davis said a single thought ran through the minds of Army football players at halftime on Nov. 20, 1946.
Leading Navy 21-0, Davis wondered, “How will the papers play up a 50-0 game?”
But it was Navy, a 28-point underdog, that almost made the headlines. The 1-7 Midshipmen rallied, nearly pulling off what would have been considered the greatest upset in college football.
Instead, the Black Knights held on to win, 21-18, and claimed their last national championship. The difference was three missed extra points by Navy and a late defensive stand, judged the greatest moment in Army sports history.
Navy drove to Army’s 3-yard line with 90 seconds remaining in the game. On third-and-goal, Bill Hawkins took the snap, charged toward the line and flipped the ball outside to halfback “Pistol” Pete Williams, who was stopped at the 5 by Barney Poole.
Officials ruled in a long-since debated call that Williams was tackled in bounds, and the clock ran out before Navy could get off a fourth-down play. But was Williams tackled in bounds, or was he out of bounds as Navy adamantly claims, which would have stopped the clock?
The argument rages to this day. Williams declined to tell the Associated Press earlier this year what he thinks happened.
“That’s a secret I’m going to take to the grave with me,” he said, grinning. “I just don’t want to have to tell anybody anything. It’s something that makes the game stay in people’s minds.”
The victory capped Army’s dominant three-year run from 1944-46. The Black Knights finished 27-0-1 under legendary head coach Earl “Red” Blaik that included three national championships and two Heisman Trophy winners (Doc Blanchard in 1945 and Davis in 1946).
The only tie was against Notre Dame, 0-0 in 1946 in what was considered the greatest college football game ever played. But as one newspaper headline said, it was “Much ado about nothing-nothing.”
The tie split the 1946 national championship, with the Associated Press crowning Notre Dame No. 1 with Army No. 2. But the Black Knights were ranked first in other final polls, the last time that’s happened.
The narrow victory also provided a lesson for Davis in his final game.
“I shall never forget the game or the great lesson it is for all football players,” he told the Associated Press in 1960. “Over-confidence can really ruin a great football team or individual star quicker than anything else.”