Here in south Louisiana, where football is a fabled tradition, sports fans can take comfort that the first day of a new year offers plenty of action on the gridiron, with bowl games planned throughout the day. Many eyes in this part of the world will be on the Citrus Bowl, where LSU faces Notre Dame, but the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl promise to be lively contests, too.
Today’s matchups at stadiums around the country will provide a welcome respite, we hope, from America’s other pastime, politics. There are, of course, times when sports and politics inevitably intersect, as football fans discovered last year in the dust-up about player protests at NFL games. Sometimes, though, the worlds of politics and athletics meet in happier ways – or so we were reminded not long ago by the revival of a story about Harry Truman at the 1948 Army-Navy game.
The story comes courtesy of the Library of America, a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature. To promote “American Pastimes,” its collection of columns from the late, great sportswriter Red Smith, LOA recently posted one of Smith’s best efforts, his account of Truman’s presence at what would become a legendary Army-Navy contest. Readers can check out the full story at http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/2017/11/the-lost-cause.html.
When Truman attended the Army-Navy game on Nov. 27, 1948, he had just prevailed in a reelection battle almost no political pundit had expected him to win. What he would witness in the stands that day at Philadelphia Municipal Stadium seemed at least as remarkable.
The Army-Navy showdown was expected to be a snoozer. Navy had lost 13 games in a row, and Army was a 21-point favorite. But incredibly, Navy fought Army to a tie. The plays were so compelling that Truman refused to leave the game early -- going against the wishes of his security team, which preferred to have the commander-in-chief depart in advance of an exiting crowd.
“Harry Truman wouldn’t budge,” Smith reported. “Like the 102,580 others present at the forty-ninth meeting of service academies, he simply had to see Navy fire the last shot in its locker.”
Smith couldn’t blame the president for staying. “It wasn’t exactly a football game, it was an exhibition of pure, unbridled fury on both sides for both sides persistently moved the ball against incredibly savage resistance,” he noted. “It was, altogether, as good a thing as could possibly happen to football.”
Truman, whom Smith described as a “prominent fancier of hopeless causes,” had a special affinity for underdogs, so it wasn’t surprising that he’d stick around to watch Navy defy expectations.
Here’s hoping for more such football moments this New Year’s Day.