Navy Let George Do It And He Did

Navy Let George Do It And He Did

(by Herman Hickman, Sports Illustrated, December 6, 1954)

George Welsh, a scrappy Navy quarterback, was the big hero of a game that SI's Herman Hickman calls "the best I ever saw." The 100,000 spectators and the 35 million televiewers were inclined to agree.

George Welsh is a 21-year-old second classman at the U.S. Naval Academy who plays quarterback on the Navy football team. Before last Saturday's Army-Navy game, George Welsh was not well known, except on the Annapolis campus and around Coaldale, Pa., his home town.

Experts called him a good football player (see SI's scouting report above), but to most of the 35 million people who sat down to watch the game last Saturday he was just a nameless face and a faceless name lost in the advance publicity.

After the game, George Welsh was famous. Thirty-five million people considered him their own personal discovery. He turned out to be, as the scouting report said, a good short passer who liked to run, a quarterback who hurt Army on the option play, a man of sound judgment. But he was much more than that. George Welsh was the best man on the field. He made the Navy offense go. He worked magic with formations. He split his ends wide, set flanking halfbacks to one side or the other and always kept the Army defenses under pressure by the variation of his maneuvers. He ran the option play with precision and poise, either to the strength of the formation or away from it. He always seemed to know whether to keep or pitch out. He used his fast-moving backs beautifully, seemed always able to turn rambling John Weaver, or charging Bob Craig, or electric Joe Gattuso loose at the most propitious moment. He acted as though the breaks that helped Navy were Navy's due, and the breaks that hurt were minor distractions and nothing to worry about. He was brash, confident, aggressive, and his team was the same way. Perhaps it was the prospect of playing in the Sugar Bowl (they knew they would go if they won) that had the Navy players up. It was certainly George Welsh who kept them up.

He took the initiative in the first period after a fumble gave Navy the ball on the Army 26. He surprised Army with his own option run to the 12 and shocked them with a screen pass to Bob Craig for a touchdown. ( Eddie Erdelatz said this screen-pass play was the only innovation he had made in the Navy offense for the game.)

After Army crunched back to score on a 70-yard drive, Welsh calmly set the Navy attack to moving again. He gambled for a first down on a fourth-down quarterback sneak at midfield and got away with it. Before Army could curse its luck, he sprung Weaver and Craig on pitch-outs that carried the ball inside Army's 10, and there he threw a pass to Bill Smith for another touchdown.

The Cadets came plowing back, ignoring the pass for the most part, driving through the Navy line with a strong, slashing ground attack. They were rebuffed repeatedly inside Navy's 20 but they scored twice—once after recovering a fumble on Navy's three, and again on an electrifying 43-yard pass from Pete Vann to Bob Kyasky—to go ahead 20-14.

Welsh & Co. had Navy back in the lead at halftime and picked up another score in the third quarter to put Navy ahead, 27-20, which turned out to be the final score. But watching the fury of the Army attack, you felt that the game would end in a tie. Fullback Pat Uebel was practically unstoppable and Halfback Tommy Bell was not far behind. Well, Army didn't quite make it—the tie—and in the waning moments of the last quarter they could not even protect their passer, but until quite late in the game the issue was very much in doubt.

Usually in a game as charged with emotion and tradition as Army-Navy, the pressure on the players is so high that the precision-honed offense suffers, and defensive play—which is more natural—steals the show. But in this game it was not true. The tackling was crisp and sure, but throughout the game, with only a few exceptions, the defensive patterns simply could not hold the explosive offenses.

And a good thing, too. I'm an old Tennessee guard and a former line coach, and I know that I'm probably being disloyal to my defense-minded fraternity, but I thought this was just about the best game of football I've ever seen.

Navy's first touchdown. Weaver (16) flanked left, decoying Army defense. Welsh (11) took ball from Center' faked hand-off to Guest (30), then faded to pass. Craig (44) blocked Army end, then slipped out to right flank, caught pass there, picked up blockers, went down sideline to score.

Quarterback Welsh made big contribution to Navy victory with his faultless execution of the "bread-and-butter" play of the split-T attack, the quarterback option in which he can decide to run instead of passing, or handing off, or pitching out. In this example, Welsh took the ball from Center Wilson Whit-mire (58) and broke to his left (above), eying line for a possible opening through which he might run himself. Seeing none, Welsh, still moving behind his line to the left, pitched out (below) to Halfback Bob Craig (44), running wide. Army's Don Holleder and Pat Uebel stopped Craig this time, but most of the afternoon George Welsh had the option working perfectly. With it he kept Army's defenses off balance and set up all four Navy scores.

Navy's attack was varied and daring, and designed to confuse orthodox defensive thinking. Early in the first period Navy recovered an Army fumble on the Cadets' 26-yard line. Here, on first down, George Welsh gambled, elected to keep the ball on the option play, raced 14 yards through a surprised army team to the 12-yard line. Thereupon, on first down, he passed. Three plays later Navy had its first touchdown. This aggressive almost impudent offense contrasted strongly with Army's powerful, methodical attack, piled up yardage, brought open-mouthed roars of approval from the happy corps of Midshipmen.