SportsJam with Doug Doyle: Heisman Trophy Winner Pete Dawkins & Author Mark Beech on Army-Navy Game

Dec 9, 2019

Pete Dawkins is carried off the field after an Army win over Notre Dame. The photo is from Mark Beech's book about Army football.
Credit Mark Beech

The 2019 Army-Navy Game marks the rivalry's 120th meeting and 89th time played in Philadelphia. 

The Army-Navy Game pits the U.S Military Academy at West Point (Black Knights) against the U.S. Naval Academy (Midshipmen) at Lincoln Financial Field on December 14.

In 2012, former Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins  and author Mark Beech joined SportsJam host Doug Doyle to talk about the game and the book When Saturday Mattered Most: The Last Golden Season of Army Football.

As a senior in 1958 Pete Dawkins won the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award and was a consensus All-America selection.  Dawkins served as an officer in the United States Army until he retired in 1983, with the rank of brigadier general.  Dawkins was a Republican candidate for a United State Senate seat in New Jersey in 1988.

Dawkins says when he came to West Point he didn't look like a Heisman Trophy winner. 

"I was an unimposing figure when I arrived at the Military Academy as a plebe.  I joke but it has substantial amount of truth to it that I was a left-handed quarterback and one of the problems was I threw the ball with the point down.  A good quarterback throws  the ball with the point slightly elevated.  So on those rare occassions when I got the ball somewhere near the receiver it was a screwball and so it was uncatchable.  That was not the foundation for being a superb T-formation quarterback."

"When Saturday Mattered Most" is authored by Mark Beech
Credit Mark Beech

It was at that time when legendary coach Earl "Red" Blaik knew the lefty wouldn't succeed as a quarterback at Army and only let him stay on the team as a scrum running back.

"So, one of the people to whom I owe immense debt is Red Blaik (Army Coach) but for a reason that most people don't know.  I played quarterback on our freshman team and then was playing quarterback in spring practice of that year.  Basically I got fired by Red Blaik.  He called me in and said 'Look Pete we got seven quarterbacks, we need four, your number seven, you're fired.'  I believe to this day that the only reason I stayed on the team or offered the chance to stay on the team was that I look so pathetic when Blaik told me this." 

From seventh string quarterback as a freshman to 1958 Heisman Trophy running back Pete Dawkins became an Army football legend
Credit Mark Beech for WBGO

Pete Dawkins eventually became a captain of the team and in his magical senior season finished with 1,216 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns.  The Heisman Trophy winner credits his undersized-but-talented teammates, coach Blaik, and even General Douglas MacArthur for helping became a consensu All-America selection. 

Mark Beech is an editor at Sports Illustrated, where he spent nearly a decade covering college football.  He has also written about a wide range of other sports, including college basketball, horse racing and NASCAR. A second-generation West Point graduate, he spent five years as an officer in the U.S. Army before turning to journalism.

Beech says Dawkins' military career at West point rose to legendary status too.

"(Dawkins) had a cadet career that was unmatched before or since.  The only comparisons to Pete within the limits of the cadet experience are Douglas McCarthur and that I could find Robert E. Lee."

Mark Beech is the author of many sports books including "When Saturday Mattered Most: The Last Golden Season of Army Football"
Credit Mark Beech for WBGO

Though Beech says "Red" Blaik did help put Pete on a path to succed, but the author says Pete, a driven and bright man, always had a streak of determination in him.

"I have no doubt that when Pete was told that you're not going to play quarterback at West Point, that Pete was like 'I'll show him'.  He was a marvously gifted back of course and what people don't remember was what a great receiver he was.  He averaged over 30 yards a catch in '58.  It's close to an NCAA record." 

Catch some of the great stories about Pete playing in the Army-Navy Game by clicking above and hearing the entire SportsJam with Doug Doyle podcast.