Copyright 2010 by John T. Reed

I watched much of the 2010 Army-Notre Dame game on NBC on 11/20/10. Army got slaughtered, which was expected. The Irish looked like men playing with boys. Roughly speaking, that stems from Army’s inability to recruit “blue chip” high school football players because of the rules against Army football players playing in the NFL after college and from the near certainty that current cadets will go to Afghanistan as ground pounder soldiers after graduation.

But I was surprised by a number of other things and the contrast with when my class and I were cadets from 1964 to 1968.

The 1964 Army team played Syracuse in Yankee Stadium. The Corps of Cades (student body) marched onto the field and did our “salute, take off our hats, cheer, about face, cheer again, about face, put them back on again” routine. It is synchronized by cadet seniors on the field giving the preparatory command and a cadet cheerleader with a big flag high in the stands on each side giving the command of execution by holding the flag straight up then swinging it down. For example, the command to end the salute is “Order arms.” The cadet commanders on the field would say “order” and the cadet cheerleader in the stands would swing the flag down meaning “Arms.” Cute. We had to practice that stuff every afternoon on the main parade field the week of the game—mainly to teach the new freshmen how to do it. We typically had two such away games per year where we did that routine. The other one in 1964 was the Army-Navy Game.

Before and after the game

After the game we could roam around town until 1:00 AM when we had to be at busses to take us back to West Point. It was a formation complete with a bugler sounding “first call” (five minutes until deadline—same bugle call you hear before horse races) and “assembly.” (You’ve heard that one but I cannot describe it to you except to say that it was in the opening of the 1950s Rin Tin Tin TV show.) The scene of over 2,000 cadets gathering in formations, saluting and reporting “All present or accounted for, sir,” stretching for blocks in downtown manhattan and buglers punctuating the normal Manhattan traffic noise should have made the evening news.

A scene that happened before the game was more noteworthy and more incongruous. We came from West Point, which is about 45 miles north of New York City, in about 40 busses. Each year, for both the New York Area football game and the spring Armed Forces Day Parade down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the convoy stopped somewhere in Northern New Jersey for a potty break (#1 only). There were no women at West Point then. The busses stopped and parked tightly together. I was never in the first or last busses but they probably parked diagonally or farther off the shoulder to block the end views of what was going on. The side of the road was thickly wooded.

The cadets all got out and urinated on New Jersey. Inevitable comments were that it reflected the cadets’ opinion of that much maligned state. (I am from New Jersey.) The other inevitable comment was to say, “Behold the Long Gray Line” because you ended up with a urinating line 2,400 cadets or so long. The other cadets were taking photos of the line from the back. Those photos never made the year book.

In this Internet, co-ed West Point era, I assume they figured out another way for the cadets to relieve themselves. Just another piece of evidence proving that “the Corps has.” (Short for “The Corps of Cadets has gone to hell”—battle cry of the old grads for 200 years)

The West Point ‘brand’

In recent years, West Point officials have announced that the words “West Point” are their “brand.” That means they are going to use those words more than the alternatives like Army and the U.S. Military Academy—which are less prestigious or less known. Why is a military organization using the word “brand?” Apparently too many West Pointers got MBAs. (I am one of them.)

I agree that the words West Point are more prestigious than the word Army and that the U.S. Military Academy name is all but unknown to the public. But West Point needs a lot more training on branding a product or service. In fact, we in the 1960s did a far better job of branding our alma mater without ever using or thinking about the word “brand.”

For one thing, we always wore uniforms that were unique to West Point in public. We had olive drab combat fatigues that we wore for military field raining at West Point. Those are the familiar combat uniforms from World War II and the Korean War. But we would NEVER wear that uniform off post or when “escorting” (being in the company of family or friends or a “young lady”). Even when I was a platoon leader at Fort Bragg, North Carolina after West Point we could not been seen off base in fatigues except to drive to and from the base and our home except to stop at a dry cleaners or convenience store. For interaction with the public, like football games, air travel, being on a date, etc., we had to wear “Class A” uniform. The cadets at the Army-Notre Dame game in 2010 were wearing such a uniform. The one they were wearing was Dress Gray, although they were also wearing black leather gloves with it. The after-graduation Class A uniform was a four-button olive drab suit with a shirt and tie. We had to wear that when traveling on mass transit like an airplane.

I never heard of Dress Gray with black leather gloves. At West Point, you did not wear gloves because your hands were cold or leave them in your room when your hands were not cold. You wore whatever the damned uniform flag said to wear. And you only wore gloves when the uniform of the moment was short overcoat (only worn at West Point), long overcoat, or parka. If it was cold enough for gloves at a football game away from West Point, we would have also had to wear the long overcoat, a Dickensian costume with a cape buttoned back over the shoulders. But I must say that long overcoat was very heavy and cumbersome and we would have welcomed the black-gloves-only part of it for six hours of wandering around New York City if the weather were not very cold.

The problem is that nowadays, West Point cadets often wear the camouflage combat uniform to football games. That uniform is not unique to West Point. It is an ordinary army uniform. Army people wear it on planes which would have gotten you courtmartialed when I was in the Army.

The Army apparently wears the combat camouflage uniform in cities, at football games, and on planes and trains to attract attention, draw sympathy, get people to say “Thank you for your service,” and buy them drinks. That’s creepy—like a politician wrapping himself in the flag.

At our 40th reunion, the cadets schlepped into the football game in cammies. They also wore cammies to class one day that week. I saw one game on TV where the Army team had digital cammie pattern football uniforms. As football uniforms, they looked like shit and may have violated the rule requiring a sharp contract between the color of the jersey numbers and the rest of the jersey.

But here’s my main point. If you want to push the West Point brand, cadets must always wear uniforms unique to West Point. At the Army-Notre Dame game, Army’s head coach was wearing a cammie-patterned baseball cap. If I recall correctly, some sideline cadets at the game were wearing cammie pattern combat uniforms.

Make up your minds, guys. Either you are branding West Point or you are branding the Army. Like I said above, we who never thought about branding West Point in the 1960s did a hell of a lot better job of branding West Point than the current guys who spend a lot of time talking about branding West Point.

The Army-Notre Dame game football players also all wore a 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) unit patch on their right shoulders. Uh, excuse me, but isn’t that the brand of the 101st Airborne Division—a regular Army unit that few West Point graduates will ever serve in? The whole idea of branding is to be extremely consistent about putting that brand on everything you do. In recent years, West Point football players have moved in the direction of French bicycle racers with logos of Nike, U.S. Army division patches, the Army, and West Point. They are advertising a multiple brands only one of which is West Point.

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1913-1958 Army-Notre Dame games

Before kickoff, the announcers seemed to be more interested in doing a documentary about Yankee Stadium and the pre-1960s history of the Army-Notre Dame game than they were in broadcasting the 2010 game.

Notre Dame has lost its pre-eminent position in American football. Too many poor choices in hiring of coaches. So has Army, only more so. Too many lost wars. Not enough Army graduates succeeding in the NFL.

One of the great games of the 20th century was the 1946 Army-Notre Dame game in New York City. They were ranked #1 and #2 that year, a rare coincidence in those pre-BCS days. They also had something like four Heisman Trophy winners in that game. It ended in a 0-0 tie. There were no over-time rules then.

All NBC did by emphasizing that stuff was to show the ages of its executives. I was four months old when Army and Notre Dame tied in 1946. I can start collecting social security in three years.

Another great game was the first Army-Notre Dame game in 1913. That is the one immortalized by the movie Knute Rockne All American.The movie is absurdly inaccurate but it got the basic fact correct: Notre Dame won and the game was one of the first in which the forward pass was employed extensively as an offensive weapon. Army was famous then. Notre Dame was unheard of. Beating Army, which was one of the top teams in the nation at the time, and doing it in front of the New York sports media at West Point, was a great career move for the Notre Dame program as they say in Hollywood. The movie showed Rockne coaching the team, and George Gipp, played by Ronald Reagan, as the hero. In fact, Jess Harper was the Notre Dame coach, Rockne was a tight end who did not make first team All-American, and Gipp was an ineligible freshman that season.

At the moment, notwithstanding Navy having recently beaten Notre Dame repeatedly, Army has no business being on the same field as Notre Dame. New Army coach Ellerson has turned Army around to an extent. With six wins in 2010 Army is bowl eligible for the first time in many years. But I do not see that Ellerson has any plan to beat the other service academies who also run, and are not flummoxed by, the triple option. Nor do I see that he has any plan to beat strong FBS division teams like Notre Dame. Year after year announcers marvel at relatively small Army linemen going up against guys who outweigh them by scandalous amounts. They express admiration for the little guys taking on the big guys. But the close-up show the little Army guys getting their asses kicked most o the time. I studied physics at West Point. It is a predictable result when little meets big.

I share the admiration of the announcers for the gutty little Army guys, but how about a comment about the stupidity of the Army coaches using strategies that require little guys to block or bull rush big guys. Not gonna happen. Give them a chance to win. See my article with suggestions for the Army football team given its systemic handicaps in recruiting. Am I sure my suggestions would work? Nope. But they might and they are worth trying. Trying to beat service academies with the option and teams like Notre Dame with little against big line play sure as hell is not working.

I believe Army can defeat teams like Notre Dame and perhaps even win the national championship, but ONLY if they adopt and execute a contrarian approach tailored to their strengths (e.g., 3,000 males on scholarship, disciplined players). See my book The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense. My warp speed no huddle used in a way to wear out the other team and some sort of radical spread offense that renders huge defensive linemen unusable.


The game was played in Yankee Stadium, or at least the replacement Yankee Stadium. The pre-game stuff made much of the storied history of Yankee Stadium—including some famous football games played there. But Yankee Stadium is primarily a baseball stadium. As such, it was and now is a half-assed football venue.

Going back to the branding issue, the student bodies of the service academies, more so than any other college football team, are part of the show. At West Point in the 1960s, at JFK Memorial Stadium in Philadelphia for the Army-Navy game, and at Soldiers Field for the Army-Air Force game we played there, the cadets and midshipmen formed massive rectangles consisting of the entire non-football player student bodies all in identical uniforms and all cheering strenuously and in near perfect coordination with each other at midfield. No dates or family members or friends mixed in. When he was going to play Army at West Point, Penn State’s Joe Paterno used to have loudspeakers blasting cadets singing and cheering in his practices that week to prepare his players for the extreme noise level.

When we were cadets, only Navy’s midshipmen out-yelled us. They outnumbered us by a large margin until my senior year. The only schools that matched us were Air Force and Notre Dame. (rabid “subway alumni” Catholics who never set foot on the Notre Dame campus—I was raised Catholic. Two of my cousins went there. One became a Jesuit priest.)

Occasionally, like our Army-Notre Dame game at Shea Stadium in 1965, a baseball field for the Mets, we were in a stadium where our student body was chopped up by modern multi-priced stadium seats. that broke up both the visual image of the Corps of Cadets unified as well as our cheering.

Watching the 2010 Army-Notre Dame game on TV, I had trouble even seeing the cadets in the stands. There seemed to be only about 40 of them in most shots. They were also far from the field and their players there because of the baseball configuration of the stands.

Fundamentally, the cadets in the stands were not part of the show in the 2010 Army-Notre Dame game. So much for that branding and twelfth-man opportunity. NBC and the teams apparently chose Yankee Stadium because of its history which was the main thing the game had going for it as a TV show.

Seems to me that Army gave up too much in terms of branding and twelfth man cheering to agree to that venue. They need some specs for where they play so they can have a unified and visible Corps of Cadets cheering section. I am not a stadium buff but I would have thought Soldiers Field in Chicago would be better for those purposes. If they have to be in New York, perhaps the Meadowlands. I do not know what other suitable stadiums are available.

West Point would probably say that the game got maximum TV exposure by being in Yankee Stadium. Probably true, but what kind of exposure did West Point get? Their team and coaching staff were wearing multi-brand uniforms (West Point, Army, 101st Airborne). The Corps of Cadets were essentially hidden away somewhere in the end zone far from the field. We got obliterated on the field 27-3 (it wasn’t that close).

Even at Michie stadium a West Point during our reunion, the cadets were squished into the northwest corner of the stadium on the minus ten yard line. When we were cadets. We were at midfield both home and away. Why? it was college football game and we were the college’s students. Duh! In the last couple of years, I have been to college football games at the Rose Bowl, Stanford, Arizona, and Cal. The home students sit around midfield.

West Point explained to us alumni that the cadets are no longer at midfield because they needed the money those seats would generate.

Money!? At West Point! Well, hell—sell the stadium naming rights. What has Dennis Mahan Michie done for us lately? True, he founded the Army football team and was killed in action in the Spanish-American war, but that ain’t generating any money. Give him a plaque and sell the naming rights to Northrup Grumman or Goldman Sachs.

If you look up into the skyboxes at Michie at home games, you see generals. Generals!? They don’t have no money. We don’t need no stinking generals at Army football games. Sell those boxes to draft dodgers who went to the Ivy League for college then got jobs on Wall Street. They got money and they live in Manhattan or Westchester.

Use some bleach and scissors to carve a corporate logo into the hips of the Army mules. Sell the space on the the cadet uniforms to corporate sponsors so each cadet looks like a NASCAR car. Get that money! Change or at least add to the West Point motto. Instead of the current Duty, Honor, Country, make it Money, Honor, Country or Money, Duty, Honor, Country. Is that too long? Well, then Money, Duty, Honor.

If we are going to lose badly and hide the Corps of Cadets from the TV audience, we would be better off in some bandbox old stadium with benches for seats playing a Division I-lower-case “a” team that we are competitive with. Getting on TV alone is not the goal. Getting maximum exposure consistent with making a good impression on the viewers is. Having the cadets involved in the game, like we were back in JFK memorial stadium in Philadelphia in the 1960s, is part of the show.Even the TV people ought to take that into account.

Strange juxtaposition

During college football games, they have long shown about a two minute promotional clip of the two colleges during half time or a timeout. I wish I had a transcript of the two for this game, or video, but I did not realize their significance until they were over.

West Point provided a light “what I did last summer” sort of thing featuring a handful of cadets dressed in what I would say are West Point’s least attractive and least distinctive uniforms—black classroom shirts. Their objective seemed to be to convince viewers that West Point is not much different from civilian colleges. One female cadet spoke of her wonderful summer building a school in Guatemala or some such other Latin America Mother Theresa-style project.

So much for branding. West Point is a military academy, not Habitat for Humanity. It’s brand is parading on the Plain and cheering the Army team at football games and small class sizes and machine guns and parachuting and leading men in combat. I cannot think of anything more anti-branding for West Point than to try to depict it as just another civilian college-like place that does charity work.

Notre Dame, for its clip, showed a captain in combat camouflage uniform talking about Notre Dame researchers trying to come up with designs to make U.S. military vehicles safer when attacked by IEDs and RPGs. For a while, I thought the captain was a West Point grad. But he ended by saying how proud he was that his alma mater, Notre Dame, was engaged in this effort.

Gee. Don’t West Pointers have a monopoly on truth, honor,duty, country, military service, leadership, and all that?

I was stunned by the Notre Dame military-oriented pitch for people to go to their college. Indeed, I think they branded themselves as a better military officer training college than West Point did if all you knew about the two schools came from their Army-Notre Dame game clips.

When I was a cadet, I noticed that the U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen at Annapolis seemed embarrassed to be in the military. It was the 1960s, so one could understand that. To an extent, West Point cadets then were also embarrassed by our out-of-style shaved heads and West Point’s ranking last on any comprehensive party school list. But our attitude was, “Oh, well. We’re here. Might as well make the best of it. Yes, we are military and we’re pretty good at it.”

In another article I wrote about the Army-Navy game, I noted that one of my uncle’s friend stood right next to the midshipmen and cadets marching into the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia when I was a cadet. He was shocked that close up, the midshipmen, who entered first that year, were acting like jerks and looked sloppy.He commented on it. My uncle, who had worked at West Point said, “That’s just Navy. Wait until the cadets go by. They’re professionals.” His friend scoffed and dismissed the statement as coming from a die-hard Army supporter. But when we cadets marched past him a few minutes later, he said, “I’ll be damned. You’re right. The cadets looked as good from two feet away as they do on TV.” I was one of them that day and for three other Army-Navy Games. We were joking as we began to march in from the train yards, but as we approached the stadium, the seniors started saying in the front of the parade “GAP! GAP!” That stands for “Great American Public.” For us cadets, it meant, “We are getting close enough to the civilians that they can see and hear us. Knock off the screwing around. Look Sharp.” And we did. We felt obligated to do that.

Army’s promotional clip seemed to indicate West Point is now embarrassed about being military, like the 1960s Naval Academy midshipmen. “Don’t let these uniforms fool you. We go help the poor in the summer just like the students at Stanford. We’re just regular, liberal, politically-correct college students who occasionally wear uniforms.”

The people who run the Military Academy need to read a book about branding. I believe among the most important points in it will be, “Be consistent. Be yourself. Don’t try to be something you’re not.” Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on“ brand” to get them started.

Here’s a better suggestion. Arguably, the world’s biggest experts on branding are Procter & Gamble. By coincidence, that company is currently headed by a West Point graduate. West Point should consult with him or his people if they are truly serious about branding. (The previous head of P&G was my Harvard Businss School classmate A.G. Laffley.)