Joe Stilwell’s Cadet Days

Joe Stillwell at age 15

Stilwell earned his Football A as a Quarterback

Cadet Stilwell seated front row next to Team mate with large Army A

The following is from ‘Bill Stern’s Favorite Football Stories’ published in 1948 by Blue Ribbon Books, Garden City, NY:


On November 14, 1903, the great Chicago University football team, with the immortal Walter Eckersall, ( came to West Point to play against an under-dog Army team. The odds were twenty-to-one that Eckersall with his trip-hammer Chicago teammates would slaughter the Army team.

As the game opened, Chicago lived up to all advance notices. Their methods were revolutionary and revelationary, but by some miracle, the Army players managed to plow through for a touchdown. Whereupon, the enraged Eckersall and his equally angry teammates ripped through for a touchdown to tie the score a 6 to 6. And there it stood as the game moved foot by foot, yard by yard toward its finish. Suddenly, with very little time left in the game, the Army quarterback was hurt. And from the Army substitute bench came Joe!

And the guy named Joe found himself nose-guard to nose-guard with the famous Walter Eckersall probably the greatest quarterback in gridiron history.

Well, Army started down the field with a touchdown glint in its eye. But there was a fumble on the ten-yard line and Chicago grabbed the ball. Eckersall fell back to his five-yard line for a neat kick and the ball landed directly in Joe’s hands on the 45-yard line. The substitute might have done the usual thing of trying to carry the ball. If he had done that, he might have been tackled and dropped in his tracks, – for the great Eckersall was bearing down on him even while the punt was still in the air.

But substitute Joe was an unusual guy. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Eckersall charging down at him – so, he made a split-second decision. He simply decided to “hold”. He was half crouched when the decision was reached, and it caught Eckersall completely off guard. The Chicagoan, expecting him to dash off, interfered. It was a costly blunder. Chicago was penalized 25 yards and the ball moved down to the 20-yard line. The substitute Joe, by deciding merely to hold, outfoxed the great Eckersall. And so, with only a few minutes left to play, Army gambled on a field goal. They made it, and the game was won by Army, with a single field goal. It was one of the most stunning football upsets in gridiron history!

Substitute Joe became the hero of the hour – and all because he had made that split-second decision which brought a startling victory.

That was “Vinegar Joe” – a football hero from long ago – known the world over, until his death, as General Joe Stilwell, who commanded the U. S. forces in the East and bedeviled the foe with the sledge-hammer tactics he learned as a number one football star at West Point.

Cadet Stilwell 3d from left

Joe Stillwell First Class photo

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