1927 Army 9-1 #6
1927/11/13 Army 18 – Notre Dame 0 (Yankee Stadium, New York, NY)
1927/11/26 Army 14 – Navy 9 W (Polo Grounds,New York, NY)
Coach: Lawrence McCeney “Biff” Jones (October 8, 1895 – February 12, 1980)
Army 1926-1929 – 30-8-2
LSU 1932-1934 – 20-5-6
Oklahoma 1935-1936 – 9-6-3
Nebraska 1937-1941 – 28-14-4 (1940 Rose Bowl vs Stanford AP#7)
Cadets march onto field. Cadets in formation. Cadets run off. Toss of coin. Army kicks off to Notre Dame. Play from extreme right side line for small gain. Play from near left side line for small gain. Army’s Cagle runs along sideline for TD on 48 yard scamper. Cadets leaving after 18-0 win.
College Football Historical Society
VOL. IV, NO. I NOVEMBER, 1990
PAGE 14 The Forgotten Cadets
By Ray Schmidt
They were considered one of the national powerhouses of their time; they featured a veteran starting lineup loaded with All-American caliber players; they were led by one of the most exciting and colorful halfbacks in the annals of college football history of whom a New York scribe wrote: “A red-headed halfback who plods along only a trifle faster than that ancient sprinter Mercury … the hero of a game that abounded in heroes.” The player was
Christian K. Cagle; the team was 1927 Army.
In the first year under Coach Biff Jones Army had had an outstanding season in 1926 (7-1-1), capped off by the legendary 21-21 tie with Navy. For 1927 the word was that Army would be even stronger, with a veteran team featuring eight returning regulars and thirteen of the first twenty men. But replacing the graduated men with satisfactory players was where Jones had a problem.
By the late 1920’s the importance of having good depth in your reserves had come to be considered an important part of college football strategy, and the use of the “shock troops” (or second team) even to start a game, was a Common tactic of major teams such as Notre Dame, Army, USC etc. The problem for Coach Jones was that 1927 Army did not have enough quality players to fill Out a second team of sufficient strength to allow him to employ this tactic in major games. The main reason this seems to have come about is that in 1927 Army adopted the “one-year rule”, which said that freshmen were ineligible for varsity play. In 1926 the Cadets had been greatly aided by first year men (plebes) Murrell, Cagle, Dahl and Perry. There would be no such help in 1927, and so an observer as prominent as Allison Danzig opinioned that
Army of 1927 was actually a weaker team than the previous season.
But despite the lack of depth on his bench,Coach Jones had a starting line-up that was “loaded”.
The backfield was expected to be led by Light Horse Harry Wilson at right half, with help from Chris Cagle at left half and John Murrell at fullback. On the flanks Army had Norris “Skippy” Harbold (left end) and Charley Born (right end), who were commonly regarded as two
of the best ends in the country. The line was led by Mortimer (Bud) Sprague at left tackle and George (Buster) Perry at right tackle.
Army opened its 1927 season on Sept 24 by hosting Boston University. The game had just started when Cagle rifled a 40-yard pass completion to Murrell, but a fumble stopped this drive. On Army’s next possession Cagle passed to Meehan for a 27-yard gain to Boston’s 15; Harry Wilson then swept end for 13 yards and Murrell plowed in for the TD and a 7-0 lead. On the following kickoff Murrell made a run-back of 42 yards to launch another drive which he
capped off by plunging in for the TD and a 13-0 lead. There was no further scoring as the Army reserves put on a dreadful performance the rest of the game which caused renewed comment in the media on the lack of depth available to Coach Jones in 1927.
The second week Detroit came to West Point on a stifling hot day, and early in the game Army started a march at their 34 behind the running of Cagle, Wilson and Murrell. At the Detroit 40 Cagle dropped back and lofted a pass to Charley Born, just as he went into the end-zone, for the TD. Later in the game Cagle broke off a pair of spectacular runs but the game ended with
Army still holding just a 6-0 lead.
The following week, with Wilson out of action, Army got an unexpected tough game against a fast and big Marquette team. The Cadets were surprised early in the first quarter as Marquette marched from midfield to a score and a 6-0 lead. But a short time later Cagle broke off tackle and raced 60 yards to a TD to tie it up. After Landon’s field goal gave Army a half-time lead,
Cagle broke the game open in the third quarter with a dazzling punt return of 52 yards for a TD. Still in the third quarter Cagle broke off a 25-yard run to lead a drive that ended with Murrell plunging in for the TD. Army had shown its best form of the season so far in the hard-fought 21-12 win, and Biff Jones was encouraged with the tough foes still to come.
Army now prepared for their first major game of the season against an excellent Yale team. The Bulldogs were led by halfback Bruce Caldwell, who would become involved in a major controversy not long after, and the game was expected to be a battle between Yale’s star and Harry Wilson. For the previous two weeks Army had been emphasizing their passing game in practice, but now the Cadets decided to abandon the use of the backfield shift they usually employed, and instead lineup in the standard single-wing. One paper observed that this would produce “only straight more or less old-fashioned football on attack”.
But Army was brought back to earth the next week as Davis & Elkins came in and stunned the Cadets with a TD in the second quarter for a 6-0 lead. Despite Sprague’s blocking of two punts that gave Army great scoring chances, the Cadets were plagued with several fumbles and
poor passing, which helped D&E hold them off four times in the third quarter alone. But then early in the fourth quarter Army finally broke thru on Wilson’s 5-yard TD run to tie it up. A moment later Army had the ball again, and Cagle knifed thru left tackle and dashed 50 yards
to the score for a 13-6 lead. The Army reserves then added a pair of TD’s to round off the 27-6 win.
It was a gorgeous October afternoon in the Yale Bowl and in the words of one writer it was a “day made to order for football. There was enough tonic in the sunshine to make old grads young again and young grads still younger.” On the field the Army line ran into a superior opponent.
In the first period Yale started their second possession of the game from their own 35 yard line. Caldwell’s running led Yale to a 4th down and 2 at Army’s 35 where the Cadets held, but an offside penalty on the play gave Yale a first down on the 30. On the next play Caldwell dropped back and launched a long pass to the right end Quarier, who made a leaping catch at the 10 over Army’s Meehan, and then staggered the rest of the way in for the TD and a 7-0 lead. But Army came roaring back early in the second quarter when Harry Wilson recovered a fumble at the Yale 18. In two plays the Cadets had a first-and-goal at the Yale 7-yard line. Then Cagle and Wilson were each stopped in their tracks, and after a penalty moved the ball to the 2, and Sprague not playing at all, as Army eased past Ursinus 13-0. Then it was time to prepare for the season finale with Navy. The Cadets were installed as a slight favorite, but Navy was a good team despite having lost to Michigan and Notre Dame. The week of practice at West Point was graced by the presence of the legendary back Elmer Oliphant, who was working with the coaches to try and install more speed in the Army attack. Came the day Of the game and the conditions were ideal for football, as 75,000 fans jammed the Polo Grounds to watch Lighthorse Harry Wilson in his final college game.
The teams had battled thru a scoreless first quarter with an inspired Navy team having once driven to the Army 10. In the second period the teams were exchanging punts when suddenly Giese of Navy broke thru to block Murrell’s kick and the ball bounded out of the end-zone for a safety to give Navy a 2-0 lead. On the following kickoff Navy got a 22-yard return to Army’s 44,
from where they began a march that carried them to a first-and-goal at the Cadet 4 yard line.
But here the Army line held to take the ball back on the 1 yard line, and Murrell boomed out a 53-yard punt to end the threat. In the second half the tide turned, and early in the third quarter Army took a punt to Navy’s 28. From there Wilson carried the ball five times in a row, the last a l-yard plunge for the TD and Army led 7-2. A short time later Cagle intercepted a Navy pass and raced it back 41 yards to the Navy 4 yard line. On the second play Wilson swept around left end for a 3-yard TD run. Navy scored in the final quarter, but Army held on for a 14-9 win
that capped off an excellent 9-1-0 season.
For the 1927 season fifteen different players chipped in to the scoring for Army. The scoring leaders were Cagle (6 TD’s, 3 PAT’s and threw 2 TD passes); Murrell (6 TD’s); and Wilson (5 TD’s, 2 PAT’s). Cagle’s personal statistics included 681 yards rushing and 16 of 50 passing for 353 yards.
Army finished #6 in the national Dickinson Ratings behind top-rated Illinois, and once again the short comings of this system are seen as Notre Dame was rated #4. There were plenty of individual post-season honors as the following players received All-American mention: George Perry (tackle)- NY Sun First Team, NEA Second Team; Bud Sprague (tackle)- Associated Press First Team; Central Press, Hearst and INS First Team; Chuck Born (end)- NY World First Team, UP Second Team; Hearst, NEA and A-A Board Second Team; and Chris Cagle- First Team for Grantland Rice, A-A Board and Walter Eckersall, Third Team for AP, UP and NY World.
Years later Earl Blaik, the Army backfield coach in 1927, would call Cagle “one of the four great backs of Army history”. Certainly, even today, he remains one of the most colorful figures in college football history.