When Saturday Mattered Most is the stirring story of the 1958 undefeated Army football team and the controversial coach who inspired Vince Lombardi
It was the end of an era, the last season before the surge of professional football began to lure the nation's best young student-athletes away from the military academies. That fall, the Black Knights of Army were the class of the nation. Mark Beech, a second-generation West Pointer, recounts this memorable and never-to-be-repeated season with:
Combining the triumph of The Junction Boys with the heroics of The Long Gray Line, Beech captures a unique period in the history of football, the military, and mid-twentieth-century America.
“If you like football history, get ready to read When Saturday Mattered Most, by Mark Beech (Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99). Beech, a West Point grad and a Sports Illustrated writer, tells the story of the 1958 Army team, including Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins. Best of all, he describes how Red Blaik, the longest-tenured coach in the game, tweaked his old-fashioned T offense to take the Black Knights to their last unbeaten season and then retired on top. Beech tells a good story with style and efficiency.”
“Football began as a college game, and for decades, before the pro game captured fans’ imaginations, college-football Saturdays mattered most. For many of those years, the Army and Navy service academies fielded some of the very best teams; Beech, a veteran Sports Illustrated writer and editor, focuses on the 1958 Army team coached by Earl “Red” Blaik. The Cadet football program was decimated by an academic-cheating scandal in the early fifties, and Blaik had been slowly rebuilding the team. Beech shows in fascinating detail how Blaik designed his schemes around the skills he had at hand (many elite athletes couldn’t meet the academic requirements to attend West Point). But in ’58, Blaik knew he’d brought the Cadets all the way back. Beech provides an extensive context by detailing the scandal and the anguished years it took Blaik to rebuild the program. He also profiles the key players, coaches, and opponents. His research consisted of first-person interviews as well as secondary print sources. Best of all, he re-creates the milieu of honor, dedication, and service to country in which the service academies flourished athletically. A memorable account of a bygone era.”
“In a grand homage to the hard-nosed tradition of Army football, Beech, an editor at Sports Illustrated, recounts a brilliant gridiron season in 1958 when the scandal-ridden Black Knights of Army proved as talented and resilient as any college varsity squad ever. “Red” Blaik, once a young promising coach at Dartmouth in the 1930s and a star end on the old Army football team, assumed control of the Knights football program in the 1950s and resurrected it from a 1951 costly cheating scandal, which ended the careers of 37 members of the varsity, including Blaik’s younger son, Bob, destined to be the starting quarterback. Beech walks the reader with great detail and engaging narrative through Blaik’s bold strategy of rebuilding the Knights with a new far-flanker scheme built on a pounding running game. Assisted by such capable coaching assistants as Sid Gillman and Vince Lombardi, the coach discovers “a more open game” to spare his teams from physical injury, relying on the humble Bill Carpenter as the gifted receiver and the bruising Pete Dawkins as the Heisman Trophy–winning running back to pull off an undefeated 1958 football season. In this memorable sports chronicle of a fabled Army football team at the birth of the space age and the NFL, Beech highlights a remarkable coach and his determined squad in a golden season of redemption and triumph.”
"There are teams and times in sport that deserve an ongoing appreciation, defining as they do the exceptionalism that we love to cheer. The 1958 Army team provided that quality and Mark Beech has put it into words that, like the cheers, resonate. Red Blaik (and Pete Dawkins and Bob Anderson and Bill Carpenter, etc., etc.) would be proud."—John Underwood, former Sports Illustrated writer and co-author of Bear and The Science of Hitting
“For most of the first sixty years of 20th century, the Army football team was among the best in the nation, fully the equal of Alabama and Ohio State today, and its undefeated team in 1958 represented the final burst of light in what turned out to be its last decade of gridiron magic. In this serious and admirably reported book, "When Saturday Mattered Most," author Mark Beech explores the history of the Black Knights leading up to that year, scandalous warts and all, develops all the characters against the rich backdrop of West Point's storied past---from legendary coach Red Blaik to Blaik's biggest Army booster, General Douglas MacArthur---and spins an eloquent yarn that makes compelling reading from beginning to end of that memorable season. They are all shown here developed in full---with stars Bill Carpenter, the Lonesome End, and Pete Dawkins, the Heisman Trophy winner, leading the way---charging through a year touched by grace and ending in glory."
—William Nack, New York Times bestselling author of Secretariat: The Making of a Champion
“Take the drive with Mark Beech up the Hudson River in the Fall of 1958. Admire the foliage on the way. Settle into your seat at Michie Stadium on the gothic campus of West Point and watch the best football player in the country play on the best football team in the country for the best football coach in the country. Cheer along with the cadets. Go ahead. This is a special season, never to be repeated. Black and white photographs from the long ago gain color and life from some terrific writing. Enjoy yourself.”
—Leigh Montville, author of Ted Williams: The Biography of An American Hero
“Championship seasons are magical, but Mark Beech does way more than make your skin tingle—he makes you understand how the iconic Red Blaik and one of America's greatest institutions have inspired and continue to inspire our nation.”
—Joe Drape, New York Times bestselling author of Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen
“I was privileged to see this team play. I was privileged to cast my Heisman vote for Pete Dawkins. I was even more privileged to get to know the General later in life. It was a great football team that deserves its own book, this one."
—Dan Jenkins, New York Times bestselling author of Semi-Tough