Marshall and the “Game of the Century”

George Marshall’s fondness for the all-American game of football is no secret. He successfully joined the Virginia Military Institute’s Keydet football team in 1900, playing as an offensive left tackle. In fact, his skills so were adept that he won a spot on the College Football All-Southern Team, an all-star team of college football players.

While Assistant Commandant at Fort Benning, GA, Marshall traveled to watch his alma mater play and defeat the Georgia Institute of Technology on October 6, 1928. Between duties as Army Chief of Staff, Marshall even found time to sneak in a visit to Charlotte, NC to watch VMI defeat Davidson College by a score of 13-7.

The VMI graduate was no stranger to supporting West Point football either. When cadets took to the field in December 1944, Marshall was there.

General Marshall with his stepdaughter Molly (left in dark coat) and Nancy Dill (far left, facing away from camera).

In fact, all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were there, attending the Army-Navy Game at Municipal Stadium on December 2, 1944. The city of Baltimore, Maryland was brimming with excitement; this was the “Game of the Century” that saw Army ranked #1 and Navy ranked #2 in the nation. With all 80,000 stadium seats filled, ticket sales raised $58,637,000 in War Bonds.

Municipal Stadium during the 1944 Army-Navy Game. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ticket to the 1944 Army-Navy Game. Courtesy of eBay.

Amidst the Second World War, American soldiers across the world listened in on their radios to see who would be crowned the national champion. Archival footage of the game shows the packed stadium and a cold General Marshall sipping his coffee in the stands. Already a recognizable figure, Marshall spent most of halftime signing autographs.

General Marshall signing autographs at the 1944 Army-Navy Game.

In the end, West Point secured the top spot as national champions, defeating the Naval Academy 23-7 and ending the season undefeated. Admiral Harold Stark, commander of the Twelfth Fleet, wrote Marshall after Army’s win saying, “I gather the better team won, and as you can guess it is a joy for me to think of the kick you must have gotten out of it; almost worth losing.” Could General Marshall be a good luck charm for the Army teams? This writer certainly thinks so; both VMI and West Point never lost a game when Marshall was in attendance.

Cody Youngblood is a graduate student and former docent at George C. Marshall’s Dodona Manor in Leesburg, Virginia. Follow his adventures @young_preservationist.