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Book Report: Carlisle vs. Army
posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Sunday, June 22, 20087
In the new book, Carlisle vs. Army,
author Lars Anderson explores the lives of two very different people, legendary
athlete Jim Thorpe and future President of the United States, Dwight D.
On the surface, it is hard to imagine what these two men could possibly have had
in common, but their lives crossed paths one afternoon in 1912 when they met
face-to-face during a college football game.
grew up in Abilene, Kansas and graduated from Abilene High School in 1909, along
with his brother, Edgar. Ironically, their high school yearbook predicted that
Edgar would someday become the President of the United States while Dwight would
become a history professor at Yale.
Dwight Eisenhower loved to play baseball and football when he was growing up.
The summer after he graduated from high school, he played baseball in the
Central Kansas League. He knew that if word got out that he had received money
while playing baseball that summer, it would keep him from playing football in
college, so he played under the name, "Wilson." That same summer, in North
Carolina, Jim Thorpe also played baseball for money. However, Thorpe used his
real name, something that would cause him to lose his two Olympic gold medals a
few years later.
Both Edgar and Dwight Eisenhower , wanted to go to college after high school,
but neither could afford it on their own, so they came up with a plan. Dwight
would work a job and pay for Edgar to go to the University of Michigan for one
year. Then Edgar would work the following year and pay Dwight´s way through
college. If they stuck with the plan, both of them would have their college
degrees in eight years. But after working for just one year, Dwight applied to,
and was accepted at, West Point.
Eisenhower wanted to play on the varsity football team his first year at the
Army Academy, but was assigned to the junior varsity team instead. Over the next
year, he worked hard at improving his speed and putting on some weight to
impress the varsity coaches. He made the varsity team in his sophomore year of
1912. One of his teammates was another future Army general, Omar Bradley, who
was a backup center.
Jim Thorpe grew up on the plains of Oklahoma and was sent to the Carlisle Indian
school in Pennsylvania in 1904 at the age of 16. He was a natural athlete and
excelled in track and football. The Carlisle Indian School was a place where
Indian children from the reservations were taught to read and write. It was not
technically a college, but the older students loved to play football and they
were quite good at it. In fact, the football team generated a sizeable income
for of the school, which paid for needed supplies and upgrades to the
facilities. The team traveled all over the country playing many of the top
college football teams at the time and winning a majority of their games. During
the 1912 season, Carlisle even played a game in Canada against the University of
Toronto. The first half of the game was played by American rules and the second
half was played by Canadian Rugby rules. Carlisle won the game 49-1 and the
school received $3,000.
In the summer of 1912, Thorpe traveled to Sweden and took part in the Olympics,
winning the 10-event Decathlon and the five-event Pentathlon. The Pentathlon was
a new event that was making its debut in the Olympics for the first time that
year. [The book goes into a great amount of detail about Thorpe´s trip to Sweden
and his participation in the Olympics.] His football coach at Carlisle, the
legendary Pop Warner, was also his track coach and made the trip to Sweden as
Thorpe returned to Carlisle after the Olympics
for one final season in hopes of winning a national championship in football.
Carlisle was undefeated when they traveled to West Point on November 9, 1912. By
now, Thorpe was a national celebrity and every team that faced Carlisle had one
goal in mind, to stop Jim Thorpe. That was easier said than done.
Eisenhower was making quite a name for himself for his intense play on the
football field. He played running back as well as linebacker. Eisenhower had
been looking forward to facing Thorpe all season and now he finally had a
chance. He wanted to make a name for himself as the man who put Thorpe out of
the game. He and team mate Leland Hobbs decided that if they got the chance,
they would hit Thorpe with the high-low, which meant that they would tackle him
at the same time, one high, at the chest, and the other low, around the legs.
They got their chance in the fourth quarter. The hit was so violent that all
three men wound up laying on the ground for some time, recovering from the
collision. Eventually, all three got up and returned to their respective
A few plays later, Hobbs and Eisenhower got another chance to make the same
play. Thorpe saw that he was about to be hit and stopped dead in his tracks,
causing the two Army defenders to collide into each other. Eisenhower limped off
the field with an injured knee and did not return to the game, which Carlisle
went on to win 27-6.
Eisenhower played for Army the following week in a game against Tufts, but
re-injured his knee and had to be carried off the field. Soon after, he injured
the knee a third time while trying to dismount from a horse and never played
football again. The thought of never playing football again devastated
Eisenhower. Playing football was all he wanted to do, but with that now taken
away from him, he set his sights on being the best soldier he could be.
Who knows what might have become of Dwight D. Eisenhower if he had not injured
himself while trying to tackle the great Jim Thorpe. He might never have become
the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in WWII. He might not have been the
one who gave the order to launch Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion on June
6, 1944 and he may never have become the 34th President of the United States.
As for Thorpe, he would go on to play professional baseball for the New York
Giants as well as professional football for the Canton Bulldogs. In 1920, he was
elected the president of the American Professional Football Association, which
in 1922 changed its name to the National Football League.
When Jim Thorpe died in 1953, his family received a telegram from the President
of the United States expressing his condolences. That president was Dwight D.
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