Over the past 25 years, John Daye has devoted himself to a project that, finally, has come to fruition.
Daye, a former high school football coach at Chesterfield, Columbia, Orangeburg-Wilkinson, Brookland-Cayce and Heathwood Hall, has authored the book, “Encyclopedia of Armed Forces Football: The Complete History of the Glory Years.”
The book chronicles the era of armed services football – from the start of World War I through the Korean War – when it played a vital role on the sporting landscape with players and base teams that could compete with the best college and professional teams. Service teams, for instance, met in the 1918 and 1919 Rose Bowls.
By researching game programs, game films, and local and service newspapers, Daye, who also co-authored “Glory On The Gridiron,” a history of college football in South Carolina, with Fritz Hamer, was able to produce a 470-page encyclopedia with extensive team and player registers that cover the heyday of service football.
Here’s a question-and-answer session:
The State: What made you want to take on this project?
Daye: Basically, I’ve always been a football historian. I enjoy that aspect of the game, looking back and finding out who coached and who played over the years. Then, one time when I was looking for someone in particular, there was a time when nothing was written about that player. So I started looking a little deeper, and he went into World War II as an enlisted man. It said he played football, and I wondered where and how he did. That’s how I got into it.
The State: Why was service football so significant during that time period?
Daye: They started having service football, and the reason was there was nothing else to do on some of these bases. That became a thing where some guys could play and other guys could go watch them and be a cheering section. It became really popular, and during World War II, it was the best football played, even better than the NFL and most of the colleges. They were all playing on these bases, and some of the rosters had lineups of college All-Americans and pro football players.
The State: What were some of the biggest names you encountered?
Daye: The people who became the first real professional football players all played service football. George Halas, the owner and coach of the Bears, was part of a team that played in the Rose Bowl. He was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Station. There were about four or five on that team, and they were interspersed throughout service football.
You go into World War II, and you have Otto Graham and Charley Trippi and Choo Choo Justice.
The State: What were some of the best Palmetto State connections you discovered?
Daye: At Camp Jackson in World War I, the coach was a guy named Jimmy Driver, who at the time was the University of South Carolina athletics director. One of the players was a guy named Josh Cody, a tackle who made All-Service that year. He was later the head coach at Clemson.
In the World War II era, Rex Enright came to Carolina in 1938 and left after the 1942 season. He went to Georgia Pre-Flight in the Navy and ran their physical training program as well as serving as the athletics director and coach. He was later stationed in Jacksonville at the Naval Station and was part of the Gator Bowl committee that helped bring South Carolina to the bowl game in 1946.
Lou Sossamon, a Carolina guy, was an All-Service player at Bainbridge, Md., Naval Training Center, which had an undefeated streak parts of three years. Sossamon was the best lineman on that team, and Choo Choo Justice was the best back. It was like an All-Star team that had great players from everywhere.
There are South Carolinians dotted all through this book.