Edgewater recalls Football Hero of WWII Era

By Douglas E. Hall

With the fury and excitement of the 48th Super Bowl just a few miles away in Giant Stadium in East Rutherford, it brings to mind the superb athletic accomplishments of an Edgewater man who was born in Edgewater Feb. 8, 1920 and no doubt played football in Edgewater more than 80 years ago.

He is James Joseph William White – Jim White, a popular athletically inclined teen whose interest and football skills won him a position on the legendary Fighting Irish football team at Notre Dame University in 1942.

Jim was a big guy—6 foot two, weighing 219 pounds, when Frank Leahy, Notre Dame football coach, assigned him to left tackle on the Irish powerhouse.  Jim was considered one of the finest tackles coach Frank Leahy had at Notre Dame in the 1940s. White was instrumental in leading the Fighting Irish to the national championship in 1943 and helping his quarterback, Angelo Bertelli, win the Heisman Trophy.  White was honored for his outstanding line play by finishing ninth in the Heisman voting himself and being named a consensus All-American.

There was no Super Bowl back then, but there were outstanding players and teams who were recognized as consensus players and a consensus team, chosen by votes from sports writers and members of news organizations that followed sports and formed opinions as to who were the best players and what team would consist of these players.

Thus there were chosen by a consensus of writers, editors and experts of various degrees.  The players were known as All-Americans and the consensus team named in 1942 was known as The 1943 College Football All-America team, composed of college football players selected as All-Americans by various organizations and writers. The organizations choosing the teams included: the United Press, the Associated Press, Collier’s Weekly magazine, the New York Sun newspaper, and Sporting News.

The 1943 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team represented the University of Notre Dame during the 1943 college football season. The Irish, coached by Frank Leahy, ended the season with 9 wins and 1 loss, winning the national championship by consensus.  The 1943 team became the fourth Fighting Irish team to win the national title and the first for coach Leahy.  Led by Notre Dame’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Angelo Bertelli, Notre Dame beat seven teams ranked in the top 13 and played seven of its ten games on the road. Despite a season ending loss to Great Lakes, Notre Dame was awarded its first national title by the Associated Press.

As the world continued to be enveloped by war from Europe and North Africa to the Far East where we were at war with Japan since they bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, the war had a larger and larger impact on the home front of the United States.  On the campus of Notre Dame the U.S. Navy had a growing presence in the lives of the students, including the now-acclaimed football team.  The fighting Irish were going to war.

Notre Dame and the Navy have a relationship that goes back to the 1920s. Since their first clash on Oct. 15, 1927 in Baltimore, the Irish and the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. have annually met in a variety of the top venues in the East and Midwest.

By 1953, it was agreed that the Midshipmen would visit Notre Dame Stadium every other year, while from 1960-74 Philadelphia replaced Baltimore as the new neutral Navy road venue in the series.

Why such a committed and unceasing rivalry, especially since Notre Dame won 43 straight games versus Navy from 1964-2006, an NCAA record against one opponent?

The answer harkens back to another July day, back in 1943.

In need of better cash flow as a private school, Notre Dame president Rev. Hugh O’Donnell offered the school’s facilities to the armed forces as a training ground. During World War I (1914-18), the Army operated a Students Army Training Corps (SATC) program on the Notre Dame campus. This combined military training for students who also were majoring in their college courses.

However, in the early 1940s, the Army did not respond to O’Donnell’s invitation, but the Navy did. In Sept. 1941, it established the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) where approximately 150 Notre Dame students per year enrolled.

In early 1942, Notre Dame turned over four of its resident halls to the Navy for its training, which also was known as the Midshipmen’s School.  With the United States fully engaged in World War II by 1943, the Navy needed more men to serve and it again teamed with Notre Dame to form an additional program.

In 1943, Notre Dame defeated the teams that finished No. 2 (Iowa Pre-Flight, a semi-pro World War II outfit), No. 3 (Michigan) and No. 4 — none other than the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

A 9-1 season concluded in 1943 Notre Dame suffered a 19-14 loss to the Great Lakes Bluejackets.   Great Lakes, which finished No. 6, also a semi-pro operation during the war years, was comprised of seamen (hence Bluejackets).  After the 1943 season, Notre Dame’s Coach Leahy and his entire staff volunteered for active duty in World War II. They joined — what else? — the Navy.  So it’s no surprise that Jim White got into the war in the Navy.  But he was still got to play some football in, in 1944 as a member of the College All-Stars in a game with the Chicago Bears.

Jim White turned pro at the end of the war when his tour of duty with the Navy ended.  He was recruited by the New York Giants and played on that team from 1946 until 1950.

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