Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Randy Roberts: I look for stories from the worlds of sports and films that somehow connect with main themes in American history. Well, some years ago I noticed that in 1944 the West Point football team went undefeated and won the national title. I thought, there must be a story there. The season was played between D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge at a time when the U.S. Army and West Point were front and center in the minds of Americans. What must it have been like to play a game while you prepared to lead troops in war? What were the relationships between the players on 1944 and their teammates who had graduated in 1942 and 1943 and were fighting in the "big show," as they called it? What did football--the most militaristic of all sports--mean to Americans during World War II? There were the sort of questions that inspired me to write the book, and since I teach large courses (300-500 students) on World War II, the questions just got the best of me.
RR: Short answer, how obsessed I became with the topic. When I was writing the first draft I wrote every day, including Christmas, New Year's, and my birthday. I couldn't get the topic out of my mind. I listened to music from the war, watched movies from the war, read novels from the war, and studied prices and activities from the home front. And of course I lectured on the campaigns. It was with me when I went to sleep at night and woke in the morning. It just stayed with me.
RR: I think I might be a high school history teacher and a football coach. That was what I planned to do when I went off to college when I was eighteen. But then I discovered I loved books and writing and took a different course. So instead of coaching I write, at least in part, about the meaning of sports and athletic icons in American history. I've written books about Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and John Wayne among others. I've taught thousands of students. Not a bad gig.
RR: My next book will deal with Bear Bryant and Alabama in the early 1960s, so for research I'm reading in that place and time. For fun, I'm rereading Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War" and just finished Erik Larson's "In the Garden of Beasts."
RR: As I said, I'm working on a book about Bear Bryant, Joe Namath, football, and Alabama in the early 1960s, during the time of some of America's most troubling racial confrontations. And I feel it getting a firm hold on me.
MORE VIDEO:Jeff Glor talks to Randy Roberts about his book, "A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation" and why the teams were so good at the height of World War II. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website.