Blanchard, Felix Anthony, Jr. ("Doc")

views updated

BLANCHARD, Felix Anthony, Jr. ("Doc")

(b. 11 December 1924 in McColl, South Carolina), Army football player known as "Mr. Inside" who won the Heisman Trophy in 1945; after graduating from the United States Military Academy he enjoyed a successful career in the U.S. Air Force.

Blanchard was one of two children of Dr. Felix Blanchard, a country physician who settled and practiced in South Carolina, and Mary Elizabeth Tatum Blanchard. Dubbed "Doc" as a boy, the younger Blanchard inherited both a passion and a talent for football, a sport in which his father had excelled at both Saint Stanislaus College preparatory school in Mississippi and at Tulane University in New Orleans. When the younger Blanchard followed his parent to the same prep school, he soon demonstrated the gridiron abilities that would make him famous. In 1942 Blanchard enrolled at the University of North Carolina—partly to be near his family and perhaps partly because Jim Tatum, the football coach there, was related to his mother.

Blanchard excelled on the field as a freshman, but with World War II raging, he tried to enroll in the navy's V-12 training program. Rejected for both less-than-perfect eyesight and his weight, he then enlisted in the army and found himself stationed in Clovis, New Mexico. Having earlier attracted the attention of Earl "Red" Blaik, the football coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, Blanchard was recruited to join the class reporting to West Point in the summer of 1944. His arrival there coincided with that of a cadet named Glenn Davis, who had been turned out from the previous class because of academic difficulties. Their collaboration marked the beginning of a legendary era in the history of college football.

During the three seasons from 1944 through 1946, Blaik's Army teams—"Blaik's Black Knights," as one New York sportswriter christened them—dominated college football with a won-loss-tied record of 27–0–1. While it is true that the Cadets were able to field superb athletes against college programs depleted by the war's manpower demands, it is also quite arguably true that the success achieved by Blaik's squads was based on more than merely talent differential. Not yet members of the starting team, Blanchard and Davis were part of a second unit consisting mostly of freshman (plebe) players that Blaik alternated freely with the more senior eleven on the first unit. Both made their presence known immediately and received first-team All-America honors at season's end. Blanchard turned in a particularly important performance in the Army–Navy game, carrying the ball seven times for forty-eight yards and a touchdown during a critical fourth-quarter drive. In an era when sportswriters fancied themselves poets, Tim Cohane exploited the dichotomy of Blanchard's status as both West Point plebe and football star in a parody of Rudyard Kipling's "Tommy," noting that despite the treatment accorded plebes by the upperclass cadets, "O it's 'Thank you, Mister Blanchard' when the football whistle blows."

The 1945 season was Blanchard's finest. The Army team went undefeated again and won another national championship while "Mr. Inside"—Blanchard's half of the "Touchdown Twins" to Glenn Davis's "Mr. Outside"—won the Heisman Trophy; he was the first junior ever to do so. He also became the first football player to win the Amateur Athletic Union's James E. Sullivan Award, presented to the nation's best amateur athlete. Moreover, he received both the Maxwell Cup and the Walter Camp Trophy. All these honors derived from a splendid nine-game season that featured a 7.1-yard rushing average and nineteen touchdowns from Blanchard, including three in a season-ending victory over Navy.

The next and final season of 1946 belonged more to Glenn Davis, who won the Heisman that year; but Blanchard's contributions to another unbeaten season were substantial—in spite of a debilitating knee injury incurred in the season's opening game. Several weeks later he scored the game-winning touchdown in a fiercely contested victory over highly ranked Michigan, and he scored twice in a close final victory over Navy. Blanchard concluded his Army football career with 1,666 yards rushing and thirty-eight touchdowns: twenty-six rushing, seven receiving, four returned interceptions, and one kickoff return.

As that scoring variety suggests, what made Blanchard a remarkable athlete was not merely his particular skill as a running back, but his athletic versatility. He was a fine punter and boomed kickoffs deep into enemy territory; he also demonstrated great ability as a pass receiver and played excellent defense. Moreover, he complemented his powerful inside rushing game with speed; he could run the hundred-yard dash in ten seconds flat. Indeed, he excelled in track and field events as well as football, once winning the IC4A shot-put championship.

Blanchard graduated from West Point in 1947 and was commissioned into the Army Air Corps just as it became the U.S. Air Force. Denied the opportunity to play professional football immediately because of their obligation to military service, Blanchard and Davis spent part of their graduation furlough making a Hollywood film called Spirit of West Point, in which they played themselves with much less skill than they played the game. Though Davis would leave the service after a few years and play briefly in the National Football League, Blanchard's military career lasted for twenty-four years. It included service at home and abroad, assignments flying a variety of jet aircraft, squadron and wing commands, and a tour of duty in Southeast Asia that involved 113 combat missions. That career, which culminated in his 1971 retirement as a colonel, also included some assignments coaching football—twice back at West Point, once at the Air Force Academy. After two years as commandant of the New Mexico Military Institute, in 1973 Blanchard retired for good to a series of homes in Texas, where he had met and married his wife, Jody King Blanchard, during flight training in 1948; they had three children.

Blanchard was elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 1959. His Heisman Trophy, his many other awards and honors, and his remarkable statistical achievements put him in a special category. To some extent his continuing renown emanates from what he and his famous backfield mate Glenn Davis represent: dominating athletic performance by modest figures in an era when college football was the preeminent form of the sport. That "Mr. Inside" and his teammate played at West Point during World War II was, of course, part of the romance that embellished their reputation. That Blanchard went on to a career of military service in peace and war only enhances his status as one of the most accomplished and celebrated athletes of his generation.

Sportswriter Tim Cohane provided a useful contemporaneous view of Blanchard's life and college football career in Gridiron Grenadiers: The Story of West Point Football (1948). Much of the same material appears in a book that Cohane later coauthored with Blanchard's legendary coach, Earl H. "Red" Blaik: You Have to Pay the Price (1960). Blaik later supplemented that text in The Red Blaik Story (1974). Two retrospectives of Blanchard's athletic and, to a lesser extent, military careers appear in Dave Newhouse, Heismen: After the Glory (1985), and Henry E. Mattox, Army Football in 1945: Anatomy of a Championship Season (1990).

James R. Kerin, Jr.

About this article

Blanchard, Felix Anthony, Jr. ("Doc")

Updated About content Print Article