Davis, Glenn Woodward

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Davis, Glenn Woodward

(b. 26 December 1924 in Claremont, California; d. 9 March 2005 in LaQuinta, California), a Heisman Trophy–winning halfback who is best remembered as “Mr. Outside” in West Point’s World War II–era juggernaut backfield.

Davis was born a few minutes after his fraternal twin brother, Ralph, to Ralph Davis, a banker, and Irna Davis, a homemaker. The twins had an older sister, but they were seldom separated and were best friends. Ralph, a fine athlete also, would mature at five feet, ten inches and 182 pounds—an inch taller and ten pounds heavier than his younger brother. However, Glenn was a superb athlete, regarded by many as California’s all-time finest “schoolboy” athlete. Davis won over ten varsity letters (several each in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field) at Bonita High School in LaVerne, California. As a freshman football player he gained 1,028 yards on only 144 rushing attempts. As a senior he scored 236 points—a Southern California Prep League record—and was named California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Player of the Year. He also won All-CIF honors in baseball and the Knute Rockne Trophy in track. In addition to football scholarships, he was offered a professional baseball contract and basketball scholarships.

Davis received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York, but refused to go unless his brother was also offered one; he eventually was. Davis’s athletic career got off to an outstanding start at Army in 1943. He lettered in football, basketball, and baseball, and could have earned a letter in track and field had he participated. Davis encountered academic problems his first year, but after “boning up” on mathematics he was reappointed in 1944. It was an eventful year. He was teamed with Felix “Doc” Blanchard, a player with whom he would be inextricably linked for the rest of his life. Blanchard and Davis were known as the “Touchdown Twins,” “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.”

Davis’s speed and elusiveness earned him the “Mr. Outside” moniker; Blanchard’s raw power earned him “Mr. Inside.” Together they would be three-time All-America backfield choices—in 1944, 1945, and 1946. They would both win the Heisman Trophy. Blanchard won in 1945, and Davis—after two years as Heisman runner-up—in 1946. Playing together, they never lost a game at West Point. The New York Sun writer George Trevor summed up the pair in this verse: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, / If Mr. Inside doesn’t get you, / Mr. Outside must.” The pair also received the highest accolade of the time: their picture on the cover of LIFE magazine (16 September 1946).

While a dazzling pair, Davis and Blanchard were brilliant individually also. In his junior and senior seasons, Davis averaged 11.5 yards each time he ran with the football. With twenty touchdowns in 1944 he led the nation in scoring. With eighteen the next season he finished second to Blanchard’s nineteen for national honors.

Davis scored fifty-nine touchdowns in his career—a record that stood long after he graduated. Of his touchdown runs, twenty-seven of them covered between thirty-seven and eighty-seven yards. His career rushing total of 2,957 yards is modest by modern standards, but his record career average per carry (8.3 yards) was not equaled during his lifetime.

Football was not the only sport at which Davis excelled for Army. He played basketball, and after he batted .403 for his Army baseball career, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers offered him a $75,000 signing bonus. In track, without seriously training, he consistently ran one hundred yards in 9.7 seconds—less than a half-second off the existing world record.

When Davis and Blanchard graduated from the USMA in 1946, they were each offered three-year contracts for $130,000 (the prevailing professional football wage was about $6,500 at the time) to play for the San Francisco 49ers of the upstart All-America Football Conference. They would have used their two-month furlough and petitioned for an additional two months to complete the season. The military approved, but the issue became a political matter, and the pair’s request was subsequently denied.

Instead the Touchdown Twins played themselves in a Hollywood feature film, The Spirit of West Point (1942). It was during filming that Davis suffered a noncontact injury—torn ligaments in his right knee. Davis and Blanchard made another football film with the former All-Americas Bob Waterfield and Tom Harmon.

Both Davis and Blanchard served as officers in the U.S. Army—Davis for the obligatory three years, and Blanchard as a career officer and combat jet pilot (in Korea and Vietnam). After his service obligation, Davis signed with the Los Angeles Rams, but except for brief flashes of brilliance, his knee injury robbed him of his speed and elusiveness. He did lead the Rams in rushing as a rookie—a modest 416 yards, adding another 592 on forty-two pass receptions. His moment in the sun was scoring an eighty-two-yard touchdown on a pass from Waterfield on the first play from scrimmage in the 1950 National Football League Championship game, which the Rams lost to the Cleveland Browns, 30–28. By 1951 Davis had been relegated to returning a few kicks; he retired after that season. His achievements did not go overlooked, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1961.

While with the Rams, Davis was quite the young man about town. He dated the film star Ann Blyth as well as a teenaged Elizabeth Taylor (some erroneously said they were engaged). He was briefly married to the actress Terry Moore, who later claimed to have been at one time Mrs. Howard Hughes.

In 1953 Davis married a World War II widow, Ellen Harriet Lancaster Slack; the couple had two children. After Harriet’s death, Davis married Yvonne Ameche, the widow of the 1954 Heisman Trophy winner, Alan “the Horse” Ameche. Davis and Ameche had met at Heisman Trophy functions.

After his football career Davis worked as special events director for the Los Angeles Times Charities, helping to raise millions of dollars for worthy causes. Davis returned to West Point in 1995 and took part in a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the famous Army coach Red Blaik. Davis died of complications of prostate cancer and fittingly is buried at USMA Post Cemetery at West Point.

Davis always said, “Of anything I may have accomplished, I’m most proud of the fact that I graduated from West Point.” His Army teammate Bill Yeoman said of Davis, “There are words to describe how good an athlete Doc Blanchard was. But there are no words to describe how good Glenn Davis was.”

Davis’s life and career are discussed in Tim Cohane, Gridiron Grenadiers (1948); Murray Goodman and Leonard Lewin, My Greatest Day in Football (1948); John T. Brady, The Heisman: A Symbol of Excellence (1984); Dave Newhouse, Heisman: After the Glory (1985); John Devaney, Winners of the Heisman Trophy (1986); and Bill Pennington, The Heisman: Great American Stories of the Men Who Won (2004). An obituary is in the Los Angeles Times (10 Mar. 2005).

Jim Campbell

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