Dr. Felix Anthony Blanchard, Sr. bestowed three things to his son, 1945 Heisman Trophy winner, "Doc" Blanchard:
â€”his name â€”his nickname, "Doc" â€”his love of football
They were not necessarily in that order.
The senior Blanchard (a hefty 240 pounds) starred at fullback at both Tulane and Wake Forest (under the name "Beaulieu," so his father wouldn't know what he was up to) and provided his son and namesake with a lifelong love for football. He took no chances whatsoever on how the boy would turn out, placing miniature footballs in the infant's crib. At age 2 1/2 young "Little Doc" had gotten the message and was cajoling an aunt into holding a football for him to practice kicking.
In high school Blanchard starred for Bay St. Louis, Mississippi's St. Stanislaus Prep (the senior Blanchard was team physician for that squad) and played fullback in New Orleans' Toy Bowl. For a while Little Doc thought of attending Tulane, but finally opted not for Armyâ €”that would come laterâ€”but for North Carolina, where his mother's first cousin, Jim Tatum, coached the freshman squad. At Chapel Hill Blanchard was a terror both on and off the field. "Once," recalled the team's trainer, "he knocked out two would-be tacklers on the same play." On another occasion, he ripped a steam radiator off the floor, when he became annoyed at a hotel manager.
World War II cut short his North Carolina career. In 1943, at the end of his freshman year, Blanchard tried to enlist in the Navy, but was rejected for poor eyesight (as a boy one eye was damaged when another lad literally threw mud in it) and for being overweight. The Army had no such qualms about Blanchardâ€”or about several million other young men for that matter-- and he joined that branch of the service as a buck private.
Before long, however, Blanchard gained acceptance to West Point, but before he entered the military academy, his father passed away. The move to West Point was a move he had heartily approved, however. "My dad," Blanchard recollects, "always thought that to be successful in college athletics the place to go play was in the Northeast, and I think he was probably right."
The sporting public first took notice of Blanchard in the 1944 season, when he starred in Army's 59-0 pasting of Notre Dame, the worst defeat in the school's history. "Blanchard," noted one press account, "employed mainly as a decoy in the Army attack, played a spectacular game, bursting half the eardrums of the 74,437 spectators in the third period with a block that made possible [a] scoring return of a punt." And the New York Times observed Blanchard was "even more poisonous on the defense than he was running the ball."
In that contest, Blanchard was deadly not only to the fighting Irish but also to anyone in his path. One official made the mistake of getting in the way of a Blanchard tackle. Doc bowled him over, dislocating one of the poor man's elbows in the process
"He just happened to be where I was," says Blanchard in his matter-of-fact manner.
Blanchard's overall performance stunned Notre Dame coach Ed McKeever who wired back to South Bend: "Have just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears Number 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard."
God-only-knows what the official with the non-working elbow had to say.
Army coach Earl "Red" Blaik was never known for his braggadocio, but even he had to admit: "I never saw anybody like Blanchard before....He has the weight of a fullback and the speed of a halfback."
Of course, Doc Blanchard had a little help on that Army team, such as center Tex Coulter, tackle Al Nemetz, guard Jack Green and quarterback Arnold Tucker. But most significant, of course, was Glenn Davis. As Blanchard barreled through all opposition, earning the nickname "Mr. Inside," (a name bestowed on him by the New York Sun's George Trevor) Davis took a more circuitous route, and became known as "Mr. Outside."
Their styles emphasized different strengths. "I was strong in the legs," Blanchard once observed, "I had good acceleration for my size, good quickness. I wasn't what you would call a speed guy, like Glenn."
Blaik once explained what made Blanchard unique: "Imagine a big bruising fullback who runs one hundred yards in ten seconds flat, who kicks off into the end zone, who punts fifty yards, who can also sweep the flank as well as rip the middle, who catches laterals or forward passes with sure-fingered skill, and who makes his own interference. That's Mr. Blanchard."
"Mr. Inside" and "Mr. Outside" ran roughshod over their opponents. Red Blaik gushed about his "Touchdown Twins," "I doubt if any team ever had two such players in the backfield at the same time."
Army was an absolute powerhouse. In its first six 1945 contests, it outscored opponents 271 to 33. For the season, the Black Knights captured the Lambert Trophy as the best college team in the East.
Army went 27-0 in 1944-46, Blanchard's three seasons at the Point. In 1944 and 1945 the going was so easy, Blaik had plenty of opportunities to use his substitutesâ€”and took every one. Army's first and second teams averaged just eighteen minutes per game, and even the fourth stringers got plenty of work.
Of course, being a service team in an era when college squads were being stripped of their able-bodied personnel was a decided advantage to the Military Academy. "Sure they had an advantage," Blanchard readily admits, "They had access to all the people in the service, and all the people that were over 18 were in the service. So they were just drafting people out of the service."
When Army beat Navy 23-7 in 1945, Blanchard ("205 pounds of charging wild buffalo," as one account of the game described him) allegedly felt a special someone was there to help: his late father. "He was there...," a sentimental reporter quoted Blanchard as saying, "I could feel him patting me on the back after each play and saying, 'Hit like your daddy did, son.'"
It's a good story, a darn good story. There's only one problem with it: it's just not a accurate story.
"Well, I've read that [story] too," says Blanchard, "I don't recall it. I'll say it's not exactly true."
Blanchard, however, could have used a little extra assistance in that contest. All season long he had been engaged in a good-natured touchdown rivalry with Davis. Going into the game, the last of the campaign, the Touchdown Twins were, er, identical, tied sixteen-all in that category. Against the Midshipmen, Davis TD'ed twice; Blanchard, three times.
That may have been enough to put him over the top in Heisman balloting. When the votes were announced in December 1945, Blanchard outpointed his teammate 860 to 638. Far back were St. Mary's Squirmin' Herman Wedemeyer (152), Alabama's Harry Gilmer (132), Notre Dame's Frank Dancewicz (56), Ohio State's Warren Amling (42), and Indiana's Pete Pihos (38).
Blanchard was the first junior to win the Heisman ("in those days they sent the news via Western Union; I got a telegram"), and also captured the Maxwell and Touchdown Club trophies as the year's best college player. He and Davis even jointly made the November 12, 1945 cover of Time magazine. Blanchard, Davis and their teammates, Coulter, Green, and Nemetz, each achieved All-American status.
Temple coach Ray Morrison marvelled at Blanchard's remarkable 1945 season: "Doc Blanchard was a colossus who, experts insist, is the fullback of all time. Blanchard turned loose more raw power against Army opponents than has been seen since the days of Bronko Nagurski. In addition, Blanchard ran with greater speed and finesse than even the great Nagurski."
Unlike a major league pitcher who seemingly can recall every pitch he ever threw to every batter, Blanchard doesn't wallow in past glories. When asked about the most memorable play in his Heisman season, he harrumphs: "You're stressing me now. Hell, you're talking to a guy who can't remember what he had for breakfast. You want me to remember the most memorable play of fifty years ago? C'mon. I don't have one that I can remember."
But he does have a few games he savors: ."Navy was the big game, although Notre Dame in 1944 was a big time game for us because of the history of the series' won-lost record and all that stuff."
And there was a moment in Blanchard's West Point career that transcended even a Heisman Trophy: being part of the honor guard at President Franklin Roosevelt's funeral at nearby Hyde Park, New York.
One might think Blanchard's status as the nation's premier college football star might have played a part in his selection. It didn't. It was more a matter of which unit he was assigned to at the Academy. "They picked some people from West Point to go over and attend," says Blanchard, "The group that I was assigned to went, so I got to go."
Blanchard's 1946 senior season was marred by torn knee ligaments he suffered in that campaign's first game. But he recovered to run for 613 yards (a 5.1 average)and score ten touchdowns and once again be designated an All-American. He finished his career with 38 touchdowns and 1,666 yards rushing. Still on the squad, was Glenn Davisâ€”who after two runner-up finishesâ€”finally captured a Heisman for himself.
Blanchard had his eye on a pro career, but the War Department vetoed that idea. He remained in service until 1969, serving as a fighter pilot in both Korea and Vietnam.