- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2008

When Army meets Navy in football for the 109th time Saturday in Philadelphia, there will be no Blanchards and Davises suiting up for the Black Knights of the Hudson. These Cadets have been as recently weak as their predecessors of the mid-1940s were strong, so perhaps it’s best for partisans to get their kicks from distant gridiron dates and events.

How about Dec. 1, 1945, for instance? That was the greatest day in the storied careers of the two men who made up arguably college football’s greatest tandem of running backs: Felix “Doc” Blanchard and Glenn Davis, aka Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.

Before 103,000 spectators at Philadelphia’s old Municipal (later JFK) Stadium, Blanchard and Davis accounted for all five touchdowns as the top-ranked Cadets thrashed No. 2 Navy 32-13 in what amounted to a national championship game.

Just three months after World War II ended, this was a gala occasion. President Harry S. Truman was there, switching sides at halftime as per custom, along with members of his Cabinet and virtually every military leader in the nation.

But the two most important people in the place were juniors Blanchard and Davis, who would lead Army to 18 consecutive victories over two seasons. Both returned in 1946 to extend the academy’s unbeaten string to 28 games - a run of success interrupted only by a famous scoreless tie with Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium.

More than 60 years later, the exploits of Army’s dynamic duo live on only through aging memories, black-and-white game film and an obscure 1947 movie called “The Spirit of West Point.” Midway through the 1940s, however, they were the biggest names in sports.

The 1945 service classic was over, for all intents, before the president and his entourage trudged across the field during intermission. Army, with no fewer than eight All-Americans, bolted to a 20-0 lead as the 205-pound Blanchard scored on a 46-yard interception return and the 170-pound Davis scampered 48 for another touchdown. For the day, Blanchard contributed two other touchdowns and Davis one.

“This is the greatest Army team of all time,” coach Earl “Red” Blaik insisted afterward, and nobody disagreed. The Cadets scored 504 points and allowed 35 in nine games, clobbering three opponents just before Navy by a combined 163-0. Blanchard won the Heisman Trophy by beating out Davis, who collected the sport’s most prestigious trophy the following season when Doc was hampered by a knee injury.

With the war on, the two service academies accumulated many of college football’s best players. There was a touch of irony, though, in how Blanchard and Davis wound up at West Point.

Blanchard played varsity ball as a freshman at North Carolina in 1942 for Jim Tatum, his mother’s first cousin and later a highly successful coach at Maryland. At the end of the season, Doc sought to enlist in the Navy, of all places, but was rejected because of poor eyesight. The Army then admitted him to the U.S. Military Academy in 1944.

Blaik, who was not in the habit of praising his players, nearly frothed at the mouth describing Blanchard.

“Imagine a big, bruising fullback who runs 100 yards in 10 seconds flat, who kicks off into the end zone, who punts 50 yards, who can sweep the flank or rip up the middle, who catches laterals or forward passes with sure-fingered speed and who makes his own interference,” the coach bubbled. “That’s Mr. Blanchard.”

Davis, meanwhile, chose football over baseball, where his skills attracted major league offers. Although Blanchard relied on muscle as much as speed, Davis dazzled defenders with his even greater acceleration and shifty moves. His career average of 8.62 yards a carry remains an NCAA record.

Yet Davis’ path into the record book was not an easy one. After playing varsity football as a freshman in 1943, he flunked a mathematics test and was drummed out of the academy. Later he retook the exam, passed and was readmitted.

“There has never been a greater, more dangerous halfback in the history of the game,” Blaik wrote in his autobiography. “He was not so much a dodger and a sidestepper as a blazing runner who had a fourth, even fifth gear in reserve, could change directions at top speed and fly away from tacklers as if jet-propelled.”

In his four-year career, Davis rushed for 2,957 yards, second on Army’s all-time list behind Mike Mayweather (4,299 from 1987 to 1990), and scored 50 touchdowns. Blanchard had 38 touchdowns and 1,666 yards. Both are members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

The two men served in the Army after graduation, and Blanchard opted to stay in the service rather than try pro football. Davis spent three years in the military, then played briefly for the Los Angeles Rams before a knee injury ended his career. A noted playboy in those days, he dated Elizabeth Taylor and was married briefly to actress Terry Moore, the first of his three wives.

Davis died at 80 of complications from prostate cancer in 2005, and Blanchard lives quietly at 83 in San Antonio. Yet the distant deeds of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside still inspire respect and reverence when the subject of college football’s greatest players is raised.

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