Sports Heroes Who Served: Heisman Trophy winners served during World War II

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Sports stories generally lend themselves to superlatives. A story about back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners from West Point who served in World War II and who starred as themselves in a postwar movie almost writes itself. Felix Anthony “Doc” Blanchard and Glenn Davis couldn’t have made this up.

Despite his nickname, Felix Anthony “Doc” Blanchard was never a doctor. He got the moniker because his father was a physician.

Glenn Davis is shown in a photo from his 1947 West Point yearbook. (Courtesy photograph)

But Blanchard and his father shared a love of football and the talent and physical prowess needed to succeed at the game. Blanchard’s father, who was also named Felix, had played college football at Tulane University and Wake Forest University.

The younger Blanchard was snapped up by the Tar Heels in 1942, and after playing just one season, he was drafted into the Army in 1943. He was stationed in a chemical warfare unit in New Mexico, but he soon got noticed by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, which enrolled him in 1944.

During his three years (1944 to 1946) playing football as offensive fullback at the academy, the Black Knights compiled an amazing 27-0-1 record; the team was undefeated, except for a tied game against Notre Dame.

Besides playing fullback, Blanchard also filled in as a placekicker, punter and linebacker on defense.

During his time with the Black Knights, Blanchard teamed up with halfback Glenn Davis to form one of the most lethal rushing combinations in football history. As a result of their partnership, Blanchard acquired the nickname “Mr. Inside,” and Davis became known as “Mr. Outside.”

Felix Anthony “Doc” Blanchard, No. 61, poses for a photo with the 1941 Saint Stanislaus College prep school Gulf Coast championship team. (Courtesy photograph)

In 1945, Blanchard was bestowed with college football’s most prestigious honor, the Heisman Trophy. The following year, Davis earned that trophy, as well.

In 1946, Blanchard was selected third overall in the 1946 National Football League Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, receiving a lucrative offer of $130,000.

Instead, he chose to make a career in the Air Force beginning in 1947, where he trained to become a fighter pilot.

During a routine mission in 1959, Blanchard’s F-100 Super Sabre developed a fuel leak and caught on fire. Rather than bailing out and risking that his jet would fly into a village, he remained with the stricken aircraft and landed safely at Royal Air Force Station Wethersfield near London, England.

A drawing shows halfback Glenn Davis playing for the Los Angeles Rams in 1950. (Courtesy photograph)

He flew fighter aircraft during the Korean and Vietnam wars. During the Vietnam War, from 1968 to 1969, he flew 84 missions over North Vietnam.

In 1971, Blanchard retired from the Air Force as a colonel.

Davis, Blanchard’s Black Knight’s teammate, went on to play for the Los Angeles Rams in 1950 and 1951.

Beyond service to their country, beyond college football’s most prestigious award, both Blanchard and Davis racked up another lifetime achievement: Each played himself in the 1947 movie “The Spirit of West Point.”

Felix Anthony “Doc” Blanchard poses for a photo in his Black Knights football uniform sometime between 1944 and 1946. (Courtesy photograph)
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