Biographies

Felix Blanchard

Name: Felix Blanchard
Bith Date: December 11, 1924
Death Date:
Place of Birth: McColl, South Carolina, United States
Nationality: American
Gender: Male
Occupations: athlete, military officer, pilot

Felix "Doc" Blanchard (born 1924) was an outstanding football player, who won the 1945 Heisman Award while attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. Blanchard did not play professional football, but went on to a distinguished career in the military.

Blanchard was born on December 11, 1924, in McColl, South Carolina (some sources say Bishopville, SC), the son of Dr. Felix Anthony Blanchard and his wife Mary. Because his father was a country doctor, Blanchard was known as "Little Doc." His father had played football at Wake Forest and Tulane University as a fullback. At the latter college, he played under the name of Gaston Beaulieu because his parents did not want him to play football. Had his deception come to light he would have been forced to leave school. He passed his passion for football down to his only son. A football was put in Blanchard's crib when he was an infant.

Blanchard only spent two years in McColl before the family moved to Dexter, Iowa in 1929. They returned to South Carolina in 1931, settling in Bishopville, where Blanchard spent most of his formative years. An athletically inclined child who shared his father's love of football, Blanchard learned the game from his father, who encouraged his athletic pursuits. Blanchard also wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor, but his academic performance was not strong. Instead, Blanchard's only sibling, his sister Mary Elizabeth, became the family's doctor.

Became Noted Player

When Blanchard was 13 years old, he was sent to St. Stanislaus High School in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, a Catholic preparatory/boarding school that his father also had attended. Blanchard was supposed to concentrate on academics, but sports remained his focus. It was his football prowess that caught the attention of many colleges. As a senior fullback, Blanchard scored 165 points and his team was undefeated. He earned All-GSC honors and played in two New Orleans Toy Bowls.

Attended University of North Carolina

Blanchard could have attended any university in the United States, but chose the University of North Carolina (UNC). At the time, his father was ill and the school was near his home. Also, Jim Tatum, his mother's cousin, coached the UNC football team. Blanchard only spent one year at UNC, 1942-43. He was a leader on the freshman team, which won the state championship in 1942. (At the time, first year students did not play on the varsity squad.) Blanchard was expected to be a great player on UNC's varsity squad, but never got to make the team.

Army Days

In the spring of 1943, Blanchard was drafted (some sources say volunteered) by the United States Army and was trained as a tail gunner. He moved around in his early army days, from Florida to Alabama to Utah to New Mexico. Because of his football prowess (and perhaps his father's help), he was offered a chance to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point. Blanchard spent some time at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania preparing for the entrance exams. He was accepted and entered the Academy in the summer of 1944.

Played Football at West Point

Because of the need for officers during the war, coursework at the Academy was crammed into three years instead of four so enough officers would be available. Blanchard attended West Point from 1944-46. As in high school, he did not concentrate on academics and was near the bottom of his class (296 out of 310) when he graduated. He was a far better football player. In those three years, Army's record was 27 wins, zero losses, and one tie, and the Earl (Red) Blaik-coached team averaged 56 points per game.

One reason that Army could dominate was the backfield of fullback Blanchard and halfback Glenn Davis. Some believe that the pair formed one of the greatest backfield pairings in college football history. Blanchard and Davis were dubbed Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, respectively. Their skills complemented each other, and their combination of speed and strength helped the Academy dominate their opponents. At about six feet one inch tall and 205 lbs., Blanchard was a good runner and a better blocker. He sometimes was a pass receiver (19 catches in three years), who also did punts, kick offs, and occasionally kicked extra points.

During his first season with West Point (1944), Blanchard scored nine touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per rush, and nabbed three inceptions. Blanchard came to public attention in several big games, including one memorable one against Notre Dame in which Army won 59-0. Army averaged 56 points per game, while holding opponents to an average of 3.9 points per game, an NCAA record. The team won the national championship. For his part in Army's dominance, Blanchard was a consensus All-American and finished third in the voting for Heisman Trophy, given to the best college football player in the United States.

Won Heisman Trophy

In 1945, both Army and Blanchard continued to dominate. The team had a 9-0 season and repeated as national champions. Blanchard had his finest season as a football player. In those nine games (in which he played less than 30 minutes a game, as in 1944), Blanchard had 19 touchdowns, rushed for 718 yards, and averaged 7.1 yards per rush. He also caught four passes for 166 yards. Because of Blanchard and Davis's success in the backfield, they appeared on several national magazine covers. Blanchard won numerous honors, including the Heisman Award with 860 points (Davis was second), the Sullivan Award (given to the best amateur athlete in the United States) and the Maxwell Award. Blanchard was the first junior to win the Heisman and the first football player to win the Sullivan as well as the first person to win both the Sullivan and Heisman Awards.

Blanchard's final year of football, (1946), was a rough one. He tore several ligaments in his left knee in the first game of the season, though he only missed three games. Despite this setback, Blanchard managed to make key scores in several games. He also had arguably the best play of his career in a game against Columbia University. In that game, he scored a touchdown off a 92-yard kick-off return. On the season, Blanchard scored ten touchdowns, rushing for 613 yards, and caught seven passes for 166 yards. He finished fourth in the Heisman voting. (The Heisman was won by his backfield partner, Davis.) Though the team was not as strong, they finished the season with ten wins, zero losses, and one tie (a scoreless game with Notre Dame).

Over the whole of Blanchard's career at West Point, he had 38 touchdowns and 1666 rushing yards. He was a three-time consensus All-American. Football was not his only sport at West Point. In part to gain access to the athlete's table, he also participated in track. Blanchard competed in the shot put, for which he had no prior experience. In 1945, he was the IC4A shot-put champion in indoor and outdoor competition, once throwing it 54 feet. He also competed in the 100 yard dash, winning the event in ten seconds in a meet against Cornell.

Denied Chance at Professional Career

After graduating in 1947, Blanchard joined the Army Air Corps. However, he and Davis still desired to pursue a career in professional football. Blanchard had been drafted by both of the professional leagues of the day: The National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers and the All-America Football Conference's San Francisco 49s. The pair was offered huge bonuses and salaries by the teams. Upon graduation, each man received a standard 60-day furlough. Both Blanchard and Davis asked for an extended furlough to allow them to play, but the request was denied. They also tried to arrange to play football during the fall and serve in the military during the rest of the year for several seasons. This deal also was turned down, in part because of a political uproar. Many believed the government and the Army had spent too much time, money, and effort training the men to allow them to play football.

Appeared in Film

Blanchard and Davis managed to make money off their fame and illustrious football career during their 60-day leave. They appeared in a low-budget film about their lives and football careers entitled Spirit of West Point. They were paid $20,000 each for their work. The film did not receive good reviews, even from Blanchard. He told Dave Newhouse in Heismen: After the Glory, "We were very self-conscious about our acting. We had a drama coach, but he told us we were getting worse by the day. He quit after a week. On a scale of one to ten (one being perfect), my acting was a ten. I never went to see the damn movie. But I did see it years later on late-late-night TV. I wouldn't watch it again."

Chose Military Career

After a three year tour of duty, Blanchard could have again pursued a professional football career, but instead he chose to remain a military pilot for 25 years. Over the course of his distinguished career, Blanchard served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He flew 113 missions during the latter. He also flew the newest, fastest jets, including the F-84, F-94, F-100, and F-105. Blanchard was cited for bravery in 1959, for his heroism during a flight. While flying to a base near London, the oil line ruptured and oil spilled on the motor. As the plane caught fire, Blanchard could have abandoned it. However, because he was flying over a populated area, Blanchard risked his life to safely land the plane himself.

The same year as this incident, Blanchard was inducted into the NFF College Football Hall of Fame. While serving in the military, Blanchard remained involved in amateur football. In 1947, he played on an Air Force Base team. He later did some coaching under his old West Point coach, Blaik, as well as some scouting. Blanchard also coached the junior varsity squad at some point in the 1950s as well as the plebe team. His record as a coach was 29-6-2. When the Air Force became a separate entity from the Army, he was involved in Air Force athletics for four years, 1962-66.

Blanchard retired from the military in 1969 (some sources say 1971) as a colonel. He then worked for two years as the commandant at the New Mexico Military Institute, before fully retiring. Though he still followed football, Blanchard played golf while living in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife Jody King, with whom he had three children (Mary Theresa, Jo, and Felix III). Of his Heisman, Blanchard told Malcolm Moran of the New York Times, "I think it really is more meaningful to me now. At 21, you're kind of all mixed up, I guess. It's the cumulation of a lot of things--ideals and goals that you set for yourself and tried to reach. When I first started playing ball, my dream was to be an all-American. Way back then, the Heisman was just getting started."

Further Reading

  • Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football, edited by David L. Porter, Greenwood Press, 1987.
  • Brady, John T., The Heisman: A Symbol of Excellence, Atheneum, 1984.
  • Hickok, Ralph, The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History, Facts on File, 1992.
  • Hickok, A Who's Who of Sports Champions: Their Stories and Records, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1985.
  • Newhouse, Dave, Heismen: After the Glory, The Sporting News Publishing Co., 1985.
  • New York Times, December 4, 1984.
  • Sports Illustrated, November 21, 1988.
  • U.P.I., December 2, 1981.

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