by Joseph W. Gex II
One of the area’s greatest gridiron legends was named to ESPN’s top 150 players from college football’s first 150 years which was released on Thursday, March 19th.
The late Col. Felix A. “Doc” Blanchard, Jr., was ranked #13 in ESPN’s field of college football’s greatest 150 players in the first sesquicentennial of the great game. Blanchard is a 1942 graduate of Saint Stanislaus.
He was born on December 11, 1924, in McColl, South Carolina, to Dr. Felix A. Blanchard and his wife, Mary. He got his nickname “Little Doc” as he made house calls with his father.
He later moved to Bishopville, SC, where he learned the game of football first from his father. The elder Blanchard graduated from SSC in 1915 and later played fullback at Wake Forest University and Tulane University where he went to medical school. It was rumored that a football was placed in the crib with Doc when he was an infant to give him something to hold while he slept. As he grew, his physical prowess made Doc a quick study at the sport.
The elder Blanchard encouraged his son’s athletic pursuits. At age 13, Doc was put on a train from South Carolina to Bay St. Louis to attend Saint Stanislaus where his father graduated. The motive was to get his academics on the straight and narrow under the guidance of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart but athletics remained his focus. He starred in all sports but excelled in football. He started as a freshman in 1938 and helped lead SSC to an undefeated season, a Gulf Coast Championship and a berth in the Toy Bowl. That season he was teammates with Celestin J. “Pete” Taylor who would go on to become the head baseball coach and athletic director at the University of Southern Mississippi. The baseball park at USM is named in Taylor’s memory and he has since been inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
As Doc grew into his frame, his exploits on the field grew to legendary status. Doc grew to stand 6’1” and weighed 210-lbs which was bigger than any lineman and, yet, he could run faster than anyone else on the field and possessed the strength of a bull ox.
In 1941 he led the Rocks to an undefeated Gulf Coast Championship and another berth in the Toy Bowl. He had his choice of universities to attend and chose to sign with the University of North Carolina which was coached by Jim Tatum, his mother’s first cousin.
Freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity teams in those days and he ended up playing just one season for the Tar Heels.
In the spring of 1943, with America’s involvement in World War II growing, Blanchard felt what many his age felt which was an urge to serve. He volunteered and was trained as a tail gunner in the Army Air Corps which would later become the United States Air Force. He was offered the chance to take an appointment to the United States Military Academy and he entered West Point in the summer of 1944.
At Army, Doc played for Red Blaik and what he accomplished was nothing short of extraordinary. He became a consensus three-time first team All-American that led the cadets to a three-year record of 27-0-1 and three consecutive national championships. During that time frame, Army averaged 56 points per game while holding opponents to an NCAA record average of 3.9 points per game.
In 1944, Blanchard formed one-half of the greatest backfield in football history. He became ‘Mr. Inside’ while Glenn Davis was ‘Mr. Outside’ as termed by New York Sun columnist George Trevor.
After a 59-0 rout of Notre Dame in 1944, Irish head coach Ed McKeever famously quoted, “I’ve just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears No. 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard.”
Coach Blaik described Blanchard in his 1960 biography, “Doc Blanchard was the best-built athlete I ever saw: six feet one and 208 pounds at his peak, not a suspicion of fat on him, with a slim waist, Atlas shoulders, colossal legs. He was a terrific tackler, great blocker, could catch, pass, punt and kickoff exceptionally well. He had great instinctive football sense, supreme confidence and deep pride.”
In 1945, Blanchard had his best season as a collegian. He rushed for 718 yards with an astonishing average of 7.1 yards per carry and scored 19 touchdowns. He won the Heisman Trophy after Army’s 9-0 season and was the first underclassman to win football’s highest award.
He also won the Sullivan Award given to the nation’s top amateur athlete and was the first football player to claim the award. He completed the trifecta claiming the Maxwell Award which is given to the nation’s best football player. It was the first and only time in athletic history that the same person won all three awards in the same year.
His senior season at Army in 1946 did not go the way he envisioned. He tore several ligaments in his left knee in the first game but missed just three games. He took the field several times for Army in key situations to deliver. He rushed for 613 yards and scored 10 touchdowns including a 92-yard kickoff return against Columbia after the injury. His teammate, Davis, won the Heisman in 1946 and Blanchard was third. His 1,666 rushing yards still rank in the top 20 at Army while his 28 rushing touchdowns are in the top eight.
Blanchard was a fullback, kicker, punter, and linebacker on the field but in the spring he transitioned to the track. There, he was a sub 10-second sprinter in the 100-yard dash and threw the shotput. He was the NCAA indoor and outdoor champion in the shot put in 1945 with 54’ throw of the 16-lb ball.
Blanchard graduated from Army in the spring of 1947. He was drafted #3 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL Draft but the Army did not allow him to play professionally. He completed his three-year tour of duty and could have pursued professional football at that time. However, he chose to remain in the military as a pilot for the Air Force. The football career of perhaps the greatest fullback on any level was over as he chose to serve his country with honor over playing the sport that was essentially created for him.
His military career was a decorated one as he flew 113 missions over Korea and Vietnam.
In 1959, Doc was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame. He has since been inducted into the West Point Hall of Fame, Southern College Sports Hall of Fame, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Saint Stanislaus College Hall of Fame and the Great Wall of Rocks for Athletics.
In 1971, Doc retired from the military with the rank of Colonel.
In 1989, he donated all three trophies – Heisman, Maxwell, and Sullivan – to Saint Stanislaus with “…the hope that it will inspire young men of character to do the extra that it takes to become successful in life.” The three awards along with several photographs reside in the main school building for all to see.
Blanchard passed away at the age of 84 on April 19, 2009. Prior to his passing, Army had announced they were retiring his No. 35 jersey during the then-upcoming 2009 season. Only four players have their jerseys retired at Army – Blanchard, 1946 Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis, 1958 Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins and Blanchard teammate OL Joe Steffy. It was less than eight months later on December 5, 2009, SSC won its first and only state championship in football. SSC had previously retired Blanchard’s #61 jersey at the school in October 1997. It remains the only retired jersey, regardless of sport, retired by the school.
At the announcement of Blanchard’s death, Joe Steffy stated to Sal Interdonato, “Doc once told me, ‘The worst thing a man can do is make himself a celebrity, his life is ruined from then on.’”
Blanchard’s humility was a lifelong trait. After his 1945 Heisman Trophy presentation, he went back to Bishopville, to be honored by his hometown. Following the introduction, the microphone was handed to Doc and he responded with one sentence, “Football players are like girls, they should be seen, not heard.”
Steffy stated iat that interview, “Coaches will always be looking for another Blanchard. But, I don’t believe they will find it.”
In his hometown of Bishopville, they have not forgotten Doc Blanchard. The same can be said of Bay St. Louis. In Bishopville, the town erected three bronze statues that depict Blanchard as a young boy, an Army football player, and a member of the military. Beneath one of the statues it reads, “We point with pride to young Doc Blanchard – one of the greatest names in football – our hometown boy who met success with modesty – a boy who fit perfectly into the pattern laid down by his dad. With memory of your father, with honor to your mother, Doc Blanchard, we salute you.”
It is with great pride and humility, that your alma mater continues to hold you as a model of success for student-athletes.
(Pictures provided by St. Stanislaus College Prep)