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Book Report: Field of Valor
posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Sunday, August 2, 2009
In the 2002 book, Field of Valor, author
Jack Clary tells the stories of the five Heisman Trophy winners who played
college football at the U.S. service academies. Three attended the Army Academy
at West Point and the other two attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
first player from a military academy to win the Heisman Trophy was Army fullback
Felix "Doc" Blanchard in 1945. Known as "Mr. Inside," he was also the
first player to win the Heisman Trophy as a junior. The following year, in 1946,
Blanchard's backfield teammate, halfback Glenn Davis, also won the
Heisman. Davis was known as "Mr. Outside."
The tandem of Blanchard and Davis shared the
backfield for three season (1944-1946), leading Army to back-to-back college
football national championships by the Associated Press in 1944 and 1945. During
their three seasons on the team, Army posted a 27-0-1 record. The pair never
lost a game while playing for the Academy. The only blemish in their college
football careers occurred on November 9, 1946. Army, which was ranked No. 1 in
the country, and Notre Dame, ranked No. 2, played at Yankee Stadium in New York
in front of 74,000 fans. The game ended in a 0-0 tie!
Blanchard and Davis also played on defense as well as special teams. Their Army
teams were so dominant on the gridiron that the pair rarely played more than
half of each game because Army Head Coach Red Blaik did not want to run up the
score on his opponents. The backfield tandem even inspired a rhyme; "Ashes to
ashes, dust to dust. If Blanchard doesn't get you, then Davis must."
Blanchard started out playing college football on the freshman team at the
University of North Carolina. He then tried to join the Navy to become a pilot,
but he was rejected because he was colorblind and (at the time) overweight. He
was then drafted into the Army and served as an enlisted soldier for a year and
a half before getting an appointment to West Point in 1944.
After Blanchard's 1944 Army team beat Notre
Dame 59-0, Irish coach Ed McKeever sent a telegram back to South Bend saying,
"Have just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears No. 35 and his name is
Blanchard." The game was so big that the score was even used by Army soldiers as
a countersign during the Battle of the Bulge.
The 1944 Army-Navy game featured the teams ranked No.1 and No.2 in the nation
respectively. The game was to be played at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, but
it was moved to Philadelphia and used as the centerpiece of a War Bond Drive.
The larger stadium and increased ticket prices, which were also tied to the sale
of War Bonds, raised $58 million in support of the war effort from that one game
In April of 1945, Blanchard was a member of a cadet honor guard that
participated at the funeral of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Glenn Davis was recruited by Army coach Red Blaik to play at West Point, but
Davis would not accept the appointment unless the academy also took his twin
brother, Ralph. The Davis brothers entered West Point in 1943.
Because World War II was going on at the time, freshmen were being allowed to
play on the varsity football team. Davis became a starter and was impressive on
the field, but not in the classroom. His math grades were so bad that he was
actually dismissed from the academy. He returned home to California and enrolled
in a four-month college course to improve his math skills. He was re-admitted to
the academy in 1944.
Over the course of his three seasons playing
alongside Blanchard, Davis scored 59 touchdowns, 43 by rushing and 14 by
receptions. He also returned two punts for touchdowns. Davis also threw five
A knee injury to Blanchard early in the 1946 season slowed him down, opening the
door for Davis to get more playing time, which eventually led to him winning the
Heisman Trophy himself.
In 1947, both men were selected in the NFL Draft, Davis by the Detroit Lions and
Blanchard by the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, they were both also drafted by
the San Francisco 49ers, which, at the time, was part of a rival pro football
league called the All-American Football Conference. The 49ers offered them
$40,000 each, which was an unheard of amount of money for a player at the time.
They decided to accept the offer from the 49ers and came up with a three-year
plan to play football for five months each year and then return to active duty
for seven months. However, the Army said no. They did, however, take two months
leave from the Army and filmed a movie about their football careers called
The Spirit of West Point.
Davis served in the Korean War and then
returned to West Point in 1949 as a freshman football coach. He also played pro
football for the Los Angeles Rams in 1950 and 1951, winning an NFL championship
Later in life, Davis married the widow of Alan Ameche, the 1954 Heisman Trophy
winner from the University of Wisconsin. His step-daughter, Cathy, married
Michael Cappelletti, the brother of John Cappelletti, who was the 1973 Heisman
winner from Penn State. Davis donated his Heisman Trophy statue to his alma
mater, Bonita High School in La Verne, California.
Blanchard never played pro football but he did play in a couple of college
football all-star games in 1947, one against the Chicago Bears and another
against the New York Giants. In 1954, he became an assistant coach at West Point
for two seasons. He also spent time as a freshman football coach at the Air
Force Academy. Blanchard did become a pilot and served in the U.S. Air Force
until 1971. (The Air Force became a separate branch of the service from the Army
in 1947) Blanchard flew 113 missions during the Vietnam War and retired with the
rank of brigadier general. After retiring from the Air Force, he spent several
more years as the commandant of cadets at the New Mexico Military Institute, a
junior college that prepares students to enter the service academies. Blanchard
died of pneumonia on April 19, 2009 at the age of 84.
Glenn Davis died on March 9, 2005 at the age of
80. He is buried at West Point near his college football coach, Red Blaik.
Blanchard was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959; Davis was
inducted two years later, in 1961.
Side Note 1
In 2008, the Detroit Lions drafted an Army cadet in the seventh round of the NFL
Draft. At first, the Army was going to allow safety Caleb Campbell to play for
the Lions as a public relation move, but just before the 2008 season began, they
changed their mind and ordered him to serve at least two years in the Army
before he would be allowed to play pro football.
Side Note 2
Army quarterback Arnold Tucker, who was a teammate of Blanchard and Davis from
1944-1946, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in July of 2009.
The next Heisman Trophy winner at Army was running back Pete Dawkins in
1958. During that year, he was the First Captain of the Corps of Cadets, the
captain of the football team, the class president and he was also in the top
five percent of his class academically. He was the first cadet at West Point to
ever hold all four of those distinctions in the same year!
Dawkins had been a somewhat unknown player in
his first two seasons on the Army varsity team. He didn't even play enough in
1956 to get a varsity letter. But in 1958, Coach Blaik came up with the Lonely
End Formation, which confused opposing defenses all season long and opened up
the field for Dawkins. In the new offensive scheme, the tight end lined up about
15 yards wide of the rest of the offensive line and never went to the huddle. He
got all of his signals from the quarterback on each play.
Not only was Dawkins a running back, but he
also played on defense and returned kicks and punts. His 1958 Army team finished
the season with an 8-0-1 record.
After graduating from the Academy, Dawkins went to Oxford University in England
for three years on a Rhodes Scholarship. While there, he played cricket and
He was a senior advisor to the South Vietnamese Army in the mid-sixties and
received numerous medals for his service during the Vietnam War. In 1981,
Dawkins was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was inducted into the
College Football Hall of Fame in 1975.
Side Note 3
One thing that all three Heisman Trophy winners from the Army Academy have in
common is their head coach, Red Blaik, who coach at the academy from 1941-1958.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1964. There is also a
statue of him on display at the Hall of Fame.
Running back Joe Bellino became the first Naval Academy player to win the
Heisman Trophy in 1960. He was small, only 5 feet 9 inches tall and 187 pounds,
but he was a powerful running back who could also pass, kick and play defense.
Bellino played three seasons at Navy, 1958-1960.
Six months after he graduated from the Naval Academy, Bellino was assigned to
the USS Norfolk as a deck officer. Soon after his assignment, the ship
found itself right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. His next
assignment took him to Vietnam where he served the executive officer on a
minesweeper, the USS Albatross.
One of Bellino's classmates at the Naval Academy was John McCain, who became a
Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War and is currently a U.S. Senator from
Arizona. McCain was the Republican candidate in the presidential election of
2008, but lost to Barack Obama. McCain was a senior at the Naval Academy when
Bellino was a freshman.
In the 1958 Army-Navy game, two future Heisman trophy winners faced off against
each other, Pete Dawkins of Army and Joe Bellino of Navy. Army won the game
Bellino was drafted by the NFL Washington Redskins in 1960, but he served in the
Navy until 1965. He was also drafted by the Boston Patriots of the rival
American Football League and eventually signed with the Patriots, playing three
seasons for them from 1965-1967. His jersey number (27) was the first at the
Naval Academy to ever be retired. He was inducted into the College Football Hall
of Fame in 1977.
Navy quarterback Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy in 1963. He is the
most well known of all the service academy Heisman winners mainly because of his
success in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. He was the second player to ever win
the Heisman as a junior. The first was Doc Blanchard of Army.
Staubach attended the New Mexico Military Institute in 1961 at the urging of
Navy assistant coach Rick Forzano to improve his grades in English before
entering the Naval Academy. He also played football at NMMI and became a junior
He joined the Naval Academy in 1962 and one of his assistant coaches that season
was Joe Bellino. Staubach had earned the nickname "Roger the Dodger" because of
his scrambling ability. When Navy head coach Wayne Hardin wanted to switch
Staubach to running back, it was Bellino who insisted that he remain at the
On November 22, 1963 just days before the annual Army-Navy game, President John
F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. The game was postponed for a week. On
November 26, Staubach was awarded the Heisman Trophy. He was also scheduled to
appear on the cover of Life Magazine that week, but his cover was pulled in
favor of the slain president. Navy beat Army 21-15 in the rescheduled game and
Navy went on to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Texas won the game, 28-6.
In the first game of 1964, Staubach's senior season, he suffered an ankle injury
against Penn State that slowed him down for most of the year. The season ended
with a loss to Army 11-8. After the season was over, Staubach went on to play in
the North-South and East-West college All Star games. The following August, he
also played in a college All Star game against the NFL Cleveland Browns. His
jersey number (12) was also retired by Navy.
Knowing that Staubach had a four-year commitment to the Navy, the Dallas Cowboys
still selected him in the 10th round of the 1965 NFL Draft. He was also selected
by the Kansas City Chiefs of the rival American Football League in the 15th
round of their college player draft.
Staubach served in Vietnam for a year as a supply officer between 1966-1967,
first in Da Nang and then at Chu Lai. For a while, he was also in charge of
receiving and shipping back home to the States, the personal effects of American
soldiers killed in Vietnam.
After returning stateside, he was stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station
in Florida and played football for a base team. He left the Navy in July 1969
and joined the Dallas Cowboys soon after that.
Staubach won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys and retired as a player in 1979.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
There are tons of great photographs throughout the book to compliment the
stories of all the players profiled. The final chapter talks about other Heisman
Trophy winners who went on to serve in the military during World War II. One
such player was Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman winner from Iowa. He was killed
during the war while serving as a Navy pilot aboard the aircraft carrier
Lexington. On a routine mission, Kinnick's fighter plane developed an oil
leak. He tried to return to the ship, but had to ditch the plane in the ocean.
His body, as well as the aircraft, was never found.
The annual Army-Navy game dates back to 1890 and is one the oldest and greatest
rivalries in all of college football. The young men who play for the service
academies are not there with the intention of landing a job in the NFL. They
have a higher calling in life that comes first, before playing professional
This was a great book. It took me back to a time when playing football was
great, but serving your country was even greater. If you are looking for a book
that will make you proud to be an American, and a college football fan, then
this book is for you.
During World War II, General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, was
quoted as saying, "I have a secret and dangerous mission. Send me an Army
My Book Report on The All Americans
Pete Dawkins Web Site
Heisman Trophy Official Web
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