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Book Report: Field of Valor

by Randy Snow

Originally 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.

The 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 alone.

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 touchdown passes.

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 in 1951.

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 rugby.

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 22-7.

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 college All-American.

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 quarterback position.

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 football.

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 football player."


My Book Report on The All Americans

Pete Dawkins Web Site

Heisman Trophy Official Web Site


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