Notable South Carolinians- Felix A. “Doc” Blanchard
Felix Anthony “Doc” Blanchard 1924-2009
South Carolinians love outdoor sporting events. Many Sandlappers rise early to hunt assorted game. Others prefer the smell of freshly mowed grass at Greenville Drive or Myrtle Beach Pelicans baseball games. Thousands of race fans flock to Darlington each May to see the Southern 500. Yet none of these events match the love our state has for football. Young boys dream of Friday night lights in Winnsboro, Greer, Moncks Corner and Lamar. Fans of the college game obsess over their team 365 days a year. The gridiron is almost sacred in these parts. Our next Notable South Carolinian dominated college football in a time of great conflict. This quiet, powerful man from South Carolina’s Pee Dee Region reached the pinnacle of both individual and team achievement. World War II era fans called him ”Mr. Inside” for his bruising runs between the tackles. This football and military legend was born as Felix Anthony Blanchard. Fans of the game know him simply as Doc Blanchard.
Felix Anthony Blanchard was born to Dr. Felix Anthony and Mary Tatum Blanchard on December 11, 1924 in McColl, South Carolina. Dr. Blanchard, a local physician, excelled as a college fullback at Tulane and later Wake Forest. Dr. Blanchard was known by the locals as “Doc”. Naturally, when his son was born he was nicknamed “Little Doc”. Anthony, as he was called, was destined for gridiron glory. As an infant “Little Doc” had a football in his crib. As a toddler he would throw and kick the pigskin around the front yard. In 1929 the Blanchard’s moved to the small town of Dexter, Iowa. Two years later they moved back to South Carolina, this time to Bishopville. Young Anthony had a pleasant life growing up in the heart of South Carolina’s cotton belt. Bishopville was a small, friendly Southern town. At twelve years of age “Little Doc” shed the first word from his now famous nickname. Anthony “Doc” Blanchard stood five feet ten inches and towered over his classmates. Blanchard was a skilled tennis player, however football remained his greatest passion. Blanchard tried out for the JV football team in seventh grade. One coach remarked that Blanchard “would never make it”. Dr. Blanchard knew his son had the talent and heart to succeed on the gridiron. The only thing lacking in his game was discipline.
At 13 years of age Anthony Blanchard was sent to St. Stanislaus College Prep School in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. St. Stanislaus was a highly touted Catholic School for seventh through twelfth grade boys. There, Doc Blanchard struggled in the classroom but excelled on the football field. Blanchard started at halfback, linebacker, place kicker and punter. As the years went by Blanchard grew taller and stronger. He was heavily recruited by schools across the nation. In 1942 Doc decided to enroll at the University of North Carolina. His choice was influenced by a family connection. Blanchard’s mom’s cousin was UNC Head Coach Jim Tatum. After one season with the Tar Heel football team Doc attempted to enlist in the Navy’s V-12 Program. This program let students finish their educational requirements “in return for a service commitment”. Blanchard was rejected for his poor eyesight and for being “overweight”. Doc enlisted in the Army and soon after received his appointment to West Point in July 1944. In Europe the Allied forces were putting the final nail in the Axis Powers’ coffin. Back in the states, America was about to experience the greatest backfield duo the game had ever seen. Blanchard was going to play for legendary Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik.
Doc Blanchard’s career at Army ironically began against his former school, North Carolina. The Black Knights of the Hudson pasted the Tar Heels 46-0 behind the bruising style of Doc Blanchard and fleet footed teammate Glenn Davis. Blanchard’s classic north-south running style inspired New York sportswriter George Trevor to call him “Mr. Inside”. Trevor also dubbed Davis “Mr. Outside” for his breakaway speed. Blanchard also starred at linebacker on defense. He delivered a volley of broken bones and sprains to several victims throughout his career. The South Carolina native even handled place kicking duties on multiple occasions. The Black Knights crushed everyone in their path that season, posting point totals of 59, 59, 62, 69, 76 and 83. A 59-0 win over Notre Dame was witnessed by more than 74,000 stunned spectators. The shutout of the Fighting Irish was the largest margin of defeat in Notre Dame history. The humiliating loss prompted Irish coach Ed McKeever to say “I’ve just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears number 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard”. Army completed an undefeated season three weeks later with a 23-7 victory over fierce rival Navy. The Black Knights completed one of the finest seasons in College Football History. Their perfect season produced the school’s second national championship. Glenn Davis finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting while Doc Blanchard finished third.
The 1945 season was an exciting time for young Doc Blanchard. Red Blaik’s tough Black Knights once again plowed through the competition. The Cadets raced to another undefeated season as the world celebrated the end of the war. Army defeated traditional stalwarts Notre Dame and Michigan by a combined score of 76-7. The closest game for Army in 1945 was a 32-13 victory over Navy. Army won their second consecutive national title behind the exploits of Blanchard and Davis. It was nearly impossible to duplicate the numbers of 1944. Army racked up 412 points in only 9 games, yet it paled in comparison to the previous season. Still, the ”Touchdown Twins” collected several individual honors. Blanchard earned the Maxwell Award, Sullivan Award and college football’s ultimate prize, the Heisman Trophy. Doc Blanchard became the first and remains the only native South Carolinian to win the Heisman.
The Black Knights entered the 1946 football campaign riding an 18 game winning streak. Red Blaik was coaching a seemingly untouchable team. Army was a near unanimous pick to capture it’s third straight national title. The Cadets raced out to a 7-0 record behind Blanchard, Davis and quarterback Arnold Tucker. On November 9, 1946 the Black Knights faced Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium. Red Blaik’s undefeated Cadets were ranked number one. Frank Leahy’s undefeated Fighting Irish were rated number two. The game was hailed by many critics as the “Game of the Century”. Most fans expected a high scoring affair. What they received was an old fashioned defensive struggle. Notre Dame held Blanchard and Davis in check the entire afternoon. Army’s defensive line contained Notre Dame’s future Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Lujack. When the dust cleared Army and Notre Dame had battled to a scoreless tie. Both teams won the remainder of their games that season. In the final AP poll, Notre Dame was awarded the national title, outdistancing Army and undefeated Georgia. Glenn Davis beat out UGA’s Charley Trippi for the 1946 Heisman Trophy. Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis ended a fine career together at West Point. Their final record was an astounding 27-0-1. Both players won the Heisman and made three straight All-America teams during their unprecedented run as Army Cadets.
Doc Blanchard was selected third overall in the 1946 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately for Blanchard, pro football was not in the cards. The War Department vetoed his entrance into the league due to his service commitment. Blanchard soon began his career as an Air Force jet fighter pilot. Doc’s poor grade point average left him with few options. Years later he joked that by the time they got to his GPA the “infantry and the Air Corps was all that was left”. Blanchard received his degree from Army in 1947, graduating 296th out of 310 cadets. Later that year he played himself in “The Spirit of West Point”, a low budget film about the lives of Davis and Blanchard. Doc later described his bad acting as a ten on a one to ten scale with one being “perfect”. Blanchard married the former Jody King of San Antonio on October 12, 1948. Doc and Jody produced two daughters and a son. In the late 40′s and early 50′s Blanchard coached with his mentor Red Blaik and also directed the JV team. He compiled an impressive but brief record of 29-6-2.
Doc’s military career was just as successful and dramatic as his time at West Point. Blanchard did tours in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During the Vietnam War Blanchard flew 113 missions, the majority of them being over North Vietnam. He was often given the opportunity to pilot the Air Force’s newest and fastest jets. Blanchard’s supreme athletic ability and fearless nature helped him succeed in combat missions. In 1959 Doc Blanchard was stationed in England. He was making a routine flight near London when oil started leaking on the plane’s motor. Minutes later the plane caught on fire. Instead of bailing out over a heavily populated area Blanchard somehow managed to land the plane himself, sparing several lives. The Air Force awarded him with the medal of bravery for his courage in the face of extreme danger. Blanchard retired from the Air Force in 1971 with the “rank of full colonel”.
Doc enjoyed retirement in San Antonio with his wife Jody in relative solitude. He “gave up” golf several times. Blanchard loved his Black Knights from afar, rarely attending games on the banks of the Hudson. In 1989 Doc gave St. Stanislaus his Heisman Trophy, Sullivan Award, Maxwell Award and his game worn jersey. On September 1, 1993 his beloved Jody died after 45 years of marriage. Doc suffered from dementia late in life and rarely made public appearances. Young people were not familiar with “Mr. Inside”. In April 2009 Army decided to retire Blanchard’s number 35 at an October home game against Vanderbilt. Shortly after the announcement was made Doc’s strong body began to wear down. Doc Blanchard died of pneumonia on April 19, 2009 at his daughter and son-in-law’s home in Bulverde, Texas. He was buried next to his wife at San Antonio’s Fort Sam Houston, the place where they first met.
An accomplished man of few words leaves behind a legacy of courage and determination on the battlefield and the gridiron. Doc Blanchard will always be best known for his extraordinary talents on the football field. A deeper reflection of his life shows a quiet, witty, honest man that served his country with utmost valor. Blanchard was loyal to his wife Jody and to his three children. It’s been nearly 21 months since Doc Blanchard passed. His legend lives on here in his native South Carolina. A new generation is asked to keep the stories of “Mr. Inside” alive. Somewhere along Highway 15 near Bishopville young men play a game of touch football during a rare winter snow storm. A young boy scores a touchdown and strikes a famous pose that needs no introduction. After all, striking the Heisman pose comes natural to people in this town.
INDIGO BLUE NOTES: The memorial pictured above is Doc Blanchard at three different stages of his life. The middle statue is Blanchard as a young child. The left statue is “Mr. Inside” at West Point. The statue on the right depicts Blanchards time serving as an Air Force pilot. The tribute was sculpted by South Carolina native Robert Allison and dedicated last summer. The vision behind the statue comes from longtime Army football fan Dick Adams. Mr. Adams was a young child living in Pennsylvania when Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis ruled College Football. He hero worshipped the two Black Knight stars as a young boy. Ten years ago Mr. Adams and his wife visited Bishopville on their return trip home from a Charleston wedding. Dick Adams was eager to see how Bishopvillians had honored their hometown hero. No tributes were to be found. Some people had never even heard of the 20th Century icon. Mr. Adams got in touch with the powers that be in Lee County and the rest is history. Motorists driving on I-20 near Bishopville will be pleased to know that the interchange is named for Felix “Doc” Blanchard.
For more information on Doc Blanchard please contact the South Carolina Cotton Museum at (803) 484-4497, or e-mail them at DocBlanchard2010@hotmail.com
South Carolina Cotton Museum 121 West Cedar Lane Bishopville, South Carolina 29010 (803) 484-4497 Sccottonmus@ftc-i.net