As part of our ongoing “Mt. Rushmore” series, we take a look at the four most important figures in the history of one of the pillar programs of college football — Army Football.
Army Football Mount Rushmore
Many of our younger readers might not appreciate the significance of Army Football in the college football landscape. While the Black Knights have only two bowl appearances in the last twenty years and have lost fourteen straight to Navy, this program has almost as much history on the gridiron as it does on the battlefield. Army battled Notre Dame for college supremacy in the 1940s and 1950s, playing in “Game of the Century” against the Irish in 1946. Army claims three consensus National Championships (1944, 1945, 1946), three Heisman Trophy winners, and has over 660 all-time program wins, which is more than notable programs such as Ole Miss, Oregon, Stanford, and Miami. And the storied Army-Navy rivalry is one of the great enduring spectacles of amateur athletics in an increasing corporate world. One of the last great pure rivalries, it serves as the end of the college football season every year.
So while Army might not have top billing, it’s worth appreciating the history that this program contributes to college football. To look at that history, let’s look at the four most important people in Army Football history.
Pete Dawkins is quite possibly the most decorated American ever. Do yourself a favor: if you don’t know who Pete Dawkins is, go read his Wikipedia entry. While his statistics may seem pedestrian today (1,839 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns), Dawkins led the Cadets to an 8-0-1 record in 1958, a number three overall ranking, and won both the Maxwell Trophy and the Heisman Trophy. But that’s just the beginning of Dawkins’ list of achievements.
As a cadet, Dawkins was also team captain, Cadet First Captain (the highest ranking cadet at the Academy), class president, and ranked in the top five percent of his class academically. Dawkins is the only cadet in the 214 year history of the Academy to hold all four of those distinctions simultaneously.
Not impressed? Dawkins followed his Heisman Trophy up with a Rhodes Scholarship. In addition to his football abilities, he was assistant captain of the West Point hockey team and earned three letters in rugby while at Oxford – and they play pretty good rugby there. In addition to his Rhodes Scholarship, Dawkins would later earn a Masters and a Ph.D from Princeton and serve as a White House Fellow.
Still not impressed? While serving in Vietnam as an Army Officer, Dawkins was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor. Twice. He retired from the Army as a Brigadier General in 1983 after 24 years of service. After conquering the football field, the battlefield, and academia, Dawkins turned his attention to corporate America. He has held senior executive positions with Lehman Brothers, Bain and Co., and Citigroup among others since 1983. The 1958 Heisman winner is currently still working at Virtu Financial Group.
His letterman jacket is most certainly better than yours. And, oh, by the way, Dawkins survived and recovered from Polio when he was 11.
— Matthew Parry (@vinatgecardguy) April 25, 2016
Pete Dawkins visiting with the present-day Army Football team.
FELIX “DOC” BLANCHARD AND GLENN DAVIS
Both Felix Blanchard and Glenn Davis must be listed together. “Mr. Inside” and “Mr. Outside”, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis had possibly the greatest run three year run by teammates in the history of college football. Both were three time consensus All-Americans and the two running backs led Army to three consecutive national championships while amassing a record of 27-0-1. That one tie was a 0-0 game against Notre Dame in 1946 known as the “Game of the Century” in college football.
Blanchard was known as the devastating inside runner. Notre Dame coach Edward McKeever famously said, “I’ve just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears number 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard.” In his three years at the Academy, Blanchard amassed 2,098 total yards of hard earned offense and scored 35 touchdowns. Blanchard won the Sullivan, Maxwell, and Heisman Trophy awards as a junior in 1945, as well as being named the Sporting News Player of the Year. Blanchard was a rare blend of size and speed. He was a champion shot put at West Point while also having a 10-second-flat 100 meter time. Blanchard passed on an NFL career to have a successful career in the Air Force. Blanchard flew 84 missions over North Vietnam during the Vietnam War and retired as a Colonel in the Air Force. As with Pete Dawkins, Blanchard would later be awarded the Walter Camp Man of the Year award in 1971.
Davis was the elusive outside runner. Even today Davis’ career numbers would be impressive. Davis finished his college career with 3,099 total yards, including two 1,000 yards seasons, 593 yards passing, and 48 total touchdowns. Davis finished second in the Heisman voting in his sophomore and junior seasons before finally winning the award in his senior season in 1946. Davis also won the Maxwell Award his sophomore season. He was voted Sporting News college football player of the year and the AP Athlete of the Year – not just for college, but for all sports – in 1946. Glenn Davis would go on to play professionally and make one NFL Pro Bowl.
It’s important to remember that these two teammates did this in the era of freshman ineligibility. Blanchard and Davis never knew a college defeat and neither finished outside of the top four in Heisman voting for their entire careers. These two players are so intertwined in the history of the college football that they are almost always listed and discussed as a tandem.
EARL “RED” BLAIK
Sometimes it’s hard to measure whether to put coaches on a list like this one. Not in this case. Red Blaik was an All-American at Army in 1919. But his contributions came as a coach.
Blaik coached at West Point for 18 seasons and finished with an overall record of 121-32-10. Blaik won three consecutive national titles (1944, 1945, and 1946) – although the 1946 title is considered shared with Notre Dame after the two teams tied during that season. Army, under Blaik, is the last team to win three straight national championships from a major elector in college football. Blaik’s Army team didn’t lose a game for 32 straight contests spanning the 1944 to 1947 seasons. Blaik was recognized as the American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 1946.
Interestingly, Blaik had twenty former assistant coaches go on to become head coaches on their own, including legendary NFL coaches Sid Gilman and the venerable Vince Lombardi. Two former coaches went on to win college football national championships. When it comes to coaching trees, there is none more fruitful in the history of the sport than Red Blaik’s.
While at West Point, Army Football adopted the moniker of “Black Knights”. In recognition of his contributions, the football field is named in his honor.
Blaik made another lasting contribution to the sport. Partnering with Grantland Rice and famous U.S. General Douglas MacArthur (who managed the 1902 Army team), the three men created the National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1953 in New York City.
All college football fans owe a small debt of gratitude to Earl “Red” Blaik for his enduring contributions to the game of college football.
So while the Army Football isn’t in any Top 25 preseason polls, it is still important to remember the place Army holds in college football history. And the best way to do that is by looking at the players and coaches that made the program successful. And while there’s been many great players, none are more important to West Point’s success than these four individuals.