Recent backfields have featured some of the most impressive combinations of talent college football has ever seen: Reggie Bush and LenDale White at USC. Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis and Darren McFadden at Arkansas. Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore at Miami. Going a bit further back, Oklahoma State had Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas in the same backfield in 1987.
All are great, but none combined to form college football’s greatest running back team ever. That distinction belongs to the Army Cadets of the mid-1940s, which featured Heisman Trophy winners Felix “Doc” Blanchard and Glenn Davis.
With Davis at halfback and Blanchard manning fullback, Army’s one-two punch was nicknamed Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside, and they carried the load for a team that went unbeaten from 1944 through 1946.
Former Notre Dame coach Ed McKeever gave Blanchard another nickname in 1944. Via The Baltimore Sun: “I’ve just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears No. 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard.”
Blanchard didn’t leap any tall buildings or stop locomotives, but he did win the Heisman in 1945, scoring 16 rushing touchdowns and another from a reception that season.
Doc Blanchard finished third in the fourth in the Heisman voting the next season, but helped pave the way for teammate Davis to give West Point back-to-back bronze statues.
The irony of Glenn Davis winning the Heisman Trophy in 1946 is statistically, it was the least impressive of his three years on Army’s varsity squad. He rushed for seven touchdowns and scored six receiving touchdowns, but the 13 total scores were actually fewer than he scored via the run in either 1944 or 1945 — two campaigns in which Davis finished runner-up in the Heisman vote.
Army’s domination in that era is not surprising, as legendary sports journalist Dick Schaap notes in the above clip. As World War II raged on, West Point could offer Davis and Blanchard the opportunity to play and graduate before going into active duty. The result was Army putting the most dominant running back pair on the field in the game’s history, evident in the 81 combined touchdowns they scored from scrimmage, a record that stood for any combo for almost six decades.
It’s no coincidence the only game the pair didn’t win while at West Point came in 1946, a year after World War II ended. Army and Notre Dame played in Yankee Stadium Nov. 9 of that year, and the Fighting Irish accomplished something no team previously had: both Blanchard and Davis were kept out of the end zone, albeit barely.
Notre Dame legend Johnny Lujack made an open-field tackle of Blanchard that proved both game and history-saving — history-saving in that it kept a blemish off Notre Dame’s remarkable four-year unbeaten sheet, from 1946 to 1950.
The 1946 Game of the Century was a passing of the torch, but certainly did nothing to tarnish the legacy of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis — on the contrary, Army’s backfield duo starred in a biopic about their playing days just one year later.
Imagine if a studio commissioned a bio of the reigning Heisman winner in this era.
In 2015, plenty of teams boast multifaceted running-back platoons: Oregon has Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman; Arkansas offers Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams; Alabama has Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. Maybe one of these will make their own history, but they won’t meet the bar Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis set.