'Doc' Blanchard: American footballer and USAF pilot who saved an Essex village

In 1959 Doc Blanchard was inducted to America's college football Hall of Fame, and broke a speed record flying an F-100 Super Sabre jet at 610mph between England and Tripoli. But his greatest achievement came when another F-100 caught fire as he returned to RAF Wethersfield. Ordered to follow protocol and eject, Blanchard, with the Essex village beneath him, refused. He executed an emergency landing, then fled the burning plane. "It was the fastest I ever ran," he said.

Running was his speciality. Between 1944 and 1946, Blanchard and Glenn Davis became national heroes as gridiron's "touchdown twins" at the US Military Academy at West Point. Blanchard, the full-back, pounded the centre of the opposition's line while Davis, the half-back, attacked its flanks, and they were known as "Mr Inside" and "Mr Outside". In three seasons, Army won two national championships, their 1944 match against Navy raising $60m in war bonds sold along with its tickets. After Army won, completing an unbeaten season, General Douglas MacArthur wired, "we have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success".

Felix Andrew Blanchard Jr came to football naturally. He was originally nicknamed "Little Doc", to distinguish him from his father, a doctor who had played at two universities, and who placed a football in his baby's crib. Young Doc entered the University of North Carolina, but when war broke out, his grades were too low for a Navy programme which would have let him finish college. He joined the Army and and was admitted to West Point in July 1944. Two months later, he was making his impact on the gridiron. After losing 59-0 to Army, Notre Dame's coach said, "I've just seen Superman, and he's wearing No 35". Six feet tall and 15 stone, Blanchard ran a 10 second-flat 100 yards, and was the eastern college shot putt champion. In 1945, Army again went undefeated. Blanchard became the first junior to win the Heisman Trophy, as the nation's top college player, and the first footballer to capture the Sullivan award, given to the country's top amateur athlete.

After graduation, Blanchard and Davis negotiated a deal to extend their four-year service commitment in return for four months' furlough each year to play professionally, but an outcry in Congress saw that deal cancelled. They used their graduation leave to go to Hollywood and play themselves in a forgettable movie, The Spirit Of West Point.

Blanchard made his career in the Air Force, retiring a colonel in 1971. He flew nearly 100 combat missions in Korea and Vietnam, returning to football only to coach Army's freshmen for a few years in the 1950s. In early April, Army announced it would retire Blanchard's No 35 jersey.

Michael Carlson

Felix Anthony ('Doc') Blanchard Jr, pilot, American footballer: born 11 December 1924 Bishopsville, South Carolina; married (one son, one daughter); died Bulverde, Texas 19 April 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee