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Obituaries

Glenn Davis, 80; College Football Star

March 10, 2005|Mike Kupper | Times Staff Writer

Glenn Davis, the Heisman Trophy-winning "Mr. Outside" on Army's national championship football teams of the mid-1940s, died Wednesday, his son Ralph told The Times. Davis was 80.

Davis, generally recognized as one of the finest all-around athletes ever to come out of Southern California, died of complications from prostate cancer at his home in La Quinta, Calif.

A 5-foot-9, 170-pound halfback, Davis teamed with fullback Felix "Doc" Blanchard, "Mr. Inside," when the U.S. Military Academy dominated college football during and just after World War II. Army, going undefeated, won national titles in 1944 and '45, then finished a close second to Notre Dame after those teams had played to a 0-0 tie at Yankee Stadium in 1946.

Davis and Blanchard, also widely known as "the Touchdown Twins," remain to this day college football's most famous running-back combination.

Davis was the speed merchant around end, Mr. Outside, and Blanchard the batterer between tackles, Mr. Inside. They were honored as recently as a year ago, co-winners of the Doak Walker Legends Award at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Blanchard remains the oldest living Heisman winner.

They were All-Americans all three seasons they played together and each won the Heisman Trophy as college football's outstanding player, Blanchard in 1945 and Davis in 1946, when Davis also was voted Associated Press male athlete of the year, the first football player to be so honored. Davis' career average of 8.3 yards a carry remains the major-college record. In 1945, he carried the ball only 82 times but gained 944 yards, an 11.5-yard average.

Davis, whose speed made him the perfect complement to the bigger, hard-running Blanchard, finished with 2,957 yards, Blanchard with 1,908 as Army posted a 27-0-1 record during their time as teammates. Davis scored 59 touchdowns, Blanchard 38.

They did more than just run with the ball, however. Both blocked, and both, as was customary then, played on defense as well as offense, Davis as a defensive back, Blanchard as a linebacker. In his final game for Army -- against Navy -- Davis made a leaping, left-handed interception and returned it for a touchdown.

Blanchard also was a good pass receiver, which worked out well, since Davis was a good passer. Blanchard caught eight touchdown passes at Army, five of them thrown by Davis.

A teammate, Bill Yeoman, former coach at the University of Houston, told The Times in 1983: "There are words to describe how good an athlete Doc Blanchard was. But there aren't words to describe how good Davis was."

Time magazine wrote in 1945: "Davis ... carries a special kind of speed that is all his own. After a brief show of hippiness, enough to get around the end, he simply leans forward and sprouts wings."

Davis' Army coach, the legendary Earl "Red" Blaik, once declared, "Glenn Davis could do anything you asked, and he did it better than almost anyone else.... He's the best halfback I've ever seen."

He was the best athlete many ever saw.

Davis was born in Claremont the day after Christmas in 1924, the son of Ralph and Ima Davis. After a standout prep career at Bonita High in La Verne, where he earned 13 letters in four sports, he went to West Point along with his twin brother, Ralph, Glenn's high school teammate who played junior varsity football for Army. Ralph, of Joshua Tree, died in January.

In 3 1/2 years at West Point, Davis won 10 letters, four in football, three in baseball, two in track and one in basketball. In 51 baseball games for Army, he batted .403, stole 64 bases in 65 attempts, including second, third and home in an exhibition against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey, then-Dodger president who had already signed Jackie Robinson, another of Southern California's elite all-around athletes, offered Davis $75,000 to sign, heavy-duty money in the '40s.

With his speed, track probably would have been Davis' best sport, had he concentrated on it. In 1947, he ran a 6.1-second 60-yard dash at Madison Square Garden, beating Barney Ewell, who the next year won the silver medal in the 100 meters at the London Olympics.

The track story everyone likes to tell about Davis, though, occurred later that spring, on the same day Davis had already played nine innings of baseball in center field, getting, as he later recalled, "a couple of hits." After that game, although he had not run an outdoor meet that season, he rushed to the track because Army was short of sprinters. In borrowed shoes, he won the 100-yard dash in 9.7 seconds, then later won the 220 in academy-record time, 20.9.

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