July 23, 2017

“Mr. Outside” Glenn Davis

I often tell friends and colleagues that I feel cheated–not having seen Ted Williams hit a baseball. Quite often, I also ponder what it would have been like witnessing Rocky Marciano throwing punches, Satchel Paige pitching in his prime, or Oscar Robertson putting up “triple-doubles” nightly. Now allow me to add a new one to my dream-filled “wish list”: I wish I could have seen Glenn Davis run with the football–or just run PERIOD.

At 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Glenn Davis arrived at Army in 1943 with an athletic reputation much larger than his rather modest physical frame; he had earned 13 letters in four sports at Bonita High in La Verne, California, and had scored a remarkable 256 points on the gridiron during his senior year. After being sent home in December of 1943 by the military academy for failing a math course, Davis returned the following year and would team up in the Army backfield with a man named Felix “Doc” Blanchard to form possibly the greatest college duo to ever line up behind a quarterback. “Mr. Inside” and “Mr. Outside” they were called–Davis the latter for his blazing speed and ability to break huge plays around the end of the line. Just HOW good was this backfield? Blanchard garnered the Heisman Trophy in 1945 for his spectacular, bruising play (his backfield mate finished second) while the speedy Davis would win the prestigious award the following year; they both played effectively on the defensive side too–although their offensive prowess gave birth to yet another nickname: the “Touchdown Twins.” Oh, yeah–Army won national titles each year from 1944 through 1946 while posting a 27-0-1 record when the two stars were teammates.

Glenn Davis was a first team All-American in ’44, ’45, and ’46; he was also voted the AP male athlete of the year in his senior year–the first football player to gain that honor. He still holds the NCAA record for most yards per carry for a career (8.3), and scored 59 touchdowns during his football tenure at Army while compiling close to 3,000 yards rushing. Symbolic of his natural, overall athletic ability, Davis THREW five TD passes to Blanchard during their time together. He even had time to play a little baseball at Army too–hitting .403 in 51 games there while stealing 64 out of 65 bases. But it was football that defined Glenn Davis as an athlete. His coach, Earl “Red” Blaik, called him the best halfback he’d ever seen, while a former teammate–Bill Yeoman–relayed the following words to the L.A. Times back 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.” And just HOW fast could Davis run? He ran a 6.1-second, 60-yard dash at Madison Square Garden in 1947, defeating Barney Ewell–who would win the silver medal in the 100 meters the following year at the Olympic Games in London. Again, I wish I could have seen a man named Glenn Davis run.

Ironically, Glenn Davis’ football fame and popularity would ultimately be his downfall. While filming a football scene at UCLA for the movie “The Spirit of West Point” (also starring Doc Blanchard) shortly after leaving Army, Davis tore ligaments in his right knee–and would never regain the blazing speed that defined his game. Yes, he did play for the L.A. Rams for a couple of years after fulfilling his military commitment, and also contributed fairly well to the squad that won the 1951 NFL championship. But “Mr. Outside”–as far as his athletic ability was concerned–was truly finished after sitting out the 1952 season due to the bad knee. He’d officially call it quits after an exhibition game vs. the Eagles in 1953–no longer able to run with the abandon and swiftness that once rendered him perhaps the most talented athlete in America.

Looking back on the life of one Glenn Davis, who died in 2005 of complications from prostate cancer at the age of 80, one might assume that his athletic accolades, incomparable speed, and celebrity status (he even dated Elizabeth Taylor at one time) would have imbued him with an unapproachable, “better than thou” attitude during his life–much like many ex-athletes we witness today. But Mr. Davis was always surprisingly modest–especially about his greatness on the gridiron–as witnessed by these words he relayed to the AP in 1995: “I wasn’t the kind of guy who liked to pick the newspaper up to find out how I was doing. I just did my thing the best I could.” In his post-football days, Glenn Davis worked for the Los Angeles Times–where he would often spearhead many charitable sporting events until he retired in 1987. Graciously, he donated his Heisman Trophy to Bonita High School before he died, where his athletic achievements/heroics are honored by the school’s athletic field bearing his well-respected name. In addition, the Glenn Davis Award is given out annually to the top high school football player in Southern California.

Glenn Davis was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1961. Along with Doc Blanchard, he was given the Doak Walker Legends Award in 2003 at a touching ceremony held at SMU. Lastly, he made the trip to West Point for the final time back in October 2004 to be inducted into Army’s esteemed Sports Hall of Fame. Quite frankly, he was the best athlete many people had/have ever seen–and perhaps the best I NEVER saw. An instant star the very first day he stepped foot on Army grounds in 1943, he seldom disappointed while on the gridiron–and remained a HELLUVA guy off it. As for Doc Blanchard, he passed in 2009. I’m sure that the memory of a man named Davis surely brought a smile to his face later in life.

Glenn Davis, I wish I could have seen you run.