Associate Press photo from Yankee Stadium [Nice tackling form by Teninga (42), and what’s the deal with Ref-Boyardee’s hat?  Does he toss flags or pizza dough?]

One of the nice things about following Michigan football history is that many of the biggest names in the history of the sport seem to cross paths with Wolverines at one point or another.  Consider Michigan’s battles against Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Archie Griffin, and more recently, Vince Young and Tim Tebow.

This morning I learned that Doc Blanchard, Army football’s great back, died at home in Texas.  The 1945 Heisman trophy winner was 84.  From 1944 to 1946, Blanchard and Glenn Davis formed a nasty backfield that helped the Cadets roll to a 27-0-1 record.

Fritz’s Crisler’s Michigan men squared off against the Army machine twice, in 1945 in New York and again in 1946 in Ann Arbor.

The first battle was held at Yankee Stadium on October 13, 1945 and the Cadets rolled through Crisler’s men 28-7 in front of nearly 63,000 fans.  The next day the Chicago Tribune declared, ‘ARMY WHIPS MICHIGAN’ and started the game summary like this:

Michigan sent its young football men on a man’s errand this afternoon in Yankee stadium..”

It’s a man’s game.  And the two biggest men of all were Blanchard, who ran off tackle for a 69 yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Davis, who added a 70 yard score in the fourth.  Between them they covered 370 yards on the ground, with Davis adding 47 passing yards.  Mercifully the Tribune featured a photo where apparently Michigan stopped Blanchard (the same as the AP photo above, enhanced with the Trib’s graphics):

image The Tribune’s account gives some credit to Crisler’s men for battling hard, in fact, Michigan nearly tied the score at 14-14 before fumbling away the possession.  After that Army’s machine took over, rolling to the 21 point victory.

The game holds more historical significance than just two great football powers meeting in the House that Ruth Built.  The battle against Davis and Blanchard prompted Fritz Crisler to employ a strategy of substituting or ‘platooning’ players, the first time in college football.

Sports Illustrated writer Gerald Holland wrote a wonderful piece on Crisler in its February 3, 1964 issue titled, ‘The Man Who Changed Football’.  Holland talked with the old coach about the origins of his substitution strategy:

What made him decide to go to platooning in 1945?

“Sheer necessity. You see, almost all colleges were playing freshmen at the time, because the older boys were in the service. Now, before the Michigan-Army game I figured that I would have to start nine freshmen against Red Blaik‘s great Blanchard-Davis team. By comparison with Michigan, Army had a team of mature men. I asked myself, ‘How are our poor, spindly-legged freshmen going to stand up against these West Pointers all afternoon?’ I knew I would have to spell them off during the game. So I picked our best defensive men and said, ‘When we lose the ball, you fellows automatically go in.’ Then I got my best offensive men and ball handlers together and said, ‘When we regain possession, you fellows automatically go in.’ As it turned out, I only platooned the lines, and the linebackers on defense. We lost the game 28-7, but it should have been much, much worse.

Michigan faced Davis, Blanchard and the Cadets again the following season, this time in Ann Arbor before nearly 86,000 fans.  A very nice game summary can be found here.  Crisler unleased another surprise, this time a 4-4 defense with four linebackers stacked in the box to contain Davis and Blanchard.   The game in the Big House was much closer than the 1945 battle, with the teams exchanging scores twice to knot the game at 13-13.

In the fourth quarter Army strung together a 76 yard drive for the game winner, a Blanchard touchdown, to make it 20-13.  A late drive by Michigan was stopped by Davis deep in Army’s territory.

Davis died of cancer in 2005.

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  3. The ’46 game in Ann Arbor was one of the best ever! The one play that comes to mind was Davis’ 50 plus yard run in the 1st quarter. Paul White tried to head Davis off near the 5-yard line, at the south end, but Glenn put on the brakes suddenly, Paul overran him, and Davis went in untouched. The Free Press used to have plays diagrammed on Sunday. Then QB Arnold Tucker completed a long TD pass at the end of the 1st Half, in the north end zone. The difference maker!!

  4. Another “twist” on the rivalry is entitled, “Biggie turns the Table”….Biggie Munn was an Assistant for the Gophers, then joined Fritz’s staff in Ann Arbor, until he got the Head Coaching job in East Lansing with the Mich. Aggie Boys. Well, I remember well that 55-0 rout in the ’46 opener in the Big House. Probably the most lopsided game in the MSU-UM series. The next year, however, we were fortunate to pull out a win up at East Lansing. Believe it was 14-6.

    Gene Derricotte was our tailback, and he broke an ankle on the first series…and in came Chuck Ortmann, who was in my opinion the finest pure passer ever. Then in ’50 Biggie turned the tables on us, humiliating us in Ann Arbor to the tune of 25-0. My freshman year, and State proceeded to win the next 3 years also, and brought home a National Championship to boot in 1952. That’s when State joined the Big 10, they had proved they deserved admission. But True Blue fans were not happy, to say the least. Sorry to change the track from the Brown Jug.

  5. Your piece on Fritz’s bringing the famed winged helmut to Ann Arbor in ’38 brings to mind the
    first Wolverine to wear the modern-day winged helmut. Only one or two guys wore it in ’47. It was a style just like the one Army wore (Blanchard & Davis). Guess who was one of the first to don it? None other than Dick Rifenburg (ole 89), the All-american offensive end. He was quite an athlete, later went on to Buffalo as a play-by-play announcer. The best high school basketball player I ever saw in action, for the Saginaw Arthur Hill Lumberjacks, state chams in ’45. I could never figure out why Dick didn’t play round ball in Ann Arbor. I have an idea he loved to party too much, but am not certain why he gave up the sport. They used the alley-oop play to perfection. Anybody have any insfo on this, or am I going back too far?