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Ron Fimrite
November 21, 1988
Doc Blanchard (right) was the inside man and Glenn Davis ruled the outside for Army's fabled teams of the 1940s
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November 21, 1988

Mr. Inside & Mr. Outside

Doc Blanchard (right) was the inside man and Glenn Davis ruled the outside for Army's fabled teams of the 1940s

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It is homecoming weekend at west point. The leaves are turning, and though the October days have been unseasonably mild and sunny along the Hudson, there is at dusk the suggestion of an autumn chill. It is almost nightfall as the little van driven by U.S. Military Academy athletic director Carl Ullrich pulls up alongside the football practice field. Joe Steffy, a squarely built man who was an All-America guard on the great Army teams of the '40s, is there to meet Ullrich and his passengers, with a smile on his rubicund face as wide as the river.

Steffy, who has recently retired, lives just up the road from West Point, in Newburgh, N.Y. He hasn't missed an Army football home game in 35 years. The two old friends Steffy has driven over to meet, who are now disengaging themselves from the van with theatrically exaggerated difficulty, live far away—one in California near Palm Springs, the other in San Antonio. And though he visits both of them from time to time, Steffy is happy to have them back on his own turf again. Of course, there was a time, so many years ago, when it was their turf, too. Theirs for sure.

"Doc! Glenn!" Steffy bellows, jogging over to the three-foot-high fence that borders the practice field. The visitors are equally joyous, the smaller of the two actually vaulting the fence—no mean feat for a 63-year-old man recently recovered from prostate surgery. The larger man, heavier by many pounds than in his robust playing days, takes the longer way around, but he, too, hurries over to embrace his old teammate. "How's it goin', you old duffer!" he says. The Army team is still practicing, so the older men confine their friendly scuffling and noisy reminiscences to the edge of the field. An errant punt bounces within a few feet of them.

"They can sure as hell kick that ball these days," says Steffy.

"Aw, Joe," says Doc, "they just blow the ball up tighter."

"But they are big" says Glenn. "We'd look like termites out there."

Jim Young, the Army coach, soon joins the group. Young is 53, but he addresses the two visitors as if he were a mere schoolboy in the presence of idols, which, certainly to his way of thinking, he is. "Could you two possibly say a few words to the team?" the coach inquires. "It would be important to them if you could. They've all seen you plenty of times. We show the highlight films from '45 and '46 before our games."

Doc and Glenn cheerfully agree, following Young, who whistles his team to assembly in the middle of the field. It is growing dark, and the damp grass has a velvet sheen. The Hudson River beyond looks like a long black ribbon. There is the smell of sweat in the evening air. The players gather in a semicircle around their coach and his two guests.

"Men," Young begins, "I want you to meet the two greatest football players Army ever had, the two best backs ever to play on the same college football team—Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard." Applause and cheers. The years now are peeling away from the returning heroes, and, embarrassed by this rush of sentiment, they hastily wish these new Black Knights of the Hudson good luck and Godspeed.

As the two greatest football players Army ever had walk away from this scene so hauntingly familiar to them, Blanchard turns to Davis and says in a large gruff voice, "Glenn, what I wanted to tell those boys was that we wore high-top shoes and long-sleeved shirts with elbow pads and we had no face masks, and on the bus down to New York, we'd sing Barbry Allen and John Henry ."

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