Take four Heisman Trophy winners, including three in a 14-season span at one school. Mix in a garden variety of famed running backs, skill position players and tradition-rich seasons, and you have the nexus of the Army West Point and Houston football programs as the teams heighten preparations for the 16th annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
Army West Point has the fifth-most Heisman winners among the current 130 teams playing NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision football with three, while Houston sports 1989 Heisman recipient and popular football broadcast analyst Andre Ware from the 1989 season.
While statistics from some of the pre-1980s Heisman Trophy winners may pale in comparison to the 400 yards passing per game or 125-yard rushing norms of winners of this FBS national player of the year, the three Black Knights honorees were so important to their squads’ national prominence that statistics may not be a totally accurate measurement.
For example, one of the handful of fullbacks to win the Heisman– Army West Point’s Doc Blanchard – rushed for 722 yards on 101 carries for a 7.1 average with 16 touchdowns in 1945. He also caught four passes for 166 yards and a 41.5 average with one TD that season.
More importantly, the Black Knights rolled to a 9-0 mark and the mythical national championship with a backfield of Blanchard, 1945 Heisman ballot runner-up and ’46 winner Glenn Davis, fellow NFF College Hall of Fame member Arnold Tucker (who will be 95 years old Jan. 5, 2019) at quarterback, and the fabled Tom “Shorty” McWilliams at multiple positions on loan in 1945 from Mississippi State.
In fact, Blanchard, Davis and Tucker played on three Army West Point teams with a combined mark of 27-0-1 and tri-national crowns in 1945, ’46 and ’47.
Davis got the Heisman nod in 1946 after a mere 123 rushing attempts in 10 games for 712 net yards, 5.8 yards per rush, and seven scores. He added 20 pass receptions for 356 yards, a 17.8 receiving yards quota, and six touchdown catches.
In 1958, Pete Dawkins gave the Black Knights a third Heisman Trophy champ with 124 carries for
665 yards, a 5.4 average, and eight rushing TDs. He tacked on 11 pass catches for 225 yards, 20.5 yards per grab, and three touchdowns. Dawkins averaged 6.6 yards each time he touched the oval and also starred as a defensive back in those days of one-platoon football and 60-minute men.
Fast forward 31 years to 1989, and one discovers the Houston Heisman Trophy recipient Andre Ware. Now Ware’s passing statistics rank among the best nationally for one campaign, as he hit on a gaudy 365-of-578 pass attempts (.631 completion percentage) for 4,699 yards, 46 touchdowns and a 152.5 quarterback rating – tops nationally. All the numbers were Southwest Conference records at the time.
It didn’t matter that this foursome played a combined four seasons (all by Ware in a reserve role) in the National Football League or never won an NFL Vince Lombardi Trophy.
These players were the true student-athlete warriors who understood both their postgraduate military obligations (in the cases of the Army West Point cadets) and in business and community service (Ware).
And the Army West Point players dutifully drove to the New York Athletic Club in midtown Manhattan, N.Y., to receive their trophies in a non-televised, low-key atmosphere. Ware, of all places, got the Heisman Trophy via a national hookup from the visiting Houston dressing room at Rice Stadium where the Cougars had downed the Rice Owls earlier that day 64-0.
While it has been awhile since the Heisman Trophy race has involved a Black Knight or Cougar, but the history of All-America and National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame players and coaches speaks volumes about the valued traditions at both schools.
The likes of Hall of Famers coach Earl “Red” Blaik (tri-founder of the National Football Foundation in 1947 with Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Grantland Rice), Blanchard, Davis, Tucker, Bob Anderson, Paul Bunker, coach Chris Cagle, Bill Carpenter, Charlie Daly, Arnold Galiffa, Jack Green, Edgar Garbisch, and the late Vietnam War hero Don Holleder, among others, left a legacy in West Point that never will be forgotten.
Houstonians with a nationally-known football pedigree outside Ware are coach Bill Yeoman, Wilson Whitley, Manny Hazard, coach Jack Pardee, coach John Jenkins, Chuck Witherspoon, Greg Ward Jr., D’Eriq King, coach Kevin Sumlin, coach Art Briles, coach Major Applewhite, coach Kim Helton, David Klingler, Ed Oliver, and dozens of others.
These standouts will not be playing Saturday in the bowl, but their presence will be felt by virtually every Army West Point and UH player on the field.
And the combined 35 bowl appearances between the schools bespeak the overall reputations both have gained throughout the years while playing against mostly larger players and more well-funded football programs for a total of almost two centuries.