Arnold Tucker, Celebrated but Overshadowed Quarterback, Is Dead at 95
Arnold Tucker was an All-America quarterback who helped lead Army to undefeated seasons and national championships in the mid-1940s, received a coveted award as the country’s outstanding amateur athlete and would one day be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Yet despite all that, it was his fate to be eclipsed on the field by two of college football’s most celebrated players of that era: his backfield mates Felix (Doc) Blanchard and Glenn Davis, Heisman Trophy-winning running backs remembered in football lore as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.
So there was perhaps a bit of symmetry at play when Tucker died on Jan. 10, 2019, five days after his 95th birthday: As he was overshadowed on the gridiron, his death went largely overlooked.
There was a paid death notice published online and buried in the pages of The Miami Herald that January. And at the end of the year The Associated Press listed Tucker (just his name and age) among the many “notable sports deaths in 2019.” But his death was otherwise not widely reported in the mainstream press, which had, almost 80 years ago, chronicled his (and Blanchard and Davis’s) gridiron exploits and later, when their time came, gave both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside substantial obituaries, Blanchard’s in 2009 and Davis’s in 2005.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Tucker’s daughter, Patricia Nugent, confirmed his death. And when asked why it hadn’t gotten much publicity, she said that she had never reached out to the national news media. The Times discovered he had died in seeking to update an obituary about him that was prepared in advance in 2010.
Tucker was integral to Army’s war-era success as part of three undefeated national championship squads, then largely determined by an Associated Press poll of newspaper sports editors. Looking back in 1976, the sportswriter Allison Danzig, who had covered Army football for The New York Times, called Blanchard, Davis and Tucker “probably the greatest backfield triumvirate in modern times, if not of all time.”
Army had been able to assemble such a powerful squad after college transfer rules were loosened during World War II, when many potential recruits were serving in the military. The United States Military Academy at West Point lured Blanchard away from the University of North Carolina and Tucker from the University of Miami, each after his freshman season. Tucker was Army’s third-string quarterback as a sophomore and the starter as a junior and senior.
Blanchard was a powerful but fast fullback. Davis, a halfback, was even faster. But in an era before plays were signaled in from the bench, it was Tucker, at 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds, who called the plays and made the offense work as the T-formation quarterback.
Their Army team was so strong that Coach Red Blaik and three of his assistants felt comfortable passing up a 1945 game against an overmatched Villanova squad so they could scout the game between Notre Dame and Navy, two future stronger opponents. Army routed Villanova, 54-0, and went on to defeat Notre Dame by 48-0 and Navy by 32-13.
At a time when college rules restricted substitutions, Tucker played not only quarterback but also safety, punt returner and kickoff returner. The one blemish on his team’s records was a 0-0 tie in its game against unbeaten Notre Dame in 1946 at Yankee Stadium.
That same year he earned first-team All-America honors and came in fifth in Heisman Trophy balloting — behind Blanchard and Davis, of course. (Davis won the trophy that year; Blanchard got his the year before.)
But before graduating in 1947, Tucker won the Sullivan Award as America’s outstanding amateur athlete. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears but never played professional football. For several years in the mid-1950s he was an assistant coach at West Point to Vince Lombardi, who went on to glory with the Green Bay Packers.
From 1947 to 1976, Tucker served in the Army and Air Force in many capacities, including transport pilot during the Korean War. He retired as a lieutenant colonel, having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and other honors.
Tucker married Patricia Small in 1947. She died in 1998. In addition to Ms. Nugent, Tucker is survived by two grandsons. His son, Arnold Thomas Tucker, known as Tom, died in 2014.
Young Arnold Tucker (Young was his given name) was born on Jan. 5, 1924, in Calhoun Falls, S.C. He played high school football in Miami.
He started college at Notre Dame but left after a few weeks because, he said, he didn’t like the cold Indiana weather. He entered the Navy’s V-12 program, which would have led to a commission, and as a naval assignee attended the University of Miami, playing quarterback for the Hurricanes. He was discharged from the Navy in July 1944 so he could receive his appointment to West Point.
“I was discharged from the Navy to enter the U.S. Military Academy,” he told The Miami Herald in 2008. “I reported in my sailor suit.”
In three seasons at West Point, on a team that threw the ball infrequently, Tucker passed for 1,127 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 1946, as a safety, he intercepted eight passes, an Army single-season record. He was also captain of Army’s basketball team.
Tucker was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 — 62 years after he last walked off a college playing field. His induction came thanks to a special committee that reviewed oversights.
Frank Litsky, a longtime sportswriter for The Times, died in 2018. Alex Traub contributed reporting.