It wasn’t easy for the “Fat” man to play the game he loved. But it was Norman Blanchette's love for the game that kept him playing for as long as he could.
Headlines were few and far between for the 200-plus-pound lineman, who spent his football career helping others earn the newspaper ink. Plagued by chronic asthma since early childhood, Blanchette probably shouldn’t have played at all. But the man affectionately called “Fat” by teammates and opponents alike was determined to play the game he felt he was meant to play.
It was never about him when the big man stepped onto a football field. At least it wasn’t until the opening game of the 1945 Semi-Professional football season when Blanchette led his Murphy Club teammates into Sargent Field that afternoon. “Fat” was in his 11th season with the Murphy Club and, at 29 years of age, was among the oldest and most respected offensive linemen in the circuit.
The start of a new season was barely under way when, for one of the few times in his career, the focus was squarely on the “Fat” man.
With the Murphy Club offense on the field, the home team opted to surprised the visiting Cranston defense with a trick play. Blanchette was the rabbit head coach Monk Mendell selected to be pulled out of the hat. Mendell sent in a play that called for the offensive tackle to pull off the line, take a handoff and run for daylight. But, after successfully taking the handoff, Blanchette was hit after just a couple of steps and knocked off balance. As he tumbled toward the turf his right leg twisted just as a second Cranston defender landed on the twisted limb as both players went down in a heap. A minute later they were carrying Blanchette off the football field for the final time.
A torn heel tendon on his right foot had ended Blanchette’s career and the “Fat” man knew it.
“The old man’s all through,” he was quoted as saying in the locker room following the game. In an instant, a long and glorious football career that spanned four years at New Bedford High School and 11 seasons with the Murphy Club was over. He could no longer play the game he loved. But, because of that love, he chose to help those who could by accepting an assistant coaching position under Mendell. “Fat” remained an assistant until he turned his attention to officiating and, within a short period of time, became one of the best football officials in the area.
With every passing season Blanchette continued to earn the admiration of coaches and players until he ultimately earned the same kind of respect he had as a player.
On May 9, 1971, the local sports scene was stunned by the news that Blanchette had died unexpectedly at the age of 54. A few nights later an overflow crowd filled the Dwyer Funeral Home on Chestnut Street in New Bedford to pay their respects to the “Fat” man and say their final good-byes. Coaches, teammates, opposing players — past and present — were among Blanchette’s family members and many close friends in attendance.
The final paragraph in a tribute column that appeared in The Standard-Times said it best:
“The measure of an individual is the high regard with which he is held by his fellow man. In Fat’s case, he well merits the distinction of ‘Mr. Official.’ He stood tall in the eyes of all those who knew him in the game.’ ”
And in the game of life, as well.
Buddy's Best: The Legends will run each day for 100 days. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #BuddysBest. Read the entire series at SouthCoastToday.com/BuddysBest. Email Buddy Thomas at email@example.com.