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Where it All Began

Documentary focuses on Ivy football history

In the saturated atmosphere of television coverage of major college games, it's easy to overlook the fact that intercollegiate football is rooted firmly beneath the Ivy League's family tree.

Eight: Ivy League Football and America, a documentary film, premiered last month at the Yale Club in New York City. It was a three-year project, produced by Erik Anjou and Mark Bernstein, that is an entertaining and informative chronicle of the history and influence of Ivy institutions on a game that traces its American origins to the Princeton-Rutgers rugby-like match in 1869. (Purists consider Harvard's games with Tufts and Yale in 1875 to be more American than English, resembling the game that Dartmouth first played in 1881.)

Football history
Sam Hawken '68 leaps via a pyramid of linemen (a play now illegal) to block a field goal attempt during a 1965 Dartmouth-Princeton game that completed an undefeated season for Dartmouth, ended a 17-game win streak for Princeton, and earned Dartmouth the Lambert Trophy as the outstanding team in Eastern college football. A new documentary celebrates the role of the Ivy League in intercollegiate football. (photo courtesy Mark Bernstein)

Considering its place today at the NCAA Division 1-AA level, the Ivy League isn't what it was for more than a century until the late 1970s. "Few people remember what giants the Ivy League produced and how the game is so much their creation," says Bernstein, a Princeton graduate and author of the history, Football: The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession. "Almost everything Americans love about football comes out of the Ivy League. So does a lot of what they don't love about it. We wanted to tell that story."

Spanning decades with images of historic games, teams, and players, the 96-minute film also puts football in the context of academic experiences through interviews with 43 players from the eight Ivy schools dating from the 1930s to the present, among them Dartmouth's Dick Beattie '61, Hank Paulson '68, Murry Bowden '71, Jeff Immelt '78, current coach Buddy Teevens '79, Preston Copley '07, and Andrew Dete '09.

The co-producers have dedicated the film to Dr. Frederick (Josh) Billings, Princeton '33, and to Kathy S. Phillips, Dartmouth's sports information director, who both died in the past year. "Josh was emblematic of 'another day' in Ivy football, a child of the Depression who represents the chain of tradition embedded in Ivy football," says Anjou, a filmmaker who was a nose guard at Middlebury and admits he was too short and too slow to play at Dartmouth. "Kathy intuitively knew what we were up against as independent, low-budget filmmakers. She made our lives easy.

"We live in a culture that's measured by media presence, sound bites, and image for image's sake," Anjou adds. "Contemporary Ivy football is excoriated or ignored by the mass football-athletic culture. I believe that the Ivies preserve the idea that athletics are part of an education for life. That's something worth announcing and celebrating."

By JACK DeGANGE

Jack DeGange was Dartmouth's sports information director from 1968 to 1977.

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Last Updated: 5/30/08