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Book Report: Ivy League Autumns

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, Monday, February 25, 2013


In the 1996 book, Ivy League Autumns, author Richard Goldstein, who covered the college conference for the New York Times, profiles many of the players and coaches that put the Ivy League teams at the forefront of the college football landscape.

When most people think of the Ivy League they think of The Big Three; Harvard, Yale and Princeton. At one time, these schools ruled the college football world. The rest of the eight-team league is made up of Brown, Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Columbia and Cornell.

The Ivy League itself was not founded until 1956, but the eight schools that belong to it have roots that go back to the very beginning of the game of football. The book covers the Ivy League through 1995, which was the 40th anniversary of the official founding of the league.

The first Harvard-Yale game was played on November 13, 1875, just 6 years after the first officially recognized college football game between Rutgers and another Ivy school, Princeton.

Many great innovators also have roots in the Ivy League. Walter Camp, the Father of American Football, played and coached at Yale. He is credited with developing a system of downs, the number of players on a team (11) and standardizing the size of the field. He also created the collegiate All-American list and personally selected the players each year until his death in 1925.

Fritz Crisler, who would go on to make a name for himself at Michigan was the head coach at Princeton from 1932-1935. The iconic helmet design used at Michigan was developed by Crisler while at Princeton.

After graduating from Michigan, former President Gerald R. Ford was an assistant football coach at Yale from 1935-1940 while attending the Yale Law School.

Amos Alonzo Stagg played at Yale before going on to coach at the University of Chicago for over 40 years.

William "Pudge" Heffelfinger, another Yale player, would become the first documented professional football player in 1892.

John Heisman attended Brown University and also Pennsylvania, where he played and later coached.

Prior to becoming an Army head coaching legend, Earl "Red" Blaik was the head coach at Dartmouth from 1935-1938.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno was a quarterback at Brown University in the 1940's.

Actor Ed Marinaro, who starred in the 1980's TV series Hill Street Blues, was a record setting running back at Cornell. He was second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1971 behind quarterback Pat Sullivan from Auburn. Marinaro was drafted in the second round of the 1972 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He played in Minnesota from 1972-1975 as well as for the New York Jets in 1976 and the Seattle Seahawks in 1977.

Three Ivy League players have also won the Heisman Trophy. The second year that the award was presented in 1936, end Larry Kelley from Yale won the award. The following year, his team mate, running back Clint Frank, also won the award. The last was quarterback Dick Kazmaier from Princeton, who won the award in 1951.

In 1952, Ivy League schools wanted to put less emphasis on sports and more on academics so they decided to ban spring practices for football and did away with all athletic scholarships and post season play. Athletes were held to the same academic standards as everyone else at the schools. (Spring practices were reinstated in 1994) They also did away with their freshman teams and allowed them to play on the varsity for the first time.

In the early football years, several Ivy League teams even played in the Rose Bowl. In 1917, Washington State defeated Brown 14-0. The very next year, Pennsylvania lost to Oregon by the same score. But in 1920, Harvard beat Oregon 7-6 and in 1934 Columbia upset Stanford 7-0.

In 1982, the NCAA decided to form a lower division (Division I-AA) for any school that did not average 17,000 in paid attendance each season. Seven of the eight Ivy League schools were demoted to the new division. Yale was the only one who was not demoted, but they voluntarily joined to remain with the rest of their league.

I found this book in the gift shop of the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana and purchased it in December 2012 just before the Hall closed its doors forever. It is being moved to Atlanta, Georgia.

The book contains 112 vintage photographs which really added to the stories. While the Ivy League may not be as well covered in the national media today as it once was, its place in football history cannot be denied. Every major college that has its highlights shown on ESPN and other 24-hour sports networks today owes a debt to the teams paved the way in football's early development. The teams of the Ivy League.


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