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Kirkus ReviewsA New York Times football writer scores points in this illustrated account of how a major college football conference "downsized" to retain its focus on academics.
Comprising Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Penn, Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell, the Ivy League is indisputably the cradle of American football, the place where the sport's founding fathers learned to play. Goldstein faithfully recreates the game's early days, when Ivy schools dominated and play was rough, often excessively so. (In 1905, the year after 18 men died on the nation's gridirons, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened by holding a White House summit to put an end to the mayhem.) The author, however, is quick to point out (occasionally stridently) that, despite their prowess and frequently unchecked ardor for the game, these are, after all, scholar-athletes. To underscore this fact, he identifies an impressive raft of gridiron heroes who used their heads as more than mere helmet stuffing, including Jack Kerouac. He notes that when the rest of the nation's colleges softened their academic standards for footballers the Ivy league's teams regularly had their hats handed to them. Conceding that they couldn't maintain academic excellence and still compete with the top teams, the eight officially formed the Ivy League in 1956 as a means of restoring football to its intended extracurricular status. Since then, no Ivy team has seriously contended for a national title (the last Top 20 team was Dartmouth in 1970, with the league finally being relegated to Division I-AA status in 1982). Nor have their players been in the running for the Heisman trophy (named for Penn player and coach John Heisman) since Cornell's Ed Marinaro placed runner-up in 1971.
However, in this era of marginal importance, as Goldstein's volume underscores, Ivy League football remains the game's sentimental bastion against creeping professionalism, and a good show besides.