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Rites of Autumn: The Story of College Football

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No sport can equal the excitement, pageantry, tradition, or dedicated fandom of college football. Since the first Rutgers-Princeton game on a windy November afternoon in 1869, intercollegiate football has evolved to become an autumn weekend ritual attended by millions of fans and watched by millions more at home. A companion to the ten-part ESPN series hosted by Burt Reynolds, The Rites of Autumn is the complete history of college football. Packed with exciting photos, its pages promise everything the die-hard ...
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Overview

No sport can equal the excitement, pageantry, tradition, or dedicated fandom of college football. Since the first Rutgers-Princeton game on a windy November afternoon in 1869, intercollegiate football has evolved to become an autumn weekend ritual attended by millions of fans and watched by millions more at home. A companion to the ten-part ESPN series hosted by Burt Reynolds, The Rites of Autumn is the complete history of college football. Packed with exciting photos, its pages promise everything the die-hard fan wants to know about America's most passionately watched sport -- the records and the record-breakers, the famous firsts, and greatest coaches and players, the fiercest rivalries, and the most spectacular games.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This companion volume to the ESPN television series pays tribute to the exciting history of college football. The greatest coaches are profiled in detail, from Amos Alonzo Stagg -- football's "Grand Old Man" -- to Paul "Bear" Bryant. As fans know all too well, college ball has inspired some of the most bitter rivalries in sports, and The Rites of Autumn does a thorough job of chronicling these epic confrontations, along with full descriptions of key games that had fans on their feet. With more than 200 photographs, Rites of Autumn is the definitive chronicle of the game that has captivated audiences since Rutgers played Princeton in America's very first college game in 1869.
Library Journal
College football fans who long for a simpler time when the men on the field and the sidelines were all noble will enjoy Fields of Honor, which is authored by a football brat whose father and uncle were coaches. Those who favor the glitter of today's high-stakes major college game will prefer veteran writer Whittingham's book, which will be published to coincide with a ten-part ESPN special in October. Texans might disagree with Pont's thesis that Ohio was the axis upon which the football world spun from the late 1940s to 1980s, and older fans might feel that college football's golden age came a few decades earlier. Still, few can argue that Miami University in Ohio has been a cradle of coaches or that the men of whom she writes Woody Hayes, Bob Schembechler, Ara Parseghian, and others helped shape the sport. However, in idealizing an era and these coaches, she ends up sanitizing and apologizing, asserting, for instance, that Ohio State's Hayes slugged an opposing player only because the irascible coach was diabetic and "deep in a hypoglycemic daze"at the time. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743222198
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1901
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 10.44 (w) x 10.50 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Saturday afternoons in autumn. For more than a century they have stood as the showcase for what has become a true American ritual, a time reserved for one of the most richly colorful, spirited, and vibrantly exciting sports in all the world -- college football.

Baseball has its summer, pro football its Sundays and Monday nights, basketball its winters indoors, but tradition and college football's passionate following have indisputably claimed that first day of each autumn weekend.

The game's very birth was on a Saturday afternoon, three o'clock to be precise, November 6, 1869, when Rutgers took the challenge laid down by Princeton to meet in a football game that would pit one school's honor and skill against the other. It was really a game much more like soccer that they played that windy November afternoon, but it is considered the first intercollegiate football game to be played in America.

Soon after, games were being played between schools like Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Tufts, Amherst, Trinity, Pennsylvania, Williams, Wesleyan, as well as the two progenitors of the sport. By the 1880s, intercollegiate combat on the football field had become a common diversion in the Midwest, South, and Southwest, and the following decade even in the then remote and sparsely settled Far West.

In those infant days of college football, students decked out in coats, vests, ties, and bowlers crowded the boundary lines of the grassy malls or dirt fields where the games were staged. Clutching and waving handmade pennants, they devised spontaneous cheers to urge their compatriots to victory. From the very beginning, college football was as much -- perhaps more -- of a contest for its fans as for its players.

Schools eventually began erecting rickety wooden grandstands to accommodate the growing crowds, who chanted across the field at each other in derision and down at the field in support of their own. As time passed the sport began to develop its own pageantry with the infusion of cheerleaders, fight songs, mascots, marching bands, bonfires, pep rallies, and tailgate parties. The bleachers gave way to sturdy stadiums and massive bowls, and the fans eventually traded their derbies and greatcoats for flip-brim hats, raccoon coats, and saddle shoes. Alumni returned to their alma maters in droves to watch their school compete against lusty rivals, and townspeople joined the throngs for some of the best entertainment to be had. The intercollegiate sport that had once been witnessed by perhaps several hundred classmates had become a rite and the focus of hundreds of thousands of spirited spectators on any given autumnal Saturday afternoon.

The game itself -- violent, tactical, demanding of skills, strength, and endurance -- evoked the very essentials of classic drama: conflict, suspense, excitement, competition, triumph, and failure. It is hardly surprising then that it became such a fertile ground for the cultivation of legends. The fathers of the game were the early coaches, who developed it with a panoply of innovations and refinements; men like Walter Camp, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Glenn S. "Pop" Warner, George Woodruff, Percy Haughton, John Heisman, Fielding Yost, Harry Williams, Gil Dobie, Bob Zuppke, Knute Rockne, and many others.

And the stars came out early on, sparkling on green fields across the country: a burly Pudge Heffelfinger at Yale, an imposing Hamilton Fish at Harvard, a fleet Willie Heston at Michigan, a corpulent but agile Pete Henry at Washington & Jefferson, a triple-threat Elmer "Ollie" Oliphant at Army, an awesome Jim Thorpe at Carlisle.

By the mid-1920s, more than 50,000 fans would fill Illinois's Memorial Stadium to watch the world's most famous ghost, Red Grange, gallop while professional football teams like the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears were thrilled if they drew more than 5,000 supporters on a Sunday afternoon. George Gipp died and a nation mourned the Notre Dame star's passing, but would never forget the name of the Gipper, thanks to Knute Rockne's now legendary locker room pep talk.

College football became a stage on which dramas of many natures have been played out, from last-second victories to Roy Riegels's wrong-way run, from Woody Hayes's tantrums to Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass. Besides Grange and the Gipper, the game gave us Bronko Nagurski, Don Hutson, Tom Harmon, Sammy Baugh, Blanchard and Davis, Johnny Lujack, Doak Walker, Paul Hornung, Dick Butkus, Roger Staubach, O. J. Simpson, Archie Griffin, Randy White, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, and Barry Sanders, to name just a few of those skilled performers who left indelible marks on the history of the game. And, of course, there remains the wisdom and wizardries of the coaches who followed in the footsteps of the game's founders, such sideline geniuses as Wallace Wade, Fritz Crisler, Bob Neyland, Bernie Bierman, Frank Leahy, Earl Blaik, Bud Wilkinson, Duffy Daugherty, Darrell Royal, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, John McKay, Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, Barry Switzer, Eddie Robinson, Tom Osborne, Hayden Fry, Bobby Bowden, and Joe Paterno.

There are few spectacles in the sporting world to match the ceremony of an Army-Navy game, the color of a Rose Bowl pageant, the emotion when a chorus of thousands rings out with the Notre Dame fight song, the splendor of a tailgate party at a Texas-Oklahoma game, the beauty of the USC cheerleaders, or simply the great games that have been played and the extraordinary performances that have been given on college football fields over the years.

In the words of one of the game's finest coaches, Army's Earl "Red" Blaik, written back in the 1950s, college football is "a game that through the years has stirred a president to save it, Theodore Roosevelt; another to coach it, Woodrow Wilson; and a third to both play and coach it, Dwight D. Eisenhower." We might add subsequent president-players Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, the latter having also portrayed the fabled Gipper on the silver screen. Blaik went on to explain that college football is "a game that numbers as legion statesmen, doctors, lawyers, men of finance and business, and thousands of just good citizens who have known the thrill of victory, have experienced the lessons of defeat and have felt, as few but football players can, the lasting satisfaction that comes from playing on a team."

What Coach Blaik neglected to mention were the particular pleasures of walking with a surging crowd across the fallen amber and red leaves of autumn into a cavernous stadium where one can cheer and sigh on a noble Saturday afternoon, and experience what has come to be the rites of autumn.

Copyright © 2001 by Pearl Entertainment, Inc.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword by Roger Staubach

Introduction

1

GAME DAY HEROES

Great Moments in College Football

2

SEASONS OF CHANGE

College Football Evolves

3

INNOVATORS AND MOTIVATORS

The Game's Greatest Coaches

4

BRAGGING RIGHTS

The Rivalries

5

PASSION AND PAGEANTRY

This Is College Football

6

VICTORY

The Greatest Games

7

CONFLICT AND CHANGE

College Football Comes of Age

8

DYNASTIES

Enduring Excellence

9

THE NATION'S BEST

Heisman Trophy Winners

10

FINAL GLORY

The Bowl Games

Name Index

School Index

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First Chapter

Foreword

by Roger Staubach

Recently I went to an Army-Navy game. Both teams had poor records, no national ranking was on the line. Even so, the stadium was packed and the excitement was as feverish as if the national championship depended on the outcome. The pageantry and the tradition were as rich as ever, no different from my own time. As I watched the Cadets and the Midshipmen march onto the field before the game and watched how hard each team fought to win the game, all the chills came back. The only difference was this time I was in the crowd looking down at the field instead of standing on the field looking up at the crowd.

And it isn't just Army and Navy; it's the same everywhere throughout the country: Southern Cal and UCLA, Michigan and Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma, as well as the smaller schools that have their own intense rivalries. They all compete just as fiercely; they all have their own colorful and cherished traditions. College football has always been something very special, with its heritage, its pageantry, and especially with the intensity of competition found on all levels. It has a spirit to it that lives; it has tradition that is unshakable.

As a boy in Cincinnati I followed college football, especially Ohio State and Notre Dame. I had my heroes: Hopalong Cassady at Ohio State, Johnny Lujack and Johnny Lattner at Notre Dame, Pete Dawkins at Army, Joe Bellino at Navy. I dreamed of playing in college myself, and the dream came true.

Not a day goes by that I'm not grateful for having had the experience of playing college football. When I finished high school, I had no idea whether I could compete on the next higher level. I deeply wanted to, but I knew it was going to be quite different than playing in high school. I was recruited by a number of teams -- Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan -- but the one that most caught my attention was Navy, and that came about by accident.

One of their assistant coaches, Rick Forzano, had come to our school to take a look at our center and co-captain Jerry Momper. While he was watching film on Momper he noticed me and said he'd like to talk to me as well. Rick was a dynamic guy -- he later became head coach of the Detroit Lions -- with a dry sense of humor. He gave me the recruitment pitch, and ended it with a smile and a shrug, saying, "We can't promise you anything other than that when you graduate you can have your own battleship."

At Navy I learned, fairly quickly, that I could compete at the college level, but I learned the primary objective even faster. Literally on the first day, after they clip your hair down to the scalp, you learn how to say "Beat Army." And as a plebe that year I remember sitting there watching the game, and all I could think was, "Next year I hope I get a chance to play in it." I'd never seen anything like it before.

The next year I did get the chance, and it's one of the greatest memories I have in football. The buildup to the game was so strong, so exciting. I have never been more nervous before a game than I was before that game. It was the only time I couldn't sleep the night before a game. I was more nervous than I ever was before a Super Bowl. I'll never forget going out onto the field; it was at Municipal (one year later renamed JFK) Stadium in Philadelphia and there were 102,000 people in the stands. It was an unforgettable experience, and would have been even if we hadn't won that day 34-14.

The next year was even better. We were in contention for the national championship, a rare position for Navy. We had a terrific team: on it was Tom Lynch, a great captain, and players such as Pat Donnelly and Skip Orr. The four of us have remained very good friends over the years -- a perfect example of how college football often creates meaningful and lifelong friendships. We had beaten Michigan and Notre Dame in 1963 and had only one loss, when we had been upset down in Dallas by Southern Methodist. But then, of course, there was Army, always the last game of the year and always the hardest fought no matter what the difference in the records of the two teams. It was also the year President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. The country was in mourning and the Army-Navy game was suddenly cancelled. But at the request of the Kennedy family, who had great respect for tradition, the game was reinstated. Despite the sadness of the time, it turned out to be a great game. We led through most of it, but with only two seconds left and Navy ahead 21-15, Army was at our 2-yard line, needing a touchdown to tie and an extra point to win. But they had no time-outs left: their outstanding quarterback Rollie Stitchweh tried desperately to get a play off but time ran out before he could get the ball snapped. Pat Donnelly, incidentally, scored Navy's three touchdowns that day. And to illustrate that college football friendships can extend even to archrival opponents, Rollie Stitchweh and I have been good friends ever since that game.

As a result of beating Army, we got the invitation to the Cotton Bowl; we went down there ranked number two in the nation to play number-one Texas, and that's the way the year's rankings ended up as we lost 28-6.

Tens of thousands of people have experienced playing college football and their memories of it are as vivid and as dear-to-the-heart as mine. And there are many, many more who have watched and cheered, and to them it is just as cherished a memory, remembered as a great part of their college life. College is over for them now, but when they sit down on a Sunday morning in autumn to read the newspaper, the first thing they turn to is the sports pages to see how their school did the Saturday afternoon before. The spirit stays with you.

It's more than football really. The game helps cement the attachment of players, students, and alumni to the school they attended, to the college life that is such a wonderful experience in itself. It is an attachment that stays with you the rest of your life.

I'm pleased to have been asked to contribute to this book and the ESPN television series Rites of Autumn. Both celebrate in their own ways the history, the legacy, and the excitement of a grand sport, the one that is the closest to my heart. And I know it is to hundreds of thousands of others out there who share with equal devotion the same affection that the game brings out in me.

Copyright © 2001 by Pearl Entertainment, Inc.

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