By Dr. Ken 


With only one college football game televised on any fall Saturday during the 1950's and '60's, it was an attraction. Unfortunately, in the New York Metropolitan area, during that same period of time, Saturday afternoon was also the time for high school football. For decades, in other parts of the country, especially in the south and southwest, there was a de facto ban on playing collegiate football games on Friday nights. These were the province of local high school teams and entire towns would literally close up to travel to an away game. Crowds in excess of 10,000 people were the norm even for small classification teams as the high school football schedule often held more interest and excitement than the regional college programs or professional teams. To the chagrin of many true fans old enough to remember and enjoy those long ago days, the intrusion of television and subsequently more advanced technology like the Internet destroyed the concept of small town, high school football. While still wildly popular in some areas, there is no need to join a caravan of cars and buses in order to travel 60 miles away for the purpose of facing off against a hated rival. One can instead sit home and in many cases, follow the action either on the television or computer screen. When high school football was “the show in town” with little competition from other forms of sporting entertainment, “everyone” could be expected to be in attendance at a home game or travel to an away venue, thus Friday Night Lights and other expressions that referred or still refer to the passion of high school football have much less meaning in today’s culture.


In the New York Metropolitan area, there was never a true Friday Night Lights mentality although some annual rival games could attract a few thousand fans. Due to a high level of violence in the public school sector, even in the suburbs, “Friday Night Football” was delegated to Saturday afternoons with a 1 PM kickoff the norm. This did not obviate the opportunities available for gang warfare or fistfights but it did reduce the frequency and seriousness of violence brought to the games. Thus, for a young college football obsessed fan like myself, playing high school football did in fact negatively impact one’s ability to view college games either live, or on television. Only at the completion of the high school season could one completely focus upon the college action as the Sunday New York Times newspaper would otherwise be the only way to gather scores from the previous day’s game and individual statistics were never published until season’s end. With the high school football season ending with at least two or three weeks of college games still to come, our youthful group would be assured of the Army vs. Navy game and usually, the Harvard vs. Yale contest. Into the mid-1960’s, Harvard-Yale still held major significance, even when the two squads were not in contention for the Ivy League title. Ivy League football was relevant, despite its mid-1950’s de-emphasis and in our area, assuming one had the academic achievement to gain admission, playing Ivy football was considered as prestigious as a scholarship to the obviously more competitive schools like Syracuse or Iowa, both of whom recruited the New York City - Long Island area regularly.


I ran everywhere I went, and for years it was my primary form of transportation. In an era when “no one” ran, I was stopped by the police, ridiculed by classmates, and seen by most adults as “that health nut.” Though I illegally and regularly drove my first car, an abandoned 1953 Dodge that was salvaged from the empty lot next to our house, the County police that patrolled our area asked me to limit my illicit travels to the local streets, preferably during daylight hours. Not able to risk crossing over the Maple Avenue line into the City of Long Beach, I was left to hitch hike or jog from our isolated town of Point Lookout at the easternmost end of the Long Beach barrier island. When living in our without-heat house, it was a three-plus-mile hustle to the local high school, and later when needing to tack on an additional six or seven miles to get to my second school, the only available means of transport were hitching or running. I was certainly “in shape” and I augmented both my overall physical condition and conviction among my peers that I was not fully in contact with reality, by running additional miles on the track during my lunch break.


Dartmouth QB Bill King was an excellent runner who led the Big Green to an undefeated season in 1962 and a player popular with aspiring high school athletes on the East Coast.


The lunch time runs, even in-season, were “football focused” and it was during this time that I saw myself not as Paul Warfield of Ohio State, Gale Sayers of Kansas, Ken Willard of North Carolina, or Joe Don Looney of Oklahoma but instead, Bill King of Dartmouth, powerful Ed Malmstrom of local Columbia, or especially Cosmo Iacavazzi of Princeton (see December 2011 HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS    http://www.helmethut.com/Features/Dr.Ken98.html ).


The box scores of the major games, often from the Big Ten, might be available in the Sunday sports section of The Times but other than that, a listing of scores would be the sole source of college football news other than the write-ups given to each of the Ivy League games. This maintained a high level of awareness of the Ivy players and their accomplishments. Even without those, conversation among knowledgeable fans always included an Ivy League flavor. As it always had been and as it remains today, it was assumed that any Ivy League player was also a true student, one that had worked hard in high school and was intellectually developed enough to gain admission to one of the highly respected academic institutions. Thus, Ivy League football maintained the respect of most, at least in our area, despite the fact that the number of professional players the league provided was on a sharp decline. What most fans, even older fans forget, is that some of the Ivy contests still held importance on the national stage, into the early 1970’s.  Sports Illustrated magazine called the 1970 Dartmouth vs. Yale game “the amateur college football championship of the season” as the two undefeated and nationally ranked teams squared off. Dartmouth’s 10 – 0 victory sealed its legacy as one of the greatest Big Green squads of all time and odds are that the more than 60,000 fans that packed the Yale Bowl would call it just as thrilling as any major college or professional game of the era.


Cornell’s Ed Marinaro remains one of the all time greats of college football. Runner up for the 1971 Heisman Trophy, he won the Maxwell Award after leading the nation in rushing for both 1970 and ’71. He was a dependable running back with excellent receiving skills during his six seasons of professional football and later turned to acting. Because he was from an Ivy League school, Marinaro’s accomplishments were not as fully appreciated as they perhaps should have been.


Chuck Mercein, Calvin Hill, George Starke, Reggie Williams, Dan Jiggetts, Gary Fencik, and Ed Marinaro, were all outstanding Ivy League players during the 1960 to mid-‘70’s time frame and had professional football careers that were by all measures, serviceable to excellent. Chuck Bednark, though a generation earlier, for most, remains the best all around and all time greatest Ivy performer and of course a College and Pro Football Hall of Fame member. One could, during my high school days, aspire to play football in the Ivy League as a true student-athlete, and still, if merited, also expect a legitimate try out in one of the AFL or NFL camps. This too has been largely forgotten as any Ivy Leaguer who now rises to the level of NFL quality, is lauded by the media as an oddity despite the fact that there are a number of former Ivy League players in the NFL and CFL in any season. I doubt that there are more than a handful of high school boys, sprinting on the high school track or jogging along the streets of their towns thinking about emulating an Ivy League football player, but this was not unusual in my time and unfortunately and quite sadly, the concept of a true student-athlete is one more valued commodity that has been lost in the landscape of collegiate football. 


Dartmouth linebacker Reginald Williams proved to be the main cog in the Cincinnati Bengals defensive units that took them to two Super Bowl appearances in the 1980’s