Sunday, January 01, 2006

Bowl game Monday football foibles: The Times fumbles an obit, and how the Ivy League got its name.

After recently carping* about the NY Times' football writing, should one so soon pile on with another complaint? Sure! For inspiration there's no need to look beyond the first line of a December 31 obituary...
John Druze, the last surviving member of Fordham University's football offensive line of the 1930's known as the Seven Blocks of Granite, died Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 91...
The Seven Blocks may well have been the most famous football line ever (its members including Vince Lombardi as well as NFL Hall-of-Famer Alex Wojciechowicz and college Hall-of-Famer Ed Franco) but it wasn't an "offensive line". In the 1930s, of course, linemen played both ways -- and the Seven Blocks were famed for being impenetrable on defense. Who would compliment an offensive lineman by comparing him to a block of granite? ("That guard Lombardi sure pulls and turns upfield fast, just like a block of granite!") Shouldn't a football writer (even on the obituary beat) know this by common sense?

The 1937 "Seven Blocks" Fordham team finished #3 in the nation while giving up only 16 points in eight games, with five shutouts, going 7-0-1, the tie being 0-0 with #1 Pittsburgh. That was defense (even by the standards of that low-scoring era).

Which leads to how the Ivy League got its name.

That 1937 Fordham-Pittsbugh game, held at New York's Polo Grounds, was the game of the year. At the New York Herald-Tribune, Caswell Adams, sportswriter, instead drew the assignment to cover the Columbia-Pennsylvania game at Columbia's Baker Field. He complained to his editor, "Why do I have to watch the ivy grow every Saturday?"

The Ivysport History page continues...
Stanley Woodward [the paper's #1 football writer], at a nearby typewriter, did not forget. He had heard a new phrase. "Ivy-covered? Ivy group? Ivy League?" These old schools of the East did not like leagues. They had long shunned the conference idea. Stanley likes to ruffle them occasionally and chuckled when he did so. Why not call these colleges the "Ivy League"?...

So a few days later, though not on the Monday morning immediately following, there crept unobtrusively into a Woodward football essay the phrase "...and in the Ivy League..." as introduction to a discussion of what was happening on the fields of the East's oldest colleges which, even then and without a semblance of formal grouping, were natural and traditional rivals. Set down alphabetically, they were, of course, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale. The phrase caught on....
So a disgruntled sportswriter, peeved that he couldn't get to the Fordham game, named the Ivy League.

On this Bowl day one might add that Fordham won the 1942 Sugar Bowl by the score of 2-0, which was really winning with defense.

OK, I'll also add that the first televised football game ever was a Fordham game (1939), and the NFL's St. Louis Rams were named after the Fordham Rams when the franchise joined the NFL in 1937.

And where is Fordham football today, on Bowl Day 2006? Buried at the bottom, the very bottom of Division I, 218th of 239 teams by Sagarin.

Never has a school built so little on so much tradition.
* FN: Update: The NY Times/Michael Lewis-designated Einstein of Offense directed his Texas Tech team to all of three points during the first 57 minutes of the Cotton Bowl today, losing to Luddite "run it up the gut and play D" Alabama, 13-10 (with his offense outgained by the Luddites, 420 to 329). But this could be good news for him. By Lewis Logic, if he's no longer seen as being the smartest coach around, it'll make it easier for him to get a better job.