Monday night (July 15) begins a series of 20 installments on Pac-12 Networks called Varsity Days. It’s a trip into the wayback machine — archived film footage from the conference’s schools. This week’s showings include half-hour reviews of five football seasons from 1969 to 1974, with the ’69 season kicking off the series. (If you’re a Husky or Cougar fan, that might be worth watching just to see what good can be said about teams that combined for two victories that year.)
The series will consist mostly of re-airings of originally produced shows from years ago, covering a 30-year span of seasons from 1952-82. This week’s shows are at 6:30 p.m.
The conference says Pac-12 Networks director of archives Patrick Phillips visited all the schools in the league and requested selected footage from all, which were then sent to the networks office in San Francisco to be digitized.
“These are film reels that literally have been archived and not seen in 30, 40 and in some cases, 60 years,” Pac-12 Networks programming director Dustin Rocke said in a story on the league website.
The league made the 1970 show available to the media, and I checked it out. It is indeed intriguing to walk memory lane via the video, but also to see how Don Klein, a Bay Area broadcaster from that era, handled the description of some of the highlights of that season. (Rick Neuheisel of the networks introduces the pieces.)
— Touchdown celebrations have come a long way (backwards, you might argue). A few of the guys scoring in the video just leap in the air with the ball in the end zone. No strutting, posing, posturing. It looks so . . . sixties.
— Klein initially called Cal’s standout receiver Steve Sweeney “Jim” Sweeney, a slip of the tongue that named the WSU head coach.
— Klein didn’t really do justice to the turnaround Washington wrought in ’70, going 6-4 with sophomore quarterback Sonny Sixkiller, after its bottomed-out 1-9 season in 1969. He noted Sixkiller’s throwing numbers, but there wasn’t much context, either in the dramatic stylistic change to passing at Washington, or the rebound from the awful ’69 season.
— 1970 was one of WSU’s worst teams in history (1-10), and clearly, Klein was at a loss to say something good about the Cougars. He called a 28-13 loss to Oregon a “wild offensive battle,” and said WSU “managed to put up some stubborn opposition” to Pac-8 opponents — while a 54-9 loss to UCLA played out as he spoke.
— If you’re not just consumed by curiosity of the treatment the season got from Klein and Co., it’s odd that there wasn’t a mention of the best game of that year on the show — Oregon’s 41-40 victory at UCLA, in which the Ducks came back from a 40-21 deficit in the last four minutes. A colleague who was covering that game said he left the press box to leave for the field and the post-game interviews — a common practice — with the Ducks trailing by 19, and by the time he went down on the elevator and got to the floor of the LA Coliseum, it was 40-35, UCLA. Not like there weren’t some heavyweight players in that game. Aiding the Ducks’ comeback were Dan Fouts and Bobby Moore (who would become Ahmad Rashad.)
You’d like to think even the productions of four decades ago would have been a little more comprehensive and historically germane, but that’s the way it goes. The series should be worth taking in, if only for the glimpse, as the league might put it, of the way we were.