It was the cradle of football, and a number of its players have excelled in the NFL—Calvin Hill, Ed Marinaro, Gary Fencik and Nick Lowery, for example—but the Ivy League is often dismissed as little more than a collection of overage prep-school squads, worlds away from the conferences whose teams aspire to bowls and whose players dream of Heismans. After all, what can you expect from outfits that play only 10 games a season, have been known to allow players to miss practice in order to go to class, and have a spring practice of only one day?
One thing you certainly don't expect in the Ivy League is a nationally ranked team, but that's what coach Bob Black-man fielded at Dartmouth in 1970. That year Dartmouth was undefeated and untied, producing such outstanding stats that it was ranked 14th in both the AP and UPI final polls, ahead of Oklahoma, Penn State and Southern Cal. Dartmouth's 9-0 record included six shutouts—four in a row to end the season. Among major colleges that year Dartmouth ranked second in total defense and sixth in total offense, and led the country in scoring defense.
Nevertheless, when Dartmouth was awarded the Lambert Trophy as the best team in the East, Penn State coach Joe Paterno felt obliged to register a tongue-in-cheek protest. Paterno suggested—through the press—that Dartmouth and Penn State play each other to determine which was really the top Eastern team. Responded Blackman, "Of course, Coach Paterno knows that under Ivy League rules we're not allowed to play in a postseason game, but if we were allowed to play a postseason contest, I would prefer to play a team that had a better record," a dig at the Nittany Lions' 7-3.
The '70 season, Blackman's last before he moved on to the University of Illinois, was the culmination of one of the most successful coaching regimes anywhere in college football. Dartmouth teams were Ivy League champions or cochampions in seven of his 15 seasons in Hanover, and in two others Dartmouth finished second by half a game. Perhaps more astonishing is the fact that Blackman's 1962 and 1965 teams also were undefeated and untied. The coach had only two losing seasons at Dartmouth, 1955 and 1968.
Blackman might have been born to coach, but just to make sure, fate stepped in during his playing days at USC. In 1937, when he was cocaptain of the Trojan freshman team (he was primarily a blocking back), Blackman contracted polio. It affected his throat, right arm and right leg. He was hospitalized for 16 weeks, and his playing days were finished. After he recovered, USC hired him as assistant freshman coach.
When Blackman was scouting Clark Shaughnessy's Stanford team, then a powerhouse thanks to its T formation, he hit on the idea of combining USC's single wing with the T into a new look—which he called the V. The V resembled the T but with the fullback moved up to the quarterback's heel and the halfbacks spread behind him. Blackman experimented with the V while coaching at the San Diego Naval Station during World War II and, after the war, at Pasadena City College (he took the Bulldogs to the national junior college title in 1951 and 1952) and the University of Denver (which, under Blackman, won the Skyline Conference title for the first time).
When Blackman arrived in Hanover in 1955, the Big Green had suffered five straight losing seasons. But by 1956 Dartmouth was in the win column with a 4-3 Ivy record, and in 1957 it finished only half a game shy of first place. In 1958, Dartmouth was the champ.
Naturally Blackman was elated by the two undefeated seasons in the '60s, but he rates the 1970 squad as his best. "Any team that goes through an undefeated season obviously has great morale and team spirit, but this team particularly had it," says Blackman. "We had a bunch of guys, each of whom could be described as a character, each totally different, yet they all blended well together. They seemed to be very loose."
To the rest of the league they seemed to be on the loose. The Big Green offense was led by Jim Chasey, a cool operator at quarterback, from San Jose, Calif. The All-Ivy Chasey was a formidable threat both running and passing, which made him ideal for Blackman's option offense. That season Chasey threw for more than 1,000 yards and rushed for 161 yards and five touchdowns.
John Short at halfback was, in Black-man's opinion, the best all-around athlete on the offensive team. He could run, throw and punt, and was an exceptional pass receiver. In the Harvard game Short ran 25 times for 106 yards and threw a 49-yard option bomb for a touchdown. Short and running mate Brendan O'Neill produced more than 1,200 rushing yards that season.
Dartmouth's defensive unit was extremely aggressive. Ed Marinaro of Cornell, who rushed for an NCAA Division I-A record of 1,881 yards in 1971, says of the Big Green, "They were not very big—no one in the Ivies was very big. But they were very well coached, with very smart, swarming tacklers." When the two schools met on Nov. 14, Dartmouth held Marinaro to only 60 yards rushing, an amazing feat in light of the big back's career average of 174.6 yards a game, which still stands as the NCAA I-A record. Marinaro remembers one defender in particular—Murry Bowden. "He put one pop on me that was the hardest I had ever been hit...until I got to the pros."
Bowden, now a real estate developer living in Houston, captained the defense, playing "monster" or rover back—a free-lance type of position that enabled him to function as either a linebacker or defensive back. Although relatively small at 5'11" and 190 pounds, he was named first team All-America. Besides the team's contagious intensity, Bowden attributes much of Dartmouth's 1970 success to the coach's preparation. "Blackman was one of the first to introduce the computer into the game," says Bowden. "He didn't hesitate to scout other teams, and we would pick up certain tendencies and formations they would like to run in certain circumstances. Third-and-10, the ball's on the sideline—they're going to run a draw. And they would do it every single time—or nine times out of 10."
At Illinois, Blackman's teams were 29-36-1 over six seasons. He returned to the Ivies in 1977 as coach at Cornell. "I like the Ivy League," he said. "It's the only conference where the coaches are paid more than the players." But Blackman was unable to duplicate at Cornell his Dartmouth successes, and when he became ill during the 1982 season, he elected to retire. At that time he had 168 major college football victories. If his 34 junior college wins could be added, he would join the elite 200 club. In January 1987, he was elected to the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame.
Today, Blackman, 69, and his wife, Kay, live in Hilton Head, S.C., but Dartmouth football is never far away. Last year Blackman found himself in an awkward spot when he testified for Joe Yukica in the lawsuit Yukica brought to retain his coaching job at Dartmouth. "Joe Paterno, Jack Bicknell of Boston College and myself were the three coaches who were called to testify to Joe Yukica's competence as a coach," Blackman says. "I was in an embarrassing situation because I love Dartmouth so much. But when an old friend asks you to testify on something like this, you can't turn him down.
"The lawyer for Dartmouth was a former manager of the Dartmouth football team, Tommy Rath. He put Paterno on the stand, and the courtroom was very serious. A lot of people were there, and [Rath] said, 'Coach Paterno, before we get down to the business at hand, and as long as I have you under oath, I'd like to ask you one question. Did you really think you could beat that 1970 Dartmouth team?' The whole courtroom broke up, including the judge."
Free-lance writer John Harvey is a 1978 graduate of the Big Green.