As he took his final, fateful steps toward becoming the dot on
the i in the script Ohio formed by the Ohio State marching band
one autumn Saturday a few seasons back, horn player Jon Waters
had one last thought: Don't fall.
If you've never witnessed the dotting of the i (below), you
should watch Beano Cook's exaltation of it in the second episode,
"Passion and Pageantry," of the compelling 10-part ESPN
documentary on the history of college football, Rites of Autumn.
(The first episode, "Game-Day Heroes," will be telecast on Friday
at 7 p.m.) "He dotted the i," says Cook, a longtime college
football commentator, of Waters, a band member from 1995 to '99.
"What else is there to look forward to? Forget being president.
He dotted the i!"
The executive producers of the series, Wayne Chesler and Don
Sperling of Pearl Entertainment, spent two years and $2.5 million
collecting vintage footage, sifting through more than 17,000
still photos and interviewing more than 500 subjects. "College
football had never been put under one roof the way baseball had,"
Sperling says. "We wanted to put out the statement on college
Rites of Autumn shuns chronology for topicality. Among the later
episodes are "Bragging Rights," about the fiercest rivalries,
and "Dynasties," about the illustrious programs. Narrating this
trip through autumn is Burt Reynolds, a Florida State reserve
running back in 1954, before he moved on to Hollywood. (Reynolds
showed up for his tapings wearing garnet-and-gold-colored
sneakers.) While the opening episode highlights some of the
sport's most memorable individual performances--including Doug
Flutie's Hail Mary heave that gave Boston College a victory over
Miami in 1984 and Red Grange's scoring the first four times he
touched the ball in Illinois's game against Michigan in '24--the
series really hits its stride with "Passion and Pageantry," an
examination of the game's myriad rituals and traditions. From
the besotted purple-and-gold-clad LSU tailgaters in Baton Rouge
to luck-seeking Clemson players touching Howard's Rock at Death
Valley to the marching bands at Grambling and Ohio State, Rites
is an entertaining celebration of a uniquely American pastime.
Like the dotting of the i, it's not to be missed.
"What else is there to look forward to?"