Four years ago, the Wexner Center in Columbus hosted a program in honor of Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL films, who was being inducted into the Hall of Fame that year. It made Dave Filipi, the director of Film/Video at the Wexner Center, realize he could put together an entire program of old football footage; Filipi, who hosts an annual baseball program featuring old footage, brings that program to the Cleveland Museum of Art at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
“I tried to make sure there was a good selection of Ohio State footage and there are some good Browns clips of Otto Graham and Jim Brown and Lou Groza,” he says. “The two best Ohio State clips are from when Hopalong Cassidy had a huge interception against Wisconsin that turned that game around in the 1954 season. At the end of the season, they beat Michigan and he had a long run in an important stage of the game.”
Filipi also included a clip of Jackie Robinson, who played football at UCLA, practicing with the team in the late ’30s. And there’s footage of a 1903 Princeton-Yale game from 1903 that’s reportedly the earliest existing film of a football game. Some early clips show the extent to which the NFL wasn’t very popular. “Bronko Nagurski, who was this college football legend at the University of Minnesota when the school was one of the strongest programs in the country, was playing in the pros,” Filipi says.
“It was like going from the majors to the minors because college football was more popular than pro football. He’s bigger than anyone else on the field and there are amazing scenes of taking the ball and carrying people with him. He was a really large man compared to the other people he was playing against.”
Filipi says he’d like to do an annual football footage program if he can find more good clips.
“One problem I ran into is that there’s not as much football footage as baseball footage,” he says. “The football footage is shot from a distance. You don’t really know who the player is or where the stadium. There are dozens of clips that look identical. That eliminated a lot of footage. There might be enough to do another program but I can’t guarantee it at this point.”