October 1, 2001
The Rites Stuff
By Richard Deitsch
As he took his final, fateful steps towards 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 Join Waters
had one last thought: Don't Fall.
If you've never witnessed the dotting of the i, you should
watch Beano Cook's exaltation of it in the second episode, "Passion and Pageantry," of the compelling 10-part
documentary on the history of college football, Rites of Autumn.
"He dotted the i," says Cook, a longtime college
football commentator of Waters, a band member from 1995-'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 of college football."
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
onto Hollywood. (Reynold's 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 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.