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.