MY EDITOR SUGGESTED that I look at this new videotape from Utah State University. It covers the highlights of Aggie sports in this century. No problem, I said. I've got 10 minutes.
Aggie highlights? It's a short film, right? Not exactly, I found out. It's a little longer than short. Actually, it's a little longer than long. It goes right past long and straight into "mini-series." Six hours, to be precise. Four videotapes in all.It's as long as "Lonesome Dove."
It makes "Gone With the Wind" look like a car commercial.
That's six hours. Or one BYU football game.
I watched the tape. OK, I watched some of it. When I agreed to watch it, I didn't know the video was going to cover a century of Aggie sports in real time. You can watch the whole thing yourself at home. Just follow these simple directions: Insert tape into VCR machine (in the slot near those flashing zeroes), get comfortable, keep thumb in close contact with button marked "FF," begin.
The USU press release about the video quotes narrator Craig Hislop as saying, "I've never seen a video like this one." I haven't either. I have never seen a video that begins with a shot of the back of two guys' heads. The front of their heads is watching football practice. After several painfully awkward seconds of silence, somebody finally speaks.
The press release bills this as a "fantastic" video. I don't know, I would have to say that's stretching things a bit. So is the price - $49.95, plus $7 for taxes and shipping. At that price, they should personally deliver it to your door with a complimentary pizza.
The video, which is purported to be the first of its kind in collegiate sports, consists of 33 interviews with Aggie athletes and officials reminiscing about their glory days. It could have been interesting viewing. After all, Aggie athletics has made history and run right there alongside it.
They started playing sports the year after basketball was invented. They were playing football before there was Babe Ruth and Jim Thorpe and the modern Olympic Games and the forward pass and the World Series. They were tackling and blocking before Teddy Roosevelt declared the game was too rough. They sent players to world wars and watched them come back again. They were playing football when touchdowns were worth five points.
They produced some great athletes and teams, which is easy to forget, given the downward turn of Aggie sports in the last couple of decades. If you can sit still long enough, you can listen to interviews with Merlin Olsen, the leader of the L.A. Rams' famed Fearsome Foursome and lately a car salesman; Jay Van Noy, who starred in football for USU and played major league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals with guys named Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial; Buss Williams, who fought in the ring with Max Baer; and L. Jay Silvester, who set world records in the discus and competed in four Olympic Games.
If you're patient enough, you can hear some good stories. Joe Whitesides, the old basketball coach, tells us about the time he complained to a referee that the Aggies were getting jobbed in a road game against Cal. "What can I do?" the ref replied. "If we don't win, I don't referee here anymore."
Then there is the story of Marvel Maughan, the first female equipment manager who once threw her purse at an official for making a bad call against her son in a basketball game.
The video also includes some wonderful old black-and-white film clips.
Unfortunately, we don't get enough of the old film or the stories. The good stuff gets lost in miles of tape and pointless questions and information. Half of it should have wound up on the editing room floor.
Throughout the movie, the narrator dutifully reads lists of names of players on a particular team. The interviews get bogged down with questions such as: Who were your coaches at South Cache? How many times were you named to the all-conference team? What was your position? When did you graduate from Utah State? LaVell Edwards is asked, When did you start coaching at BYU? How many WAC titles have you won? Were you named National Coach of the Year? How many times have you been named WAC Coach of the Year?
Couldn't somebody have looked all this up and just told us?
The interviewer (and co-producer) is Quig Nielsen, who is a gold mine for sports stories and history, but Mike Wallace he is not. He should have been on the other end of the interviews.
The producer is Dale White, a former Aggie who is billed as a "veteran of the Hollywood trade, having performed as an actor, a producer and a director of movies." Could have fooled me. This effort feels like a home movie one moment and a social studies film the next. It's too bad, because it's obvious the interviews required time and effort. But for $50 you expect better. This video is begging for someone to take charge, tell the story and spice it up with the best comments from the interviews.
It was a noble enterprise, but it proved unwieldy. Only the staunchest of Aggie fans could watch the video. Even they will want to keep a tight grip on the remote.