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Pac-12 Networks Q&A With Makers Of Varsity Days

For Pac-12 Networks' series ‘Varsity Days,' Vice President of Programming & Development Dustin Rocke, Director of Archives Patrick Phillips and Show Producer Bob Schmelzle collectively worked on the project, from obtaining the footage from campus archives to restoring and repurposing the content into an engaging series that brings classic footage of Pac-12 players and teams back to life for a modern audience. Below, Rocke, Phillips and Schmelzle each give their perspective in the creation of the series:


(Thanks to Emily McLaughlin at Pac-12 Networks for setting up this interview!)

Q: Where did you find all this archival footage? Was it just sitting in a storage room somewhere?

A: Dustin Rocke, Pac-12 Networks Vice President of Programming & Development: We found great archival footage in a number of places - video service departments on campuses and athletic department archives. We even found some footage in the vault at the Pac-12 Conference Headquarters. We've had to literally dust off some of the film reels we've come across.

A: Patrick Phillips, Pac-12 Networks Director of Archives: Some schools have detailed and organized archives while other schools have been renovating their athletic facilities and so the old footage has been moved around. Sometimes we had to dig deep, and in strange places. But everyone was very helpful and gave us everything they could find.

Q: What was the aim of the project? What were you looking to accomplish?

Rocke: The goal was to let fans relive some of their favorite memories. We've seen an unexpected level of interest from the younger fan base as well, which is cool. The new generation of Pac-12 fans is taking an interest in the rich history of the conference.

Bob Schmelzle, Producer of Varsity Days: Patrick Phillips and I came across season review films that the conference and schools produced and I approached Dustin Rocke about the idea for a series. A majority of these films have not been seen in decades and I thought it would be a great way to show the history of the conference. We all agreed it would make great summer programming leading up to the football season.

Phillips: Our producers Michael Tolajian and Bob Schmelzle did a fantastic job of creating a show with its own identity. They brought in Rick Neuheisel to host. Rick played at UCLA, coached at three different Pac-12 schools, and is now an analyst so he was the perfect choice to share these stories. In addition, informational graphics provided statistics and trivia facts that augment the storylines and help immerse the viewer into what college football, and life, was like back during the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Q: Have there been demands for particular seasons from football fans? Are there any teams that stand out above the rest?

Rocke: The predictable favorites are from championship years for teams like Washington and USC, and from the 70's, when the Pac-8 (and eventually the Pac-10) conference won nine Rose Bowls. Revisiting the facial hairstyles of yesteryear is entertaining as well. Aside from standout teams or seasons, we get to see guys like Dan Fouts, Marcus Allen and John Elway before they were household names. Our archives team continues to track down footage, and we hope to continue rolling out new episodes for years to come.

Schmelzle: We are starting to get requests for particular seasons and hopefully we can accommodate them as we continue digging into each school's archives. Obviously there were some great USC teams under John McKay, but the 1965 UCLA Bruins squad stood out to me because of the size of the team. The "Gutty Little Bruins" started 2 defensive tackles (Al Claman and former coach Terry Donahue) that each weighed 200 pounds, but they still went 7-2-1 and beat no. 1 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

The great thing about working on the show is that you also learned about some great teams that haven't gotten the recognition they deserve like the 1964 Oregon Ducks that went 7-2-1 finished No. 7 in the country and were three points away from an undefeated season.

Q: Was the plan for this project to model the productions off of what NFL Films did with its archival footage, or was there a different idea?

Rocke: NFL Films has done a tremendous job of utilizing its archives over the years, but this project wasn't necessarily based off of that model. There are a number of projects like this in existence across various sports networks, and with a network dedicated to all things Pac-12 we want to showcase the coaches and athletes that have defined the conference over the years and we've had a lot of fun along the way.

Schmelzle: I am a big fan of NFL Films and love watching everything they produce. While there are some similarities (with NFL Films), we also took ideas from other sources to give Varsity Days its own distinct feel. I love our "Class Notes" feature that updates viewers with factoids about the season and what was happening that year. Pac-12 Networks chief researcher Ryan McGrady did a lot of legwork digging up information to update viewers on what happened to certain players after their college days were over. He also did a great job with pop culture; I had no idea the average monthly rent in 1973 was $175. It's that type of information that I think makes Varsity Days a fun show to watch.

Q: What are the funniest bloopers you found?

Phillips: Some of the hair styles and wardrobe choices back then might be considered bloopers. There was one film reel that had bloopers set to music that's as entertaining as anything you'd see today on NFL Films. Those moments have a timeless quality -- botched kicks, fumbles, trips and slips are just as funny then as they are now.

Q: Any cool plays that you found?

Phillips: One film reel had something that looked like a flea-flicker with a double reverse and then a deep pass that somehow ended up in a touchdown. Seemed like at least six different players touched the ball in a play that took several seconds to develop. With today's modern and stout college defenses, that same play would have probably ended quickly in a big, and painful, loss of yardage. Still, it's fun to watch.

Schmelzle: One of the more interesting stories I learned about the conference was the 1966 season. USC and UCLA were battling for the conference title, UCLA beats USC beats 14-7, both teams finish the season with one conference loss, but because of a flaw in the schedule USC plays one more conference game then the Bruins. Despite No. 5 UCLA having a better ranking and record (9-1) then the No. 10 Trojans (7-3), the Conference athletic directors elect to send USC to the Rose Bowl and UCLA students shut down a highway in protest (see this photo from the Los Angeles Times archives). It just goes to show there has always been an element of controversy in college football.