The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Film delves into program

Director aims to educate fans about sport

You may not realize it, but the newspaper you are reading right now was in part an invention of Virginia football fans. In need of a way to inform the University about the football team's 1890 double-header against Pennsylvania and Princeton, University students and faculty created College Topics, which later was renamed The Cavalier Daily.

The new publication kept readers abreast of the team's players, schedule and results, and also incorporated general news reporting to strengthen its legitimacy.

That anecdote is just one of dozens of intriguing stories recounted in writer and director Kevin Edds' insightful documentary, Wahoowa: The History of Virginia Cavalier Football. The two-and-a-half hour film, which was released to the general public on DVD in November, combines rare archival footage and extended interviews with coaches, players, historians and media members to bring to life the University's little-known but indelible impact on the game of football. The documentary explores every nook and cranny of the program's rich 100-plus year history, from the advent of the South's first football team in the 1880s to the hiring of the University's first black head coach in 2010.

Edds, who works for Discovery Communications in the Washington, D.C. area and gave a lecture before last weekend's Orange-Blue Spring Game, spent four-and-a-half years putting together the Ken Burns-style documentary, which draws from his painstaking research at numerous libraries, along with 40 interviews and hundreds of pages of storylines.

"[It's] a collection of stories that I felt just had to be told," Edds said. "People would think I was crazy when I told them what I was doing, but after five minutes of telling them some of the events that took place surrounding this program they were fascinated ... The players and administration throughout U.Va.'s history helped shape the game into what we know it as today."

Although the film chronicles the football team's dominance in the South during the early 20th century, it also details the program's inauspicious beginnings. The first game played at the University, for example, was against a local prep school, and the school's first contest against another college ended in a 26-0 defeat at the hands of Johns Hopkins. After tasting some success against other local teams, Virginia decided to test its mettle against the country's two most powerful programs - Pennsylvania and Princeton - in the aforementioned 1890 double-header. The result was a 72-0 loss to Pennsylvania, followed by a staggering 115-0 defeat to Princeton the next day.

The film also investigates the on-field death of Virginia freshman Archer Christian during a widely attended 1909 contest against Georgetown. It tells the eerie account of Christian's mother, who made the trip to D.C. but remained in her hotel to pray for her son after sensing something bad might happen during the game. With football in danger of being abolished, University President Edwin Alderman delivered an impassioned speech that defended the sport for its ability to unite students and foster school spirit. William Lambeth - the school's de facto athletics director before there was such a title - concurred with Alderman's message to make the game safer, eventually testing out new rules on Virginia's players that remain in place to this day. Lambeth came up with the idea of dividing the game into four quarters to cut down on player exhaustion, and he also was instrumental in the implementation of substitutions, a seven-man line of scrimmage and the illegality of pushing and pulling on players after they are down by contact. The rules resulted not only in a dramatic decrease in player fatalities, but also prompted the heightened importance of planning and strategy to the game of football.

As a first-year student in 1990, Edds came to the University at just the right time to be inundated with Cavalier football fever. The first game he attended featured a pivotal win against then-No. 9 Clemson, which previously held a 29-0 record against the Cavaliers. Six weeks later Virginia was No. 1 in the country for the first time ever, in large part because of a high-octane offense headlined by Shawn Moore, Herman Moore and Terry Kirby.

"Charlottesville was football-crazy, and it was a wild scene every Saturday," Edds said.

Although the legacy of Virginia football is often held up against its number of wins and losses, Edds' film seeks to portray the program as something bound to the stories of people rather than numbers on a scoreboard.

"I want all U.Va. fans to feel a sense of pride about this program that goes beyond wins on the field," Edds said. "It's a very rich history, and one with a lot more success than people realize."

The film comes face-to-face with several charismatic figures with deep ties to Virginia football, including Dr. John Risher, a 100-year-old alumnus who played on the team in 1931. In addition to relaying dozens of fascinating memories, Risher - the oldest living Virginia football alum - delights viewers by running around with a football and demonstrating his version of a drop-kick. Coy Barefoot - a well-respected University historian and author of "The Corner" - also played an important role in the film's narration, as his extensive knowledge of the University's history served as both an inspiration and a resource to Edds throughout production.

"I've been doing U.Va. history for about 20 years now, and I can really say that this is one of the most impressive historic documents that we've ever seen come out of U.Va. history," Barefoot said. "It's an incredible story, and Kevin is such a fantastic filmmaker. I was really honored to be a part of the project."

While football holds it together, Edds' film will appeal to anyone with a love for the University, history or just good old-fashioned story-telling.