Aug. 18, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- If you look under the heading of Longest Made Field Goals in Wisconsin football history, you will find these entries in the pre-modern era:
62 (drop kick) by Pat O’Dea vs. Northwestern, 11/24/1898
60 (drop kick) by Pat O’Dea vs. Minnesota, 11/18/1899
57 (drop kick) by Pat O’Dea vs. Chicago, 11/13/1897
57 (drop kick) by Pat O’Dea vs. Illinois, 11/11/1899
55 (drop kick) by Pat O’Dea vs. Minnesota, 10/30/1887
Now fast-forward to the Longest Punts in the pre-modern era:
110 by Pat O’Dea vs. Minnesota, 10/30/1897
100 by Pat O’Dea vs. Yale, 10/21/1899
85 by Pat O’Dea vs. Lake Forest, 10/10/1896
Now take a deep breath -- like Big Ten Network’s Dave Revsine did -- to process everything.
Maybe it’s the parenthetical “drop kick” that piques your curiosity.
Or maybe it’s the outlandish distances -- of the drop kicks and punts -- that get your attention.
In any case, Revsine wanted to find out more.
“It was like an archeological dig,” he said. “You just keep going and going and going.”
Lions, tigers and bears have an allure for kids of all ages. Not Revsine. He was smitten by a kangaroo, the Kangaroo Kicker, oh yes, Wisconsin’s very own Patrick John O’Dea, whose turn-of-the-20th-century magnetism was on par with Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and Johnny Manziel, oh my.
Revsine’s impassioned exploration of the O’Dea mystique led to a four-year journey into the origins of college football and the end product is on must-read lists, especially for UW fans. With much detail and heart, Revsine has crafted “The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation.”
Get the Book: "The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation" is on sale now:
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In his preface, Revsine gets away with being an “I told you so.”
On today’s current college football landscape, he writes, “It is a period, we’ve been told, unprecedented in the history of the sport. But what if I told you that it DID have precedent?
“In fact, what if I told you that the current problems in college football might actually be viewed as an improvement -- that, in some regards, the college game was once far worse than it is today?”
As such, Revsine discovered that many of the game’s current concerns -- greed and violence among them -- first manifested themselves between 1890 and 1915.
He was quick to add, “The game’s problems, though, are only part of the college football narrative, as the modern-day challenges are accompanied by immense popularity.”
And many of those seeds of popularity, Revsine found, were initially sown during that 25-year window -- between the late 19th century and early 20th century -- of the pre-modern era.
“You’ll see a ton of positive things in the book,” he said. “It’s really about how the game has galvanized campuses. The reaction I get is, “Wow, I had no idea what was going on in that time period.”’
Neither did Revsine -- when he began researching O’Dea, the Australian-bred kicking legend.
“Dressed in running shoes and shorts, I was out for a walk,” said Revsine, constructing a metaphor for how he got here from there. “I saw people starting to run a marathon and I thought, ‘Well, I’m dressed properly, I might as well go and run with them’ without having prepared for it in any way.”
As far as using the O’Dea story as a mechanism to tell a much bigger story on the broader issues of the sport, he confided, “I had no idea what I was getting into and when I hit about mile 16 (a marathon is 26.2 miles) and I still didn’t have a publisher, I thought, ‘What have I done to myself?”’
Upon further review, he said, “It was incredibly time-consuming but I was fascinated by it.”
Moreover, he stressed, “I felt there was a story to share and I wanted to share it.”
Revsine’s personal storyline has a Madison chapter. He went to kindergarten at Shorewood Hills Elementary School. His father, Lawrence Revsine, who taught financial accounting at Northwestern, was a visiting professor for two semesters at the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1970s.
Dave Revsine, who was raised in Northbrook, Illinois, went on to graduate from Northwestern. (His sister went to UW). After a year studying in Ireland and a stint as a financial analyst in New York City, he had TV stopovers in Sherman, Texas, and the Quad Cities before spending 11 years at ESPN.
Since the launch of BTN in 2007, Revsine has been the lead studio host. During the football season, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith serve as his co-hosts. All three were on campus last Friday to tape a preview show on the Badgers from Camp Randall Stadium.
|“It was incredibly time-consuming but I was fascinated by it,” Revsine said. “I felt there was a story to share and I wanted to share it.”
The 45-year-old Revsine can be quite understated.
Except when it comes to Pat O’Dea, a College Football Hall of Famer.
“I started reading about him,” he said, “and I was just blown away by O’Dea.”
Here’s how he introduced the Kangaroo Kicker in the book:
“He didn’t necessarily look the part of a rugged football player,” Revsine wrote. “Though unusually tall for the time at nearly 6-2, he weighed just 170 pounds. He was strikingly handsome. His pleasant and expressive face was topped by a generous helping of seemingly never ruffled light brown hair that swooped dramatically across his forehead in a right-handed part.
“It was O’Dea’s legs that really stood out, though, described by one contemporary as ‘abnormally long and wonderfully developed.’ Those legs were his weapon of choice. In a short period of time, they had earned him remarkable fame. He drew headlines everywhere he went -- the most celebrated kicker in the country …
“In a time when field goals were worth five points, one more than touchdowns, and teams often punted on first down, kicker was the single most glamorous position on the field and the handsome, exotic and talented O’Dea was redefining the position. He was the best kicker in the West and fans in that part of the country believed he was superior to any player in football.”
O’Dea was far more than just a specialist, a kicker and punter.
“O’Dea was far and away the best athlete on the Wisconsin team,” wrote Revsine, noting that O’Dea had briefly held the world record in the 300-yard hurdles. “But due to the violent nature of the game, (UW head coach Phil) King was reticent to use him as a primary ball carrier, out of fear of losing his most valuable weapon.”
O’Dea was so beloved on campus that after a particularly rough game against the University of Chicago -- during which a player had been ejected for intentionally kicking O’Dea -- the following Monday, he received a bouquet of roses from Dean Bryant of the law faculty addressing the “champion football kicker of the world.” Bryant wrote, “I honor the man who can take defeat like a man.”
Turns out that he was quite the ladies’ man, too.
“After big games his mailbox was jammed with letters from flirtatious women,” Revsine wrote. “The Aussie did all he could to impress them. In the 1890s in Madison, nothing got a young coed’s attention more than renting a private carriage for a trip around the small city and O’Dea quickly developed a reputation as ‘one of the greatest hirers of carriages the town ever knew.’”
Once O’Dea had become a full-fledged celebrity, he got the royal treatment everywhere he went. Exceptions were made for O’Dea even within the football program. “While his teammates walked to practice,” Revsine wrote, “a particularly wealthy classmate sent his family’s phaeton, a kind of sporty carriage, to transport Pat to the team’s daily workout.”
O’Dea was one of a kind, at least as Pat O’Dea.
He was also Charles J. Mitchell in a later life.
But I don’t want to give away the story.
Step in Revsine’s time machine and read for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.