Bentley Historical Library Digitized Football Game Films

The Project

movie camera on Michigan Stadium press box roof

The Bentley Historical Library has undertaken a project to digitize 55 years of Michigan football game films from its U-M Athletic Department collection. Some of the films are now available for viewing online through the Bentley's Digital Media Library (BDML). To date 420 games, 1930-1986, plus some season highlight films have been digitized. A final batch of 125 films was about to be shipped to the vendor when the COVID 19 shutdown hit and the University suspended work with outside vendors. The films that have not yet been digitized include the 1961 season, parts of 1970-1979 seasons and scattered films from earlier years.

The films, often referred to as the "coach's films," are 16mm films, shot with a single camera from the press box, silent, mostly black and white until the late 1960s. The camera was shut off as soon as a play ended, so running times vary from 25-to 45 minutes. There may be only one or a few films per season 1930-1940. Beginning in 1941 the coverage is nearly complete, but there are missing films. On occasion there may be two version of a game film, possibly a black and white and a color print, or two slightly different films. In the early 1950s there are some films that were delayed broadcast on TV with a voice-over commentary.

Access page

The Bentley has created an access page that provides links to the films as well as to supporting information to enhance the viewing experience. The BDML page includes annotations for scoring and other significant plays with the time-code, so viewers can advance directly to specific plays, e.g., Ron Johnson's five TD runs in the 1968 Wisconsin game or the Harbaugh-to-Kolesar TD pass against Ohio State in 1985.

The access page provides a link to full Michigan team rosters for each season as well as links to The Michigan Daily and Michigan Alumnus magazine coverage for each game and the game box score and play-by-play rundown when available. Each of the links will open in a new browser tab or window depending on how the browser is set up.

The Viewer

The BDML is hosted by MiVideo, the University of Michigan Information and Technology Services cloud-based media streaming service, using the Kaltura platform. The viewer includes a standard scroll bar to advance or replay the video and a full-screen option. Many of the early films were intentionally shot at a higher than normal frame rate, resulting in apparent slow-motion when played back at normal frame rate. The viewer has optional playback rates. The 1.5 setting shows "slow-motion" footage at close to normal speed.

The Films

The films themselves were generally in good condition, though some early films showed signs of brittleness or other deterioration, and some, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, showed evidence of hard use. They may have noticeable scratches and on a couple occasions a burnt frame, doubtless caused when a coach froze the projector to point out a missed block or blown assignment. The biggest problem, again mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, was a result of the practice of cutting clips from the original film to make highlight reels. Sometimes the clips made it back into the original, other times not. In many cases there was a duplicate print from which the missing footage could be scavenged.

Bo Schembehler watching football film