Upcoming documentary chronicles midget football juggernaut of the 70s

The 1972 Red Devils with coaches (left to right) the late John Dybus, Robert Perpall, the late Jim Tintle and Rich Festante
(Photo courtesy of Doug Delaney)

It was the best moment. It was the worst of times. That’s how it was in Levittown around 1971 and 1972, when the Red Devils, a traveling team of 27 football players aged eight to 13, were busy compiling a 20-1 record as consecutive LIMFL (Long Island Midget Football League) champions. The team’s dominance allowed them to outplay their opponents in two years by a margin of 443-69.

Meanwhile, their fathers, many of whom were blue-collar workers working primarily as cops, firefighters, construction workers and any mix of public servants, commuted to and from New York as the Big Apple went into rapid decline and declining quality. of life . It’s a story that filmmakers Douglas Scott Delaney and Gaille Pike are trying to capture via the upcoming documentary. The devils you knew. And while the initial impression of this three-year project might be of a group of old men reliving their glory days in between on the grill, Delaney knows there’s a much bigger story here than he personally experienced.

Future Hall of Fame manager Robert Perpall draws something new in the dirt for his Red Devils
(Photo courtesy of Doug Delaney)

“When I started this, people said no one cared. [damn] about kids football and they said why did I think people cared – because we had a good team? “, did he declare. “It’s a good point because there are teams in Texas that haven’t lost a game in 20 years. But it’s not Texas, it’s New York in 1971. It was a special time , a special place and a special team.
Overseeing this hugely successful program was a quartet of coaches – John Dybus, Rich Festante, Jim Tintle and Robert Perpall, the latter being inducted into the Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame through his work with the Seaford School District football program. this yielded a pair of Long Island championships and eight Nassau County titles.

The Devils’ powerful reputation comes from the fact that the Levittown corner of the LIMFL has been able to tap into a slew of eager and capable young aspiring athletes fueled by the community’s age demographic, a fact Delaney reaffirmed during a recent visit with local historian Paul Manton.
“Manton said something fascinating that was in 1969, the average Levittowner’s age was 12,” Delaney said. “No other community in the world had this demographic. You were crowded with children and each child played sports. And all their fathers were athletic trainers. Levittown’s talent pool was huge.

Coach John Dybus watches the 1971 Levittown Red Devils offense impose its will on its opponent
(Photo courtesy of Douglas Delaney)

The result was around 300 children trying for 27 places on the Red Devils travel squad. But rather than send home the kids who didn’t make it, Tintle and company split those numbers into six to nine city teams. The players have been designated according to their age and weight, so you have a big 10 year old boy playing with 12 year olds, while a little 12 year old boy can play with the 10 year olds , ensuring that there is a diploma. of equity when the following teams would face off in a round-robin style. The top team finally played the traveling team in this season’s All Star game. It was a way for coaches to assess talent with what was an ad hoc farm system.

And while 10-year-old Delaney failed to pass the first try (“I was devastated”), he did the following year. It was then that he discovered the secret sauce of the Red Devils’ gridiron dominance – a quartet of coaches who challenged their charges to rise to greatness via grueling workouts, teaching them skills. complex attacking and defensive packages and uncompromising discipline.
“At that time, we were running an 11-year-old NFL pro-set offense that Coach Perpall brought to us with a thick playbook,” Delaney recalled. “All the other coaches said we kids weren’t ready for it and he asked why not and why don’t we find out if they are or not. [up to the task]. We had skull sessions, exercise-rehearsal and rote sessions. Basics. Basics. Basics. And I’m seriously talking about John Rogan, a quarterback doing a triple false backhand, stepping back 15 yards and throwing a pass 50 yards and hitting a guy in stride in the end zone. Kids didn’t do that back then.

For as dominant as Levittown was, there was fierce competition from other programs like Syosset and more specifically, Massapequa, a fact Delaney is proud of.
“Massapequa doesn’t want to talk to us because we beat them,” he said with a smile. “Playing them was good for us because we only beat them by seven points – we beat everyone else by 40. Massapequa was a game. You win that game and you were something. They were the guys to beat. But we knocked them out and they still want some, but I would too.

The Red Devils took their dominance down south for a memorable tilt against the Maryland All-Stars that saw the Long Islanders deliver a 54-0 beatdown. Again, it was all about numbers.
“Each city had [a football program like ours]“, explained Delaney. “If you think about the level of local competition at the time, Long Island would have been the 11th largest state in the country. If you’re the best in Long Island, I guess it’s a New Jersey state championship .

Currently in production, The devils you knew is slated for release in October 2023, just in time for football season with a scheduled screening at one of Levittown’s high schools. With approximately 16 sit-down interviews scheduled for October of this year, Delaney and Pike emerged from their home in Reading, KS for a visit that included additional research and fundraising for the project held at Mr. Beery’s home in Bethpage on June 12. To shoot footage and raise funds and awareness for the film, the event served as a mini-reunion for these former players and their families 50 years after the fact. The resonance of this small window of time was particularly evident for Delaney five decades later.

Surviving members of the 1971-72 Red Devils crew. Documentary filmmaker Doug Delaney is fifth from right.
(Photo by Chris Cassidy)

“I’ve seen 62-year-old men cry for a few minutes where they stop, think about something and then turn around,” the filmmaker said. “To a man they said they would walk through the walls for these [coaches]. This is the legacy of those four men – Festante, Tintle, Dybus and Perpall – who changed everyone’s life. When you saw 13 62-year-old guys – many of us collapsed – walk through this training ground we hadn’t been to in 50 years – my cameraman said he got chills. He said he knew what I was doing and I said that was what it was about. It moves me.

Visit www.thedevilsyouknew.com or email fortysixtrap@gmail.com for more information about the movie.