Finding Your Way In A Special Place, At A Special Time
For several members of the Red Devils football team, the 1970s feels like only a few years ago. Watching teammates reunite on the set of The Devils You Knew, it is clear how much this time in their lives left a lasting impact on who they grew up to be. A project which took several years of grassroots funding, labor and love, The Devils You Knew is a documentary about so much more than kids playing football in the ‘70s. It is a reflection on a special time and place, and the people who were coming of age then and there.
The Levittown of the 1970s was quite different from the town today. America’s first suburb developed against the raging backdrop of the Vietnam War. Social disorder exploded with the counterculture. From a class perspective, Levittown was very blue collar, with a lot of civil servants, cops, firefighters, veterans coming from WWII who could finally own their own house. Levittown was also a uniquely young town. Quite young actually, as the average age at the time was 12 years old! It seems natural then that the boys and girls of Levittown would flock to structures which offered camaraderie, discipline, and motivation. For many boys, this would be the Red Devils football team.
“It was organic that Levittown created the team, and the team created these men,” said the documentary’s producer and director, Douglas Delaney. Delaney, alongside co-producer Peter Hand, were both Devils themselves. Delaney has known this is a story worth telling for a long time. “[Pete and I] talked way back when we were just out of high school. I told him, ‘One of these days, I’m going to tell the story of the Red Devils.’” It would take decades, but finally the pair would reunite in a vigorous effort to put the documentary together.
Early efforts were plagued by setbacks. The original date for interviewing was to meet in New York on March 16, 2020. This did not quite pan out as planned. “Our first day of shooting, New York goes into lockdown, and we can’t film anything,” Delaney recalled. Out of the 15 members originally scheduled to show up, only about 4 came. Even without the constraints of the pandemic, tracking down a team which has spread cross-country in the last 50 years was no easy feat. “It was truly a labor of love,” said Hand, who operated as the “detective” for the documentary, tracking down everything from old footage to old teammates.
But four years later, the documentary has made substantial leaps and bounds, and the long-awaited interviews were finally able to get underway. “The last three years of our lives have been leading up to today. Getting them in the chair with the camera guys and a professional interviewer,” Delaney said. “I can get articles and old game footage, but getting the faces has been everything. Seeing that 11-year-old face, and the one now, that’s so important for this thing to come together.” Over the course of two days, almost 20 teammates, coaches, friends and family members arrived on set — the home of former Red Devil Chris Nelson and his wife Sue — to record the final pieces of this story. “Most of us haven’t seen each other in 50 years. And here they are. And you look at their face, and it’s like yesterday. We’re all 11 years old again. It’s nice to feel that way at 63,” Delaney laughed.
Former Editor of The Observer Dave Gil de Rubio has been a part of this project as a Senior Field Producer. He knew from the beginning that this was a story worth telling. “The way it was pitched to me, I just knew there was more to the story than old white dudes hopping on the nostalgia train and reliving their glory days. Because so much of it has to do with a specific time and a specific place.”
Gil de Rubio conducted the interviews and facilitated the process of the men recalling the significance of this time in their lives. As he conducted his interviews, a pattern emerged of kids finding order during a period where there was a lot of chaos and instability. “The influence the coaches had in a good way, about instilling stability, camaraderie, accountability. It’s not so much about making you a great player but making you a good person. And that’s stuff that you take forward into your life even if it’s unrelated to sports.”
Former Levittowner Chris Cassidy was brought on as Director of Photography. Throughout the process of filming, he felt the weight and importance of the story come together. Cassidy, who had also been a Red Devil, remembered hearing of the escapades of his predecessors and admiring them. Getting to be a part of this documentary has been in some ways a full-circle moment. “You can tell what it means to these guys to be able to share their story, their lives.”
Now in its final stages, the documentary is that much closer to completion. Readers interested in more information are encouraged to read Dave Gil de Rubio’s prior article on the Red Devils, “Gridiron Greatness In America’s First Suburb”, written last year, and accessible here.
Release information for the documentary will be available soon, and accessible at: http://www.thedevilsyouknew.com