Reading and Thinking Football

Football, including books thereon and idiosyncratic thinking thereabout

Book Review: America’s Game

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America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge
It was the 1950’s when Jacques Barzun famously wrote that “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game.” Though average attendance had fallen from its peak in 1948, baseball had been the U.S.’s favorite sport since the formation of the National League in 1876. But there was a different league that was closer to baseball than most suspected: the National Football League. Then came the AFL in 1960, and by the mid-1960’s, football had become Americans’ favorite sport. The two leagues completed their merger in 1970, and continued the growth of professional football. There have been setbacks since, losing ground to baseball in the 1980’s with the help of two strikes, and distant storm clouds on the horizon exist now, but football is firmly ensconced at the top of the American sporting world, with no challengers on the horizon.

Such a rise of professional football was not the result of some arbitrary force of nature, but instead was largely the result of conscious decisions made by those in charge of professional football. This book tells the story of how that happened. I had known, for example, of the Rams’ move from Cleveland to LA in the 1940’s, of the existence of the AAFC from ’46-’49 and Paul Brown’s dominant Cleveland Browns, that there were commissioners before Pete Rozelle, and the Rozelle had a major impact on the league during his three decades as commissioner. But this engaging book introduced me to Bert Bell, the commissioner before Rozelle, and Rams owner Dan Reeves, and others, and told me more about the Browns and how they changed football, how Pete Rozelle and others set the NFL upon the path to become what it is, and how the viciously competitive AFL and NFL managed to merge.

This isn’t a perfect book, by any means. After the AFL-NFL merger, it seems to lose some of its energy. The strikes of the 80’s are treated briefly as disputes over specific money issues, their impact on the game’s fortunes not analyzed in any particular depth. It’s also, like Paul Taligabue noted he was when he first became commissioner, removed from the game, perhaps curiously so. The fabled Colts-Giants game in 1958 is mentioned, as is Joe Namath and the Jets’ victory in Super Bowl III, but relatively few contests merit a mention. This is the business book, not the playing book, but a darned good one for all that. An absolute must read for all football fans, and strongly recommended as an insight into the game for those not enamored of the pigskin.


Written by Tom Gower

January 9, 2006 at 05:00

Posted in Book Reviews

4 Responses

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  1. […] the story is he’s working on pretty well-trod ground. Michael MacCambridge’s excellent America’s Game tells the story of the merger pretty well, and does a very good job of placing the merger in the […]

  2. […] America’s Game is a marvelous history of the NFL, and a book I sometimes think could profitably be read as an indicator of second-half of the twentieth century American culture. Despite its strengths, though, its focus, understandably, is on the modern NFL, which for this purpose I’ll indicate begins with the 1958 NFL championship game between the Giants and the Colts. That leaves a void of nearly forty years of NFL history I was looking for a good book on. […]

  3. […] understanding I gained from reading Ten-Gallon War as opposed to what I already knew from, say, America’s Game and other readings on the history of the AFL. The most interesting part of the story to me was what […]

  4. […] the close of the twentieth century (the book was first published in 2000). Like the fabulous America’s Game on the NFL, Watterson’s tome is much more of a sociological history than one of the game on […]

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