If you want a coffee table book about the history of the NFL, the new The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book: Where Greatness Lives, edited by Joe Horrigan and John Thorn, fits the bill. I’ve considered going to Canton to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame myself, but have never made the trip. The book has photographs of a number of what I imagine are the Hall’s most prized visits, from a record from 1892 showing Pudge Heffelfinger getting paid $500 to play football as the first recognized professional player to more recent mementos like David Tyree’s helmet from Super Bowl XLII and the jersey Drew Brees wore in Super Bowl XLIV.
The wrapping for the snapshots is a series of essays on moments from each of the NFL’s decades, from a piece by Bob Carroll on Jim Thorpe and the early days of a professional football league to Ron Borges’s essay on the 2000’s. When you’ve read as much about football as I have, the chance anybody at all says something new or interesting in a relatively brief essay like the ones in the book is somewhere between minimal and none. Then again, that’s not really what the essays are for. They’re meant to be pleasant companions, and for the most part, they are (I thought Borges’s piece tended towards Patriots hagiography, almost ironically quoting Bill Polian extensively while snubbing his team from this decade).
Beyond the essays and the photographs, throughout the book are quotes from men enshrined in the Hall about their experience playing the game. Some are older, more contemporaneous with their playing days, while others seem to have come from speeches given at the induction ceremony. Some were enjoyable at the time; none stuck with me.
I’ve long struggled with the idea of coffee table books like this one. I’m not a particularly visual person, and to the extent photographs can be informationally dense, I would not clarify these as really fitting the bill. When I saw the photo of Tyree’s helmet, I chuckled; while it has its own sense of football historicity, its value lies in its ability to evoke related yet distant connections to the catch, the throw, the near-sack, the 14-10 score, and the season that would end 18-1. Just the helmet, on a page, next to an essay about how awesome the Patriots were? I have nary a regret for my chuckle.
Anyway, if you’re looking for what you would expect you’d get out of a coffee table history of the NFL, The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book delivers. if you’re looking for something more or different, well, you should look in a different place.