America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCabridge
Review by C. Douglas Baker
MacCambridge has written an outstanding history of modern professional football known as the National Football League. The primary theme of the book is how football has eclipsed other sports, specifically baseball, to become America’s game.
The book starts out with the Baltimore Colts defeat of the New York Giants in overtime on December 28, 1958 in the National Football League championship game. The game was televised and is called the Greatest Game Ever Played, partially because it catapulted the NFL into the national spotlight and sent the league on its way to be the dominant sport in American culture.
For the most part this is a very linear history of the Nation Football League, and a very well done one. While it is about the game itself, it’s more about the business of professional football and the importance of decisions made by those who ran it, leading to a thriving game and a thriving business enterprise.
Much is discussed about the first commissioner Bert Bell, who held a motley collection of owners together and strived for parity in the league. The book also discusses Pete Rozelle reaping millions in television revenue, how he helped foster a revenue sharing agreement between big-market and small-market teams, keeping competitive balance, and maintaining relative labor peace compared to other sports.
Another very interesting and pivotal part of NFL history was its competition with the American Football League in the 1960’s and how a group of maverick owners created a rival, viable league of its own, and how the eventual merger of the NFL and AFL came about.
Interestingly, Lamar Hunt, late owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, was the pivotal figure in both the creation of the AFL and the eventual merger. The merger, in fact, made the NFL even stronger.
There are a few key themes in this book about why professional football became the dominant sport it is today.
First, and foremost, is television. The game of football, more so than baseball, is a sport made for television. Television thrust the game into the national spotlight and keeps it there.
Second is parity. While there have been some dominant teams in the league and a few dynasties, the revenue sharing, scheduling, and now salary caps, which keep the teams on a somewhat even playing field, has helped maintain interest in the game.
Third, labor peace, relative to other sports, has also helped the game thrive. And finally, the owners and commissioners who have lead the league have been visionary. In these pages you meet the legendary coaches and owners like George Halas, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Wellington Mara, Art Modell, Art Rooney, and others who made the NFL what it is today.
Overall, this is an outstanding history of the modern NFL and I highly recommend it.