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Hickok SportsThoughts

Sports historian and author Ralph Hickok of www.hickoksports.com sometimes meanders on about current happenings in sports and sometimes looks back in languor.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Behind the Scenes in NFL History

I've just finished a fascinating book about the NFL, America's Game by Michael MacCambridge (Random House, 2004).
The subtitle is "The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation." Unlike too many books I've read, this one fully justifies its subtitle.
America's Game is basically a history of the league since World War II that focuses on what happened off the field: The battles with rival leagues, the lawsuits, the television negotiations, the personality meshes and clashes.
It's not only an epic story, it's a very complex tale. On the whole, MacCambridge does an excellent job of sorting it out and pulling it all together.
To a great extent, it's the story of Pete Rozelle's long commissionership. But MacCambridge makes it clear that Rozelle was building on a foundation laid down by his predecessor, Bert Bell, with the help of the pioneer team owners who were often willing to put aside their differences for the sake of the league's survival and, ultimately, success.
The book's biggest drawback is that MacCambridge doesn't always have a firm grasp of the changes that were taking place on the field. His treatment of changes in strategy is often cursory and sometimes misguided.
But those things are purely secondary, anyway. The off-the-field, behind-the-scenes story is the point and purpose of the book, and I can't find much fault with MacCambridge's telling of it.