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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

MacCambridge's sweeping history of pro football starts just before WWII, when the National Football League was still largely a regional organization, and ends with Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at Super Bowl XXXVIII. Though there are plenty of vivid descriptions of remarkable games, what sets this chronicle apart from a slew of other recent football books is the depth and breadth of its stories about players, coaches and owners. The centerpiece of this personal approach is the extensive portrait of the career of Pete Rozelle, who became the NFL's commissioner at 33 and initiated many of the measures that ensured the sport's cultural ascendancy, including a television deal that distributed revenue equally among all teams. MacCambridge (The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine) zeroes in on two sideline projects that might have made the greatest difference in football's rise over baseball: NFL Properties, which brought a consistent standard of excellence to fan paraphernalia; and NFL Films, which solidified the myth of the game as an epic struggle through the instantly recognizable narration of John Facenda. MacCambridge also considers the sport's track record regarding race relations, noting that the NFL's first black players were on the field months before Jackie Robinson, while highlighting the roles played by great African-American athletes like Paul Younger and Jim Brown. Though some fans may be disappointed that their favorite teams and players aren't extensively covered, this magisterial history is a fitting acknowledgment of the sport's legacy.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Football is the professional sport of choice in America today, evidenced by the fact that its championship game, the Super Bowl, is an undeclared national holiday. MacCambridge, author of the extraordinarily informative and very entertaining The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated (1997), picks up the struggling National Football League immediately after World War II, when the team owners were a ragtag collection of squabbling entrepreneurs. The owners pulled together somewhat to squash a rival league and usurp its best team, the Cleveland Browns, but the NFL's ascendancy really began in the 1950s, coinciding with the growth of television. MacCambridge tracks the history in a thoroughly readable narrative, devoting plenty of space to the 1958 overtime championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants--a game that mesmerized a national television audience and created the momentum that would carry the league--under the visionary leadership of commissioner Pete Rozelle--through the merger with another rival, the American Football League, and the start of the Super Bowl phenomenon. MacCambridge also offers revealing profiles of the front-office figures who played key roles in the growth of the league--Rozelle, Paul Brown, Al Davis, and Lamar Hunt--as well as gleaning the insights of former players and coaches such as Jim Brown, Bill Walsh, and John Madden. This is a classy, carefully researched, and very enlightening overview of a uniquely American sports enterprise. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725067
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael MacCambridge has written about movies, music and popular culture, but he is best known as one of the nation's foremost authorities on pro and college football.

His 2004 book 'America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured A Nation' was published by Random House, and named by The Washington Post as one of the most distinguished works of non-fiction in 2004. The book also won the Nelson Ross Award given by the Professional Football Researchers Association, for outstanding achievement in pro football research and history. The paperback version was published by Anchor Vintage in 2005.

In 2012, he wrote 'Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports,' the official biography of the American sportsman inducted in the pro football, international tennis and national soccer halls of fame.

His first book was 'The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine,' which was named as a New York Times Noteworthy Book, and described by the Boston Globe as "one of the great sports-book reads of all time." In 1999, he was the editor and a contributing writer for the New York Times bestseller 'ESPN SportsCentury,' a retrospective of sports in the 20th Century that included original essays by David Halberstam, Joyce Carol Oates, Roy Blount, Jr., Gerald Early, and others.

In 2005, MacCambridge edited the critically-acclaimed 'ESPN College Football Encyclopedia,' hailed by Sports Illustrated as "the Bible" of the sport.

In 2009, MacCambridge co-authored 'More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL,' with Brian Billick, the Super Bowl-winning former head coach of the Baltimore Raves. Also in 2009, MacCambridge was one of the contributing essayists to 'A New Literary History of America,' by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors.

MacCambridge's freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, GQ, and many other publications. From 1988-95, he was a columnist and critic at the Austin American-Statesman, writing about movies, music and popular culture. He earned a Master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1986. A year earlier, he received his B.A. from Creighton University in Omaha.

Since 1997, he has been an adjunct professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and performed a wide range of public speaking and editorial consulting work. The father of two children, Miles and Ella, he lives in St. Louis.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By C. Baker VINE VOICE on September 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
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 in overtime of the New York Giants 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, and Pete Rozelle who help reap millions in television revenue, fostered the 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.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on July 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael MacCambridge has produced a volume of research and analysis worthy of any historical bookshelf. Let the reader beware: the author is nothing but faithful to his title. This is not a nostalgic romp with the Decatur Staleys, nor a highlight reel in words. Rather, MacCambridge traces and assesses how the corporate NFL has managed itself from its humble pre-World War II status to a position today of sports preeminence.

For starters, the author does not think much of pro football before 1945. Pro football was a confederation of teams, all of which were north and east of a line between Chicago and Washington. The owners were a club unto themselves, mostly Catholic and educated by nuns. Their greatest gifts to the game, in MacCambridge's view, are that they did not muck it up too much and they elected Bert Bell to serve as commissioner after the war. Bell was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier--his selection smacks of cronyism as much as anything--but in his humble, gracious way, Bell served the game as well as the owners. He was the first commissioner who sensed an obligation to protect the game itself.

He was challenged quickly enough by another major figure in this work, Paul Brown, and a new league taking shape, the All America Football Conference. The AAFC enjoyed a brief flare of success in the late 1940's, with franchises in glamour cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the field, however, the premiere team was Cleveland, where Brown invented the model of modern coaching management. Cleveland and its imitators in the AAFC were simply too good to go away. Bell decided to pick the franchises he wanted and add them to the NFL fraternity. By 1950 the NFL was coast to coast and the enemy had been destroyed.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Craig VINE VOICE on February 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Considering the popularity of pro football in this country, the historical literature on the game has really been lacking, especially when compared to the thousands of works on baseball. Finally, McCambridge has crafted what should prove as the definitive history of the game, one that any fan of football should enjoy.

Although it's a 500-page book, the author's style makes this a pretty brisk read. While full of details, the book isn't overwhelmed by them, always giving the reader an excellent view of the big picture, and of the role that each person and event plays. It's clear that the author admires many of the people he talks about, but he still manages to present both praise and criticism, never letting his work become hagiographic. His treatment of the AFL-NFL relationship during the years before their merger is the best I've seen.

This is truly a book that's just been waiting to be written. Thankfully, McCambridge has done great justice to a subject ripe for examination. I think this should be necessary reading for anyone who considers themselves a serious fan.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Otherone on December 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book has received (and deservedly so) many accolades for its sweeping and exhaustive history not only of the sport so many americans love, but the people behind the sport. MacCambridge does a great job of bringing little (at least to younger fans) known giants to life, on both the player and management side. His chapters involving the AFL/NFL "war" for players, the fledgling AAFL of the late 40s and 50s, the dynastic Browns teams and many others of that era enrich the reader's knowledge of football. In addition, the book does a great job of illustrating the vision of people like Lamar Hunt who understood very early on not only the power of TV to show the game but the need for collective revenue sharing, that the sum must be greater than the parts (unlike baseball which still looks at the parts instead of the whole).

Other enjoyable portraits of Pete Rozelle, Tex Schramm and others leap off the page and make this book an easy and enjoyable read. My only criticism, and it's a mild one, is that the book almost begs to end about 100 pages sooner than it does. While MacCambridge essentially brings us to today, this part of NFL history is probably the LEAST in need of analysis or recitation right now. Better to have perhaps ended it with the passing of Roselle or the resolution of the USFL/NFL battle showing the league at the doorstep of complete TV domination.
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