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On Any Given Sunday: A Life of Bert Bell Hardcover – November 28, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"Robert S. Lyons' flavorful biography captures the blustery and paternalistic Bell, portraying him as a man who worked relentlessly to keep the NFL alive and push it to thrive....[T]he book is worth reading. One has to appreciate the long string of anecdotes and colorful details Lyons has dug up. Who knew, for instance, that Bell would calm tempers at owners' meetings by taking out his false teeth and putting them in his water glass? More important, no book has detailed Bell's contributions to the NFL so thoroughly."
—Philadelphia Inquirer

"I know the book well. It's a terrific book."
— NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, as heard on The Sal Paolantonio Show (ESPN)

Book Description

Bert Bell, a native of Philadelphia, has been called the most powerful executive figure in the history of professional football. He was responsible for helping to transform the game from a circus sideshow into what has become the most popular spectator sport in America. In On Any Given Sunday, the first biography of this important sports figure, historian Robert Lyons recounts the remarkable story of how de Benneville “Bert” Bell rejected the gentility of a high society lifestyle in favor of the tougher gridiron, and rose to become the founder of the Philadelphia Eagles and Commissioner of the National Football League.

Bell, who arguably saved the league from bankruptcy by conceiving the idea for the annual player draft, later made the historic decision to introduce “sudden death” overtime—a move that propelled professional football into the national consciousness. He coined the phrase “on any given sunday” and negotiated the league’s first national TV contract. Lyons also describes in fascinating detail Bell’s relationships with leading figures ranging from such Philadelphia icons as Walter Annenberg and John B. Kelly to national celebrities and U.S. Presidents. He also provides insight into Bell’s colorful personal life—including his hell-raising early years and his secret marriage to Frances Upton, a golden name in show business.

On Any Given Sunday is being published on the 50th anniversary of Bell’s death.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press (November 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592137318
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592137312
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #731,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Robert S. Lyons is the author of On Any Given Sunday: A Biography of Bert Bell, Palestra Pandemonium: A History of the Big 5, and co-author of The Eagles Encyclopedia (all published by Temple University Press), and Big Al(Meltzer): Fifty Years of Adventures in Sports Broadcasting (Camino Books, Inc.).

Lyons, who covered professional and college sports for the Associated Press for more than 40 years, has written for numerous national publications including The Saturday Evening Post, Christian Science Monitor, Nation's Business, Delta SKY Magazine, The Sporting News, and Baseball Digest, among others.

The president of his own suburban-Philadelphia-based editorial services and public relations firm since 1995, Lyons has provided professional services to a variety of organizations including the Associated Press, Brandywine Global Investment Management, La Salle University, Merrill Lynch, Elf Atochem, Princeton University, and Philadelphia's WHYY-TV, among others.

Before forming his consulting firm, Lyons served in a number of capacities at La Salle University including director of the News Bureau, editor of the university's alumni quarterly magazine, and lecturer in the Communication Department, teaching courses in journalism, public relations, and advertising.

He has also worked as a commercial advertising and public relations account executive, a news and sports reporter for the (former) Philadelphia Bulletin, and the public relations consultant for Abington (PA) Township.

The past president and former chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association, Lyons has also served on the boards of the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association and La Salle University Alumni Association, as well as the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame selection committee. He lives in Southampton, PA.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By football_fan on March 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As Don Shula says in his Foreword to On Any Given Sunday, "It's hard to believe that it's been 50 years since Bert Bell's death and that no one has ever chronicled the life of this remarkable man. Fortunately, Bob Lyons has finally filled the void with a fascinating, thoroughly-researched biography that not only details the accomplishments of one of the finest commissioners in the history of professional sports, but offers a unique glimpse into a long-forgotten era of the National Football League."

Not only is Lyons' biography meticulously researched, it is colorfully-written with dozens of anecdotes that describe the many faces and talents of a man, who founded and served as the first coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and later co-owned the Pittsburgh Steelers before being elected Commissioner of the NFL in 1946.

Lyons carefully outlines in vivid detail how much Bert Bell did for professional football. He saved the league from bankruptcy by conceiving the concept for a player draft -- a great idea that paved the way for colleges preparing athletes to play in the NFL at no cost to the league. In addition to explaining the background behind some of Bell's other innovations like sudden death overtime, Lyons tells how Bell carefully developed the use of television, masterfully cultivated members of Congress when the federal government was trying desperately to nail the league for anti-trust violations, and aggressively protected the sport against unsavory characters.

We learn that it was Bert Bell who coined the phrase On Any Given Sunday. He was a well-to-do descendant of one of Pennsylvania's most influential families who quarterbacked the University of Pennsylvania to the Rose Bowl, then became a hero in World War I.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey S. Davis on February 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As one moves through On Any Given Sunday, A life of Bert Bell, it becomes clear that author Robert S. Lyons was holding back in certain areas to the extent it seems that he was "protecting" the story of a colorful, wonderful individual whose live needed no cover. It's not that Lyons did not get interesting stories. It is obvious that Bell's sons, Bert Jr and Upton did their best to convey their feelings about a father they loved. But Bell's live at home in no way covers the nuances of his professional career. It can't. It's the nature of families that children protect their parents - as they should - and they cannot know all a reader should want and get.

The big problem all who ever covered or knew Bell was his lack of a filing system, any system to run a business as the NFL. It is fair to say that Bert Bell acted as a transitory figure from the league's origins to the ultra-slick machine that his successor Pete Rozelle developed from the time he took office at age 33 in 1960. Bell never was the league strongman during his time as the unsuccessful owner of money-starved Philadelphia Eagles franchise, nor even as the commissioner that led the league into the television age. That man, of course, was Chicago Bears founder, owner-coach, and league founder George Halas who carried the league on his back for the first 40 years of its existence. Bert Bell understood that and he understood that all major decisions must be cleared through Halas. That Halas, a Godfather-like figure, operated for the good of the league, not just the welfare of his Bears, is the single salient point Lyons missed.

In his narrative Lyons missed the obvious connection in the television era - Bert Bell's long, close, and loyal friendship with W.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Marc R on January 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a good book, it's well written and as someone who loves football history, I learned a lot. For the person o
who wants to learn about the NFL, this is a good place to start.
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