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The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football Paperback – April 17, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though it is now an autumn distraction for millions every weekend, football was on the verge of extinction in the early 20th century. Its participants, who did not benefit from padding or helmets, frequently suffered severe injuries or died. States considered banning the sport—including, of all places, Georgia—while colleges fervently endorsed its demise. But President Theodore Roosevelt always defended the game. According to Miller, Roosevelt's 1905 meeting with football coaches at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, urging the popular teams to play clean, began the game's ascent to legitimacy. Miller offers full glimpses into the lives of the men who nurtured or nearly destroyed the game, like cantankerous Harvard president Charles W. Eliot (who compared football to "the ÿsupreme savagery' of war"), legendary Yale football coach Walter Camp (who essentially invented the position of quarterback), and Harvard coach William T. Reid, whose public letter outlining football's commitment to safety kept the sport at the influential school. But Miller, a national correspondent for the National Review, is far too preoccupied with Roosevelt's life as a sportsman. The book feels like a fascinating footnote with biographical padding. (Apr.)
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From Library Journal

This focused study of Teddy Roosevelt’s effect on the growth of football could be called Mornings on the Gridiron, reminiscent as it is of David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback about TR’s youth. Although TR was too small to play college football, he was a fan of the sport. Miller (national correspondent, National Review) draws from published sources to colorfully detail the future President’s interest in a vigorous sporting life, while also depicting the early development of football, particularly at the Ivy League schools, with a special spotlight on innovators. As football rules developed in the 19th century, though, the brutality of the game did not subside, and many prominent leaders called for the outlawing of the sport in the early years of the 20th century. TR, then President, intervened by bringing together leaders from several elite schools to form the governing organization that enacted radical rule changes to open up the game. The distance for a first down was increased from five to 10 yards, a neutral zone was established at the line of scrimmage, and, most important, the forward pass was legalized. VERDICT There is a timely connection here with today’s concerns over football violence. Highly recommended for general readers who love football and/or TR.—John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ. Lib., Camden, NJ --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061744522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061744525
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John J. Miller is the author of "The First Assassin," a Civil War thriller. His nonfiction books include "The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football," "Our Oldest Enemy," "A Gift of Freedom," and "The Unmaking of Americans." He writes for National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him "one of the best literary journalists in the country." A native of Detroit, he is director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College in Michigan. To learn more about John J. Miller and his work, visit his website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
Mark Twain observed, "It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man's character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible." Presently, the American version of football is facing dangerous and difficult times. From junior football to the National Football League, the epidemic of concussions is causing concern to players, owners, families and anyone involved in the game. Recently, a special meeting of the NFL head, neck and spinal injury committee was held in New York. An industrial designer showed off a prototype of a new helmet called the Gladiator, whose primary selling point is that it has a soft exterior. This year's version of John Madden's video game will include provisions that any player suffering a concussion must be sidelined for the rest of the game, and the announcers will explain the seriousness of head injuries. Art will imitate life rather than life imitating art.

Those familiar with the history of football know that its physical danger has long been recognized and accepted. Coaches, players and fans rationalize even the most debilitating injuries as simply part of the game. Its physically violent and dangerous nature is, in fact, fundamental, but almost led to the death of football in its infancy. At the turn of the 19th century, as colleges began adopting football, many players were badly injured and deaths were commonplace. American progressives called for the sport's abolition.

Against the present concussion debate, THE BIG SCRUM is a book that merits consideration by proponents as well as opponents of the game that is now arguably America's favorite pastime. John J.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By The Pampered Lamb on April 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
Fan of football? Know nothing about football? Then this book is for you. How can it be for these two polar opposite types of people?

Here you will read the history of football from the very first day. Nothing is skipped here. In fact did you know that football as we know it is so different from the original direction of the game it would be unrecognizable to the founders? Some of the changes are minute, but others are insane! Can you imagine football without the forward pass? Yeah, I can't either.

It shocked me to read just how close the demise of football was. With so many of its players dying (helmets and padding are a relatively new thing) many called for it to be broken up. And it would have been had President Roosevelt not fallen in love with the game after watching it's first every game played.

This book is great! Any football lover or young boy/girl showing interest in football will eat this book up. As a non huge football watcher, I appreciated that the author told history in a story format. While there were dates, places and people to remember, he didn't make it feel like high school history with a test at the end of the week. He made it fun. He made the story memorable. And what husband doesn't want their wife to have a more positive emotional tie to football? This book will make those Football Sundays a day to look forward to.

Want to call yourself a real football-head? READ THIS BOOK!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By lordhoot on April 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
Big Scrum's subtitle is "How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football" and I guess some folks are having issue with that theme. This book is a very detail history of how football was played back in the late 19th century and how the game was played, almost led to the destruction of that game. The book educated us on how American football evolved from British rugby and how little by little, it ween itself away from how the game was played oversea and how it took on the more American characteristics. It was a long and painful road.

However, by the beginning of 20th century, violence and brutality of football has reared its ugly head despite of numerous reforms. Many progressive liberals called for its removal from many colleges that supported football. College football was the only place where the game was played back then. Obviously, major set of reform was needed and that is where Theodore Roosevelt comes in. Using his prestige, influence and office of his Presidency, he managed to create a census for major reform and gently pushed the reformers toward the right direction while staying in the background. With his plodding, the result was the creation of an organization that would be NCAA as we know it today and creation of modern football.

One of the major evolutions of football that resulted from this period was the development of the passing game. The book mentioned how World War I actually made the passing game more acceptable as American soldiers looked up into the skies to see aerial combat taking place for the first time in their lives. Air game had a place in football just like the ground game.

This book tells this story very well as it describes the evolution of football, how it influence people like Roosevelt and how the game struggled.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sarah J. Carlin VINE VOICE on July 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football details an important time in football history.
Miller describes how Theodore Roosevelt grew up as a sickly child, but one who would do anything to overcome his ailments. Thus, he became a solid athlete and sports enthusiast, though he never really played football. At Harvard, Teddy was a fan of the game, which looked quite a bit different than it does today. The sport resembled a more violent version of rugby. No equipment was worn, and the ball only moved forward in kicks. As the sport grew in popularity, so did the injuries and deaths of its players. This caused great concern among many people. One such person was Harvard president Charles Eliot, who want to outright ban football. He was not alone. Many schools banned the sport.
If you read The Big Scrum, you'll find out how Teddy was able to gain support for football and eventually help transition it into the game it is today.
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