Tuesday, February 08, 2005

America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation

I just finished reading America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge. If you are a devout follower of professional football, this is a must read. For everyone else, I recognize that some people will be turned off by the fact that this is a "sports" book or a "football" book. This book is SO much more, so much deeper and more complex than being a simple sports book yet it is written in such an accessible manner.

On the outside, this is a complete and concise history of pro football from the post World War II era and forward. The book really kicks off with the 1958 Colts vs. Giants Championship Game. This book is just so much more than a history of the game. The fates of both football and sports television are so closely tied. Without one we may not have the other. The expansion and growth of the NFL is forever linked to the success of the TV medium.

From a business perspective, America's Game offers guidance across a number of disciplines. The NFL and later the AFL, was made up of a bunch of "squabbling" entrepreneurs. All fighting to maintain their teams, their brands, their "territories" and their cut of the money. This book is a study in their entrepreneurship. It is also a study in leadership as evidenced by the trials and tribulations of a young Pete Rozelle who was named commissioner at the tender age of 33. It is a study in the leadership exhibited by Lamar Hunt who had to get over his personal rivalry with fellow Texan, Tex Schramm to secretly negotiate a truce between the two leagues and, ultimately, unite them. (While Al Davis waged open warfare against the NFL.)

The book chronicles the meticulous management of the NFL brand from marketing by blacking out all home games which increased demand and insured ticket sales did not lose against TV. With the creation of NFL Properities they took control of their merchandising. All the souveneirs became standardized. With NFL Films and the voice of John Facenda, they controlled their brand image and their advertising. Along with communications, etc.

This book is an economic study of a changing , post WWII America. It is at this point that the marketing and advertising geniuses of the universe were created. This is the time when they figured out that we would buy stuff that we didnt need. From bobbleheads to $300 game-worn jerseys.

MacCambridge also provides us with a study of race in America through the eyes of the NFL. It is a sociological/political study of the impact of race relations on sport. The NFL integrated well before Jackie Robinson crossed the line in baseball. It had problems are arguably still has problems with integration.

Lastly, this is a study of the men who have left a lasting imprint on the game. The men who sit in the Great Hall of Valhalla amongst their fellow gods. Men like Lombardi, Halas and Paul Brown. Men like Unitas. Players that will assume their rightful places like Namath who had the hubris to guarantee a win over the dominate NFL from his upstart ALF team. Men like Jim Brown, possibly the greatest running back ever and Sam Huff who does not get the short end of the stick in this saga. Men like Al Davis who still fight for what their believe is right.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is fasicinating and deep on many, many levels.


Run With the Hunted said...

Hmmm....I'd read the book if it were not about football. Baseball, yes. Boxing, definitely. But not football.

And yeah, I'm giving you a hard time. That's my job.

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