To tell the history of a league, not a team or a year, but an entire league, is the goal of Ed Gruver in his 1997 book, The American Football League: A Year – by – Year History, 1960 – 1969.
This narrative history covers the league in a chronological year by year fashion, beginning in 1959 with Lamar Hunt’s interest in purchasing the Chicago Cardinals. Though Hunt was unable to buy the team on his own, he was able to find other young wealthy men who also wanted to own teams, such as Kenneth S. “Bud” Adams. As Gruver points out, how these young men were viewed depended greatly on perspective. Many older football fans called them “the Foolish Club” and the NFL’s Paul Brown said they were “not football men”. However, the AFL’s first commissioner, Joe Foss, found them to be a group with great “determination and courage.”
A chapter for each year can only include the most significant events of the year. The specific features of each chapter vary but always includes the title game. In 1960 and 1965, the chapters provide some economic history for context as the chapter focus on the draft and signing of Billy Cannon and Joe Namath, respectively. In the 1963 and 1964 chapters, Gruvyer is more speculative spending some time making the arguments on how the AFL champions would have done against the more established NFL champions.
Starting with the 1966 season, Gruvyer attaches a short chapter at the end of each season with an overview of the Super Bowl game. These chapters tend to be brief and do not offer much unique information to a widely-read fan but they provide a good over-all picture of the game played. The summaries are particularly interesting for the first two Super Bowls as most reports focus on the winning Green Bay Packers and not the losing AFL teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, respectively.
The book wraps up with a few standard appendices for team standings, yearly leaders, post-season scoring summaries, and AFL team and individual honors.
A minor criticism is when Gruver attempts to draw comparisons with other sports. Some can be argued, such as claiming the Jets victory as the greatest upset of all time (p. 225), but that dismisses the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game. Others, such as “Baseball set the tone for western expansion in sports,” (p. 12) are harder to defend given that in the Midwest, Wisconsin had a pro football team more than three decades before a pro baseball team and Los Angeles had pro football about fifteen years before they had a pro baseball team. The only major criticism of this work is a lack of notes and bibliography. This makes it difficult to know where the material comes from quotes that were sometimes from interviews conducted by the author (though who was interviewed is unclear) or from other sources.
These criticisms are not significant and I believe Gruver accomplishes his goal of providing a history of the whole league. Thus, I highly recommend The American Football League: A Year-by-Year History, 1960 – 1969 as a superb narrative history of the league.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800 - 253 - 2187 or by shopping at www.mcfarlandbooks.com.
Pro Football Championships Before the Super Bowl: A Year – By – Year History, 1926 – 1965 by Joseph S. Page introduces football fans to championship games played prior to the development of the Super Bowl structure. He examines games from the NFL, AAFC, and AFL leagues.
The book is divided into short chapters of about five pages for each of the selected games. The text focuses on coverage of the game itself, with very little context of the season or how the teams earned the opportunity to play in the game. Unfortunately, without context it makes it more difficult to interpret the game as many regular season events can impact the day’s outcome. At the end of each section is a statistics chapter listing the score by quarters, scoring plays, starting offensive lineups, substitutions, pay checks, head coaches, and team statistics. Starting in the 1952 statistics chapter, the content changes to no longer list pay checks or substitutions but begins to list the starters for offense and defense. It would have been nice to provide detailed statistics when possible, even though the early games from the 1930s would have been light on individual player statistics.
The selection of games, especially when covering the early seasons, is controversial. The book starts with what it claims are the first and second AFL Championship Games of 1926. The AFL, and for that matter, the NFL, determined their respective champions by winning percentage in league games. The first and second “championship games”, were played on November 25th and 27th respectively. These are the second and third games of the AFL season rivalry between the Philadelphia Quakers and the New York Yankees. Even had the Yankees won one of the games, the Quakers would still have won the championship if the Yankees lost the following week to the Chicago Bulls. Further, as late as November 26, the day between the first and second “championship games” there was still some argument about the game the Yankees won against the Los Angeles Wildcats because the game was played in Canada and whether that game was counted would also directly affect the winning percentage of the Yankees. Page then includes the 1926 exhibition game between the Quakers and the New York Giants, who finished 6th - 7th in the NFL. This game was forbidden by Joe Carr, president of the NFL, and was called an exhibition game in the papers of the day. Page then skips the AFL of 1936-7, but includes the All-American Football Conference, 1946–9, and the AFL of the 1960s.
The endnotes and biography are included but raise some questions. The 1964 NFL Championship game was played between Baltimore and Cleveland, yet with no explanation, the material cited mostly comes from newspapers in Nashville, Tennessee. Surely the papers in Cleveland and Baltimore would have had more in-depth coverage. There is very limited use of electronic resources. The bibliography only includes Redskins.com and it is listed with the newspapers. Doug Warren’s article from Roar Report from the Lionsfan.com is not listed in bibliography but it is listed in the endnotes of a chapter. These are the only two websites cited.
In conclusion, this is a good introduction to the championship games before the Super Bowl began for the average football fan and will provide a starting point for more thorough historical research.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800-253-2187 or by shopping at www.mcfarlandbooks.com.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800-253-2187 or by shopping at www.mcfarlandpub.com.
Webster uses the weekly games as a framework for tracing the season. First, he covers the game itself, usually in just a few pages with a little reference of the stars, but not much on the game planning strategies. Whenever possible, he also includes information on merger/business talks between the NFL and the AAFC. Finally, he briefly tracks the other teams in the league, particularly the San Francisco 49ers, who were also undefeated for much of the season.
The game reports are almost exclusively from newspaper reports, both from local papers such as the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as from wire services such as Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI). The benefit to this approach is it allows Webster to not only discuss the game, but to also touch on many of the political issues that faced the team as he season progressed. The argument that the Browns “were just too good” would have been strengthened if Webster would not have emphasized the closeness of many of the Brown’s victories. A more sustained and thorough analysis of attendance figures or how the other cities in the league viewed the team might have been useful support for the argument that Cleveland was “just too good.”
As for backmatter, there is a brief appendix. Game statistics might have been a nice inclusion, especially to support Webster’s argument, but these statistics are easily accessed online at www.pro-football-reference.com and similar sites.
There are many studies about when a team wins a championship. This one, though not perfect, stands among the better ones.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800-253-2187 or by shopping at www.mcfarlandpub.com.
Football’s New York Giants: A History by Lawrence A. Pervin is an ambitious undertaking that tackles the history of a sports franchise that nearly spans a century. The book attempts to cover an incredible amount of material and condense it to less than 200 pages.
Pervin, a long-time fan of the Giants, presents the team’s history in chronological order and divides the time into six chapters. Since each chapter has enough source material to fill its own book, Pervin distills even the most important events to just a few paragraphs. The content is not presented consistently in each chapter. At times the focus is on the players, but at others, such as the chapter on the post-Parcells era, the coaches get most of the attention. Star players are mentioned but more in passing.
Pervin’s lack of consistency causes a bit of difficulty following the narrative and naturally his bias towards the Giant success stories clearly comes through. For instance, in the second chapter (1955 – 1963) their championship game losses, of which there were many, are barely mentioned other than the 1958 game. This 1958 loss to the Baltimore Colts could not be ignored, no matter how painful the memory, because it is perhaps the most famous game of all time (with several books devoted to recounting the gory details).
The book has a variety of minor errors. There are the typical typos, such as when an article about hiring Bill Belicheck to replace Bill Parcells cites an article as being from 1961 that presumably should have been from 1991. An endnote further down that page, credits Michael Strahan’s sack record as coming against Bart Starr. However, Strahan was less than a month old when Starr played his last game, and this infamous sack was against Brett Favre.
There is a tremendous amount of possible material left out of this condensed history. Pervin’s announced biases for the Giants and for more recent history come through clearly. Still, Pervin is quite upfront about these tendencies and the work provides a nice introduction to most of the key moments in the history of the New York Giants. For this reason, the book is recommended for those interested in an introductory team history or for any New York Giant fan.
The book opens with a short preface that illuminates how records in the 1940s could easily be lost. From there, the first part presents the history of the AAFC and the competitive landscape. The philosophical differences between how the conference and league raised a few ethical questions, such as, which college players should participate in the draft. The editors also presented arguments on the comparative strengths of the conferences and why the leagues merged.
The second section highlights the All-Pro teams, providing biographies for these players and other noteworthy participants in the league. The individuals chosen were very reasonable, but it might have been nice to see a larger number of noteworthy participants, such as Ara Parseghian (noted Notre Dame coach who played for the Cleveland Browns in 1948 and 1949).
The next three sections focus on conference, team, and individual standings. These sections provide many useful and interesting statistics. The section on AAFC records, is especially noteworthy and are hard to find elsewhere. The section on attendance, originally from the The Coffin Corner, again raises the AAFC v NFL dynamic. The book raises some fine points, such as how the AAFC had significantly more (though not a very high total number) of African – American players than the NFL and how this helped the AAFC outdraw the NFL.
The sixth section contains linescores of all the games in the history of the AAFC. Linescores are synopsis of games that include information about the location, a brief narrative about the game, the point totals by quarter, and a list of all scoring plays. The championship games also have individual and team statics, such as first downs for a team or rushing yards for an individual player.
The seventh section is coverage of the draft for the entire AAFC, as well as the allocation draft when the NFL drafted players from the disbanded teams. The introduction explains how the draft works, such as what teams got extra picks and why and discusses several of the more interesting picks, usually players picked by both the AAFC and NFL. The only other piece of information that could have been useful in this league over view is a list of all players picked by both the AAFC and NFL.
The last two sections focus on the statics of every individual player and coach, respectively. Both sections start with a brief explanation of changes between what is in the book and what is accepted as historical results. An example is the record Joe Aguirre who had a few of his statistical accomplishments credited to Bob Nelson. The only significant problem with the book is in the player section. Many of the players who went on to play in the NFL are incorrectly noted as not starting games that they did start. This seems to have occurred because the Pro Football Refence website has many blank spaces for games started in player records. These blank spaces became 0s, when placed in the book.
The book concludes with a bibliography and index. The index is the standard of helpful, but not overly exciting. However, the bibliography is a bit unusual. For instance, there are six newspapers listed with specific dates. This suggests that each had a singular purpose, but what would a December 17, 2009 issue of the Houston Chronicle have for a book on the AAFC? Without a note of explanation, it leaves a reader to guess, perhaps it was a date of death for a player.
As a one-stop resource for all things AAFC, this book does a nice job of providing most researchers the information they will need in a single easy, readable, resource. The book does not decisively settle the arguments on the comparative player skill and public interest between the two conferences, but this book will provide a fine launching point for those wishing to continue the debate. The history combined with all the detailed statistical data make this book highly recommended.
This book may be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800 - 253 - 2187.
James C. Sulecki’s The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, 1936 – 1945, is the first book to examine the history of the Cleveland Rams and the context surrounding the team’s move to Los Angeles. This work grew out of arguments posed by John Dietrich that the Rams could have thrived in Cleveland and Hal Lebowitz identifying a gap in accessible information on the Cleveland Rams. Sulecki desired to have more people know that the much-traveled Los Angeles Rams were originally from Cleveland and to demonstrate that the team did not have to move from Cleveland, save for the greed of owner Dan Reeves.
The book starts by examining the founding of the Rams in the AFL. They almost won the championship their first year, but finished several percentage points behind the Boston Shamrocks. Unfortunately, Boston didn’t pay all their players and could not come to play, in what would essentially be a championship game, against the Rams.
While still in Cleveland, the Rams moved into the NFL in 1937.They had some difficulties in the new league, performing badly the first few years and being disorganized in general. In 1941, Dan Reeves, a New Yorker, bought the team and expressed interest in moving it to Boston. However, he decided, or more accurately, was forced to not move the team as the schedule for the season was already set. In 1942, with attendance down throughout the league, the Rams finished 5 – 6 and barely drew over 4000 fans for their final game. They chose to skip playing the 1943 season, due to low turnout and numerous players throughout the league joining the war effort. In 1944 they were back in action, this time going 4 - 6, but a solid nucleus developed. The following year, the Rams were greatly improved and even made the NFL Championship game. This turn-around was credited to the addition of the team “hero”, Bob Waterfield, who is the only player with substantial background information included in the book.
The 1945 championship season, in particular the championship game, receive a comparatively large amount of coverage. The theme of the coverage is Waterfield’s strong play and that people were coming out to support the Rams. In one of the oddest championship games, in large part due to weather conditions, the Rams beat the Redskins 15 to 14.There were over 30,000 fans in attendance, well-short of the likely 50,000, if the weather had not been freezing cold and snowy. In the chapter entitled “Public Be Damned”, Sulecki describes how Reeves, with the help of an incoming Cleveland Browns team, was able to convince the NFL owners to let him move his team to Los Angeles.
Unlike many McFarland books, there is not a significant amount of back matter. Endnotes and an index are included. There is also an excellent biography, separately listing every article used. However, aside from these standard inclusions, there is only a brief seven page appendix of what happened to thirty-one different players connected to the Cleveland Rams. Sites, such as pro-football-reference.com, allow easy access for a researcher to find the sort of statistical data that could be included here as an appendix. Some additional data, such as a list of players or results of the team for each season, would be a nice addition without expanding the book excessively.
Though it is clear that Sulecki disapproves of the Rams moving to Los Angeles, arguing that Reeves moved the team unnecessarily and solely motivated by greed, the research is thorough. Therefore, the book is to be recommended for both Cleveland and Rams fans alike.
This book may be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800 - 253 - 2187.
Kenneth R. Crippen’s The Original Buffalo Bills: A History of the All-America Football Conference Team, 1946 – 1949 is an attempt to examine the difficulties and celebrate the successes of one of the lesser known All-America Football Conference (AAFC) teams.
The historical narrative begins logically – first with the formation of the league, and then the building of the team. Crippen highlights the role of the head coaches, first Sam Cordovano and then Lowell “Red” Dawson. The next six chapters are a verbal chronology of the seasons, touching on most every game, and the most attention being given to team quarterback, George Ratterman. Finally, the last chapter focuses on Buffalo’s attempts to join the NFL, where they fell four votes short (9-4, with a unanimous vote needed.)
With the historical narrative ending in just 116 pages, the reader might be concerned about a lack of full coverage, but Crippen makes good use of the almost 200 pages of appendices. The first appendix is a very standard schedule and roster for each year, with final standings also included. The second appendix is a detailed statistical report for each game. The third appendix is the Bill’s performance data sorted by opposing team for the reader’s convenience. The fourth appendix is an all-time roster where players are not just listed, as is the common practice, but includes a brief biography, usually a paragraph or two, for each person. Sources are listed in the biography, but no chapter notes exist for this section. The rest of the back matter is the standard material including chapter notes, an extensive bibliography, and index.
For those interested in the AAFC, team histories or mid-century football, there is much to enjoy in this well-crafted, thoroughly researched monograph. For researchers looking to do similar work, this should be considered a good guide for short team histories.
This book may be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Please note: I will likely have a minor involvement in next book in this series – The 1958 Baltimore Colts
The 1966 Green Bay Packers, edited by George Bozeka, will be published by McFarland and Company in June, 2016. The book celebrates the team’s 50th anniversary and purports to focus on all aspects of the 1966 Green Bay Packers, a one volume encyclopedia, though that word is never used. The book is divided into five sections. The first three are the typical ones that you would expect to find in this sort of work – sections on coaches, games, and players. The fourth and fifth sections are more unusual, focusing on the stadiums and finally the photographers and journalists who covered the 1966 Packers.
Section I focuses on the organization. This starts with a chapter on Vince Lombardi rather than a chapter on the history of the Packers up to that point. This could be considered a bit unusual, but the 1966 Packers were certainly Lombardi’s Packers, so such order is understandable. Chapters in this section also include the assistant coaches and finally a chapter on how the team was put together using primarily the draft, which was standard practice at that time.
Section II examines the games. Some of these games, especially the Packers 56 to 3 shellacking of the expansion Atlanta Falcons, are very lightly covered. While their close battles against the Colts are covered more thoroughly, it is the playoff games that get, by far, the most extensive coverage. The NFL Championship game, an exciting and too often ignored affair, gets almost the same amount of coverage, as the Super Bowl. One of the nice perks is inclusion of some great photographs (they are black and white in the pdf, but I don’t know how they will appear in the book) of the games.
Section III covers many of the players, highlighting their whole career, but focusing on the 1966 season and/or the players’ time with the Packers as was appropriate. For many of the still living Packers, interviews were conducted and are part of the research done for each player. For the more famous players, some books are used, but the primary sources are newspapers or various team publications. For players like Bart Star and Paul Hornung, there are, many places to go for much more information. For a player, such as rookie Phil Vandersea, who never started a game in his four-year career, this volume is one of the few, perhaps the only, that has a chapter devoted to him. It might be nice to have the players’ statistical tables given, but these statistical charts can be easily found on line.
Section IV and V are the sections that are a bit of a surprise. The PFRA makes a point to include chapters on the stadiums and the journalists/photographer who covered the Packers most thoroughly. Unlike every other NFL team, the Packers split their home games between two stadiums. This section explains how that developed and how it was handled from 1953 to 1994, when the split between Milwaukee County Stadium and Lambeau Field ended. The Lambeau article details the situation after 1994, up to almost the time of the writing of the book.
Section V examines those who covered the Packers. These chapters included the coverage of the newspaper sports reporters from both Green Bay and Milwaukee. The Game by Game announcer, Ray Scott, and the photographer, Vernon Biever are also covered, especially Biever, who was once NFL Photographer of the Year.
This review is being done from an uncorrected proof pdf. Therefore, it is impossible to comment on the quality of the publishing. However, there is no reason to believe that the book will not live up to the high standards in binding and print that are usually seen in McFarland books.
Thus, this book does exactly what it purports to do. It celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Packers and covers every aspect of their season. The work is highly readable, has some nice photographs and provides a thoroughness that will allow all fans, even knowledgeable Packer fans, to learn something new.