Midweek books: An early history of the NFL

The University of Nebraska Press is a treasure trove of terrific books about sports and sports history, and a new issue about the early days of pro football by Washington Times sports columnist Dan Daly looks to be a real treat.

In the “National Forgotten League: Entertaining Stories and Observations from Pro Football’s First Fifty Years,” Daly comments that “it’s amazed me how little literary attention has been paid to pro football’s early days.”

Picture 1In the days before the creation of NFL Films, and the arrival of Pete Rozelle and the television age, there was virtually no literature to speak of. Daly, a co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” points to the lack of newspaper coverage. By the time the NFL was created in obscurity the early 1920s, baseball and college football already had enjoyed decades of flattering prose by some of the best stylists in sportswriting and beyond.

As George Halas once observed: “The history of pro football will forever be preserved on film and not by the written word a la baseball.”

This 424-page volume is Daly’s effort to rectify that, after two decades of painstaking research, including the discovery of hard-to-find newspaper articles and other materials on tucked-away microfilm reels: “Up to now, the game’s early days have been a silent movie. I’m trying to turn them into a talkie.”

Daly breaks down what he calls his “scrapbook” by decades, and ends promptly at 1969, and not just because that year winds up his 50-year survey:

“At that point, in my mind, the party was over. Pro football will never be as fascinating as it was from the ’20s to the ’60s. It’s all about maintaining success now, protecting everyone’s investment. And that breeds conservatism. The league moves so slowly these days that it took thirty-six years to fix the obviously flawed overtime rules (for the playoffs, at least). If the AFL were still around, prodding the NFL into being better, the correction would have come much sooner.”

An excerpt published on ESPN.com in October recounts the NFL saga of one Steve Belichick, who started the 1941 season as the equipment manager for the Detroit Lions and wound up starring as a fullback. And later became the father of you know who.

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