sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Interesting review of a football book in the N.Y. Times Book Review: Michael MacCambridge's America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation.

According to reviewer Richard Sandomir,"America's Game" is "rarely about players, except those who became symbols," like Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown.

The book is more about what makes "sensible businessmen worth billions fork over admittedly illogical sums for a sports team."

Owners like Dan Reeves, who prospered greatly after he moved the Rams from Cleveland to Los Angeles, and Paul Brown, for whom the Cleveland Browns are named and who is widely credited for developing the modern game.

But the central figure, Sandomir writes, is Pete Rozelle, the former public relations man and Rams general manager who oversaw the sport's phenomenal rise in the 1960s after he became commissioner. Rozelle's "sophisticated marketing led him to realize that the gospel of pro football he preached would be spread by having its own studio, NFL Films, and licensing division, NFL Properties," Sandomir writes. Rozelle also secured the anittrust exemption that allowed the NFL to negotiate its TV package with CBS.

While the game is thriving today, the NFL's days of executive glory are over.

MacCambridge's narrative "becomes disjointed in search of a continuing theme after Paul Taglibue's election," Sandomir writes. "There are few great men now. Oh there is a character like Jerry Jones, the Arkansa oilman who bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 and fired one of the great men, Tom Landry."

So the book is basically a business history of the NFL, which fascinates me because pro football because, unlike baseball, evolved so quickly into the game that we know and love today. And we do love it.


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