The first fifty years of the National Football League, according to Dan Daly—Washington Times sport columnist—were years of “creation” and “struggle,” but “they were the best fifty years of the league” (p. 377). “Nicknames were more numerous and more imaginative” (pp. 309, 382). “Smaller rosters—and more limited substitution—forced players to multitask” (p. 380), making the game safer and adding more serendipity to the action and outcome of the game.
Daly’s major complaint about the changes in professional football that took place after the 1960s is that “the enterprise has become exceedingly corporate” and while “professional football is still a joy to watch,” (p. 377) it just is not as much fun to follow as it was during the decades that featured the drop-kick and quick kicks, part-time players, twelve-game seasons, quarterbacks who called their own signals, low-scoring games, and the evolutionary refinement of the T-formation.
The organization of The National Forgotten League is more closely related to a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! book than to a traditional sports history book. It is divided into sections [End Page 338] covering each decade from 1920 through 1960. Each section starts with a set of statistics covering the last year of the previous decade and the final year of the decade to be discussed. The statistics are followed a list of the Hall of Fame coaches and players who populated the decade and talking points meant to characterize the game during that period. Then, a series of Believe It or Not! anecdotal stories are told that are meant to characterize the mood and context of professional football during that decade.
By and large, the stories are both little known and interesting. Of particular interest are the stories about Sid Luckman’s gangster father (who murdered his brother-in-law and ended up in Sing-Sing Prison), Otto Graham’s friendship with the notorious accused murderer Sam Sheppard, Paul Brown’s inability to develop promising defensive players, and how a small clique with George Halas and Tim Mara at its core manipulated the league’s schedule to their advantage. Yet, as interesting as these stories are, they do not add up to a history of the first fifty years of the NFL.
On the other hand, The National Forgotten League is an entertaining book, with lots of interesting facts and stories and well worth reading, if you are a football fan with a willingness to look in the rearview mirror.