A History of America's New National Pastime
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Illinois Press
Series: Sport and Society
Title Page, About the Series, Copyright
I want to thank several people who have been indispensable in the completion of this project. Michael Oriard offered both guidance and encouragement in the early stages of research. Holly Pinheiro, my research assistant at the University of Central Florida, located sources and took notes on several important biographies and other works. Mel Adelman deserves special thanks...
The history of the National Football League unfolds across time, in many dimensions, carried along by those forces that have shaped modern American history. It was the product of forces transforming twentieth-century America into a consumer society pursuing leisure. It was a product of changing technologies: the automobile, radio, television, and the Internet. It was the...
I. The Formative Years
1. The First Pros
Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers took place at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on February 6, 2011, to determine the champion of the National Football League. Attendance was 103,219, just a few hundred shy of the Super Bowl record. Another 111 million saw the game on television. It was the biggest television audience in...
2. Depression and War
Great in depth and duration, the Great Depression left an imprint on the psyche of a generation of Americans. For the middle class it shattered the basic rules of achievement: work hard, live the frugal and moral life, and success will be your reward. Suddenly hard-working, morally upright Americans found themselves “failures” under the old rules. Out of work and struggling...
3. The NFL Comes of Age
The first decade and a half after the war brought tremendous change in American life. As the United States came to grips with its new status as the world’s preeminent economic and military power, the American public entered an age of consumption on a scale never before seen in human history. By the end of the 1950s disposable income was rising, along with the average standard...
II. The Rozelle Era
4. Moving to Center Stage
The year 1959 was a major turning point for professional football in general, and the National Football League in particular. The NFL went through its first setback in the new struggle with its players, a challenge from a new league, and a change of commissioner. The ramifications of these developments over the next decade were earthshaking for the NFL in both a positive...
5. A Troubled Decade
The decade of the sixties can be characterized by an assault on what David Zang termed the “American One Way.” This is the notion that in America and for Americans there was only one truth on any subject, and that particular truth alone held the floor in public belief and commanded conformity by all. In some ways the “American One Way” was a product of the cold war that demanded...
6. The Perfect Television Game
The engine that powered the new National Football League was television.
All else seemed to derive from it, as for three decades television provided
at least half of the annual revenue flowing into the league. It was the Great
Enabler for the league, the owners, the players, and for all those ancillary
enterprises associated in any way with the NFL.
While television money was...
7. The Cartel
When a joint business enterprise, or a cartel in the case of the National Football League, has great success in terms of massive revenues and considerable profit, one might envision a world of happiness and contentment. One might expect that as the pie grew, and as each piece of the pie got larger, those who fed off the pie would be grateful for their good fortune. In the NFL, where...
Though the loss of the court case to the LAMCC and Al Davis ensured a decline in Pete Rozelle’s ability to control NFL owners, there were other signs that the omnipotence of the commissioner was waning. One such sign was his failure, once again, to get an antitrust exemption from Congress, something the NFL had already failed to achieve in the courts. It was the drug issue that more...
9. Labor Conflict
It may seem ironic that the professional sport that had by some measures the poorest working conditions of them all was, in the end, perhaps the most difficult in which to organize a union. Some have attributed this to the nature of the game, in which nameless-faceless components could be easily replaced; others point to the solidarity and tenacity of the early ownership...
III. The New NFL
10. A New Era
Choosing a successor for Pete Rozelle was not an easy task. From a public relations perspective Rozelle still had a lot of luster left on his reputation, and as with many major public figures he seemed irreplaceable. Many, however, were relieved to see his departure and regarded it as an opportunity to end the intractable problems that he had allowed to develop and...
11. Defending the Shield
Roger Goodell seemed to have been born for the position of NFL commissioner, and he trained for the role most of his adult life. When Dan Rooney, the cochair of the Commissioner Search Committee, knocked at Goodell’s hotel room door, Roger was delighted, overwhelmed with emotion, but hardly surprised. When he graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1981, Goodell...
12. Super Sunday
Excess is a relative term. Many would agree that you know it when you see
it. Even at a glance, it is clear that excess defines the Super Bowl.
Mary Riddell, The Observer’s superb columnist, once noted that sports heroes reflect and amplify “the fixations” of their society. It is who they are and what they do. It is also what sports cultures do. Both offer a distorted...
The history of the National Football League is a remarkable story. The geographic origins of the league in the older Midwest were the product of the growing popularity of football generally, and the desire for those not attached to the college game to have access to football both as participants and spectators. It was the product of the entrepreneurial vision and skills of those...
Appendix: NFL Franchises
About the Author, Other Works in the Series, Production Notes
Richard C. Crepeau is a professor of history at the University of Central Florida and former president of the North American Society for Sports History. He is the author of Baseball: America’s Diamond Mind, 1919–1941...