- The Lost Century of American Football: Reports from the Birth of the Game
Though a collector rather than an academic historian, Greg Gubi has nevertheless compiled the best single volume of primary sources on nineteenth-century football. Although bereft of analysis, the chronological arrangement of the text and the judicious selection of articles represent a treasure trove for sport historians. The content of the book covers only the nineteenth century but provides an extensive inquiry starting in 1801.
A brief introduction accounts for the development of the game, its ties to masculinity and war, the growing rivalries between colleges, the brutal nature of play, commercialization and the resultant faculty control of student teams, the lexicon of the sport, and the Social Darwinian and racial aspects of media coverage. The introduction is followed by eleven sections of varying length that chronicle the growth and evolution of tactics, strategies, and techniques throughout the century. Among them are Lorin F. Deland’s development and explanation of the flying wedge based on military attack principles, complete with an illustration (pp. 439–442). Prescient predictions foretell the coming of professional teams representing American cities (p. 443) and an emphasis on field goals and speed (p. 787).
The text is immeasurably enhanced by hundreds of photographs and illustrations from as early as 1849 depicting techniques, teams, players, prominent personalities, media cartoons, etc. that will prove a boon to teachers preparing class presentations. Among the artists featured are Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington. Charles Dana Gibson, et al. [End Page 506]
A quotation by W. Cameron Forbes, coach at Harvard and later Governor-General of the Philippines, exemplified the racial context of the era: “Football is the expression of strength of the Anglo-Saxon. It is the dominant spirit of a dominant race, and to this it owes its popularity and its hopes of permanence” (p. 787). Given such a social context the vast majority of coverage considers elite college teams, although Gubi does consider the exploits of two prominent African-American athletes of the late nineteenth century, George Flippen of Nebraska and William Henry Lewis of Harvard, as well as the rise of the Carlisle Indians as a football power.
The volume gives ample coverage to the role of football in the construction of American masculinity. Women are provided with a muted voice as feminists in cartoons but largely as spectators.
An extensive index covers the wide variety of topics addressed and an attractive website (www.LostCentury.com) provides a good example of the value of the book for researchers, teachers, and fans of the game. Gubi’s forthcoming publication of early women’s sport promises to be of similar quality and value.