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  • The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL by Jackson Michael
  • Zachary J. Garceau
Michael, Jackson. The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. Pp. xiii+ 336. Photography, timelines, appendix, and index. $29.95 hb.

Throughout The Game before the Money, author Jackson Michael allows former National Football League (NFL) players to tell their stories, which are both honest and fascinating. The text is composed of short accounts given by a plethora of retired NFL players with varying degrees of success and longevity in the game. Michael is careful to include players with a wide range of experiences, from fifteen-year veterans such as Bart Starr to one-season wonders like Johnny Lattner. This includes players who began their careers in the 1930s and 1940s to players who played as recently as 1989.

The work is divided into four sections, separating players whose careers began in different decades. Michael is able to present the tales of a surprisingly large number of players who had their start in the NFL prior to 1950. While these players provide fascinating anecdotes about legendary figures of professional football, including Curly Lambeau and George Halas, the raw and unfiltered dialogue of these narratives tends to take away somewhat from their intended purpose. For instance, in the tale told by Chuck Cherundolo, the quote “I wish I could remember his name. I used to remember the signals; why can’t I remember stuff like that? I was thinking of him the other day” (7) feels unnecessary and distracts from the larger issues.

According to Michael, he “wished to know these men beyond stereotypes, learn about their lives and celebrate their contributions to both the game and our country’s culture” (xi–xii). The author largely succeeds in this endeavor, as he allows many of the players he interviews to discuss their accomplishments and their feelings regarding the changing culture of the game and the country as a whole.

Interestingly, Michael does not mention money in any capacity while laying out the intentions of this work. Instead, he states that he would allow the players to tell their life stories from their perspective. Despite this, nearly every story concludes with commentary on the money they made as players and how it compares to the salaries of today. In several instances, these discussions of money do not feel organic, but instead appear to be a product of the interview process utilized by the author. While those being interviewed present several pertinent problems that many former players face, each section lacks a formal conclusion that would have been helpful in piecing the stories of individual players together to form a more cohesive message.

Despite these issues, the text is still a useful resource that contributes to a steadily growing field. Unlike his predecessors in the field of football history through first-hand [End Page 433] player accounts, Michael does not avoid difficult issues and allows his subjects to be candid and to discuss the hardships they have faced in both the past and the present. In the preface of this work, Michael states his intention: “To document both football history and the individuals who played the game while conveying what it’s like to be a pro football player” (xii). In many ways, this intention shines through, and, over the course of reading The Game before the Money, readers discover that “what’s it’s like to be a pro football player” is not a universal experience.

While the accounts conveyed by Michael vary greatly, certain topics such as increasing player salaries, inadequate retirement benefits, and health problems faced by former players surface far more than others. Nearly every player interviewed has an opinion on these matters, and both the players and the author convincingly communicate exactly why these opinions deserve to be heard.

Jackson Michael never explicitly proclaims any desire to enact changes in the way that retired NFL players are treated by the league and the Players’ Association through this book, yet works such as this are the ideal medium through which concerns can be voiced. Instead, he provides...


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pp. 433-434
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