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  • Walter Camp and the Creation of American Football by Roger R. Tamte
  • Clint McDuffie
Tamte, Roger R. Walter Camp and the Creation of American Football. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018. Pp. xiii + 408. Index, notes, illustrations, photographs, select bibliography, and appendix. $24.95, hb.

After capital campaigns by both Yale University and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a memorial to Walter C. Camp was dedicated on November 3, 1928, with the inscription "Walter Camp Field" (306–7). Such a memorial conveys the significant contributions made by Camp not only to the institution of Yale but the broader spectrum of American sporting culture. In Roger R. Tamte's expansive review of Camp's [End Page 429] life and contributions, a reader gleans insight into Camp's formative years up through his death. Tamte chronologically brings the reader along in his narrative as he addresses a simple question that is the basis for this project: "What would American football be—would there even be an American football as we know it—without Walter Camp" (xiii)?

This work is structured in seven parts with fifty-two chapters that funnel into answering Tamte's initial question on Camp's influence. Relying on a trove of secondary and primary sources, including Camp's own public writings, notes, and personal correspondences, Tamte methodically parallels the narrative of football's formation into its modern form and the life and accomplishments of Camp. For instance, as a youth, Camp attended Hopkins Grammar School and routinely attended Yale sporting events. He eventually enrolled at Yale in 1876 where he played and captained the football team, among other sports. Tamte used Camp's early years at Yale to depict how football lacked cohesive rules, structure, and officiating. Also, in 1876, the nascent structure of a football conference began between Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. The three schools agreed on representatives to meet and outline rules and adhered to them during their matches. This information sets Tamte's foundation for his focus on Camp's influence in the rules-making process. However, Tamte also covers Camp's personal life, including his business career, for example, Camp's rise to president of the New Haven Clock Company and his decision to invest in wrist watches that kept the company solvent. Nonetheless, the most attention is on Camp's years on the influential Intercollegiate Football Association Rules Committee and his various roles concerning Yale athletics. It was through these endeavors that Camp earned his memorial.

On the topic of committee work and rule-making, Tamte's research is at its strongest. Committee members were chosen by each institution and made up of former players, school officials, and a team's captain. Camp was consistently included by Yale, and in this role, he wielded the most influence. He spoke out against instituting a forward pass, while at the same time sponsoring the four-down rule. He felt the forward pass was too difficult to officiate and four downs require strategy over force. According to Camp, if football lost its basis in strategizing and was dominated by brute force, then the sport no longer benefited students. Nonetheless, his capacity on these committees, as well as his popular writings and speeches, prompted admirers to refer to Camp as the father of American football.

By thoroughly reviewing the rules-making process Tamte builds a comprehensive summary of the game's formative years. As part of his review, the author covers the formation of the Intercollegiate Football Association, the NCAA, the Amalgamated Rules Committee, tensions between college leaders, President Theodore Roosevelt's intervention, and Camp's ambitions in great depth. However, Tamte does not present in his writing the concern for the game's violence as a fulcrum for driving rule changes. Although he does report on the number of deaths, particularly between 1905 and 1912, and various objections from college presidents because of the game's brutality, violence is downplayed as a significant cause for rule changes.

Tamte's narrative ends with Camp's struggle to maintain a grip on the rule-making process. Camp's goal of growing the game's popularity was accomplished, but football's growth and success were also Camp...


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pp. 429-431
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