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NFL Football

NFL Football: A History of America's New National Pastime

Richard C. Crepeau
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    NFL Football
    Book Description:

    Founded as an obscure sports body, the National Football League has grown into a multi-billion-dollar colossus and cultural phenomenon at the center of American sports. In this wide-ranging history, Richard Crepeau synthesizes scholarship and media sources to give the reader an inside view of the television contracts, labor issues, and other forces that shaped the league off the field and all too often determined a team's success on it. He devotes significant attention to Commissioner Pete Rozelle's leadership during an explosive period of growth fueled in part by pro football's conquest of Monday nights, the merging of celebrity and athletics, and the transformation of the Super Bowl into a mid-winter spectacle with record TV ratings. Crepeau also delves into the league's masterful exploitation of media from radio to the internet, its ability to get taxpayers to subsidize team stadiums, and its success in delivering an outlet for experiencing vicarious violence to a public uneasy over the changing rules of masculinity. Probing and learned, NFL Football tells an epic American success story peopled by larger-than-life figures and driven by ambition, money, sweat, and dizzying social and technological changes.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09653-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    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 product of the willingness of government at all levels to subsidize sport. It benefited from an increasing concern over issues of masculinity in a sedentary world, and from expressions of masculinity through vicarious violence. Above all it was the product of any number of...


    • 1 The First Pros
      (pp. 3-19)

      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 U.S. history.

      In 1920, the first season of the American Professional Football Association (renamed the National Football League in 1922), average attendance at games reached just over four thousand, with the largest crowds estimated at between ten thousand and...

    • 2 Depression and War
      (pp. 20-32)

      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 ʺfailuresʺ under the old rules. Out of work and struggling day to day, many Americans felt as if the rules of the American capitalist system had been turned on their head.

      Dreams were shattered as few American institutions or businesses came through the economic crisis unscathed. Some did not...

    • 3 The NFL Comes of Age
      (pp. 33-52)

      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 worldʹs 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 of living. For entertainment and sport, this resulted in a corresponding rate of growth. When coupled with the rapid expansion of the television industry, the first fifteen years of the postwar period produced a...


    • 4 Moving to Center Stage
      (pp. 55-73)

      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 and a negative sense.

      On the field 1959 was a memorable year. Vince Lombardi became the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, coming from the New York Giants, where as offensive coordinator he had developed a...

    • 5 A Troubled Decade
      (pp. 74-91)

      The decade of the sixties can be characterized by an assault on what David Zang termed the ʺAmerican One Way.ʺ 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 ʺAmerican One Wayʺ was a product of the cold war that demanded cultural conformity and unity against communism. In some ways it is linked to the Puritan concept of a ʺcity on a hillʺ and American exceptionalism. The ʺAmerican One Wayʺ took...

    • 6 The Perfect Television Game
      (pp. 92-111)

      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 important, perhaps even critical, to the AFL, it became increasingly important to the NFL. During the ʹ60s the NFL and television developed a relationship in which the senior partner was not always easy to identify. Was...

    • 7 The Cartel
      (pp. 112-125)

      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 the term ʺrevenue sharingʺ developed a sacred aura over the years, where dedicated owners had pulled together for decades to produce this successful sports enterprise, surely the achievement of prosperity...

    • 8 Unraveling
      (pp. 126-134)

      Though the loss of the court case to the LAMCC and Al Davis ensured a decline in Pete Rozelleʹs 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 than anything careened out of control, especially in the ʹ70s and ʹ80s. The commissioner did demonstrate effective leadership in handling the challenge by the new United States Football League (USFL).


    • 9 Labor Conflict
      (pp. 135-152)

      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 generation. That solidarity has been attributed to the ownersʹ status as outsiders in American life: Catholics, Jews, and immigrants. The solidarity might also have been the result of several decades of struggle for survival, during which mutual...


    • 10 A New Era
      (pp. 155-170)

      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 fester.

      The selection process was a long one. Fifty hours of committee debate, four meetings at various sites across the country, and eleven ballots finally led to an announcement on October 26, 1990, that Paul Tagliabue was...

    • 11 Defending the Shield
      (pp. 171-190)

      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 co-chair of the Commissioner Search Committee, knocked at Goodellʹs hotel room door, Roger was delighted, overwhelmed with emotion, but hardly surprised. When he graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1981, Goodell wrote a letter to his father, the former senator from New York, telling him that he wanted to accomplish two things in life: become commissioner of the NFL and make his father proud of him.¹

      Armed with little more than...

    • 12 Super Sunday
      (pp. 191-208)

      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 Observerʹs superb columnist, once noted that sports heroes reflect and amplify ʺthe fixationsʺ of their society. It is who they are and what they do. It is also what sports cultures do. Both offer a distorted or exaggerated version of social reality and social values, and this happens whether one sees positive or negative images emanating from sport.¹

      For even the most casual observer of contemporary American culture,...

  8. Postscript
    (pp. 209-212)

    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 men who came together to try to bring order out of the chaos in the semipro game, and with some luck and skill, to turn a profit.

    The obstacles faced in the formation of the league,...

  9. APPENDIX NFL Franchises
    (pp. 213-218)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 219-236)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-244)
  12. Index
    (pp. 245-256)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-260)