Wednesday, October 19, 2011

#77: Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football by Robert Peterson

New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 256 pages

Robert Peterson is best known for his excellent treatment of the Negro Leagues, Only The Ball Was White. This text breaks down the history of pro football until roughly 1950. The first two thirds of the text is excellent, with a great amount of info about the pre-1920 pro game and the infancy of the NFL.

Who was the first professional player? The first to be paid for tackling someone? The perfectly named William "Pudge" Heffelfinger, that's who. No, I am not making that up. Pudge Heffelfinger; what a great fucking handle for a football player. Just like old baseball players, old football players had better names. Who is on my all Name Team? I'm glad you asked!

1. Carlester Crumpler, Tight end 1994-1999. It would have been better if he had been a defensive tackle, so people could say "Crumpler Crumples the Ball Carrier."
2. Pudge Heffelfinger, Tackle 1892: Would you make fun of him? "Hey, pull my Heffelfinger!" That's a whoopin'.
3. Johnny McNally: member of the Hall of Fame, better known as "Blood". Blood McNally! Sounds like a drunk Irishman who would just whip some ass. He was and he did. This made him an excellent player, but a terrible coach.
4. Bulldog Turner: 1940-1951. 237 pounds of spit-knocking blocking power on a 6'1 frame. One of the Monsters of the Midway in the 1940s.
5. Dick "Night Train" Lane. I would give my right nut to have the nickname "Night Train". How cool would that be? I would walk into a room, men would say "Hey Night Train!" I would nod at them but not say anything, women would swoon and I would nod some more. But only in that I'm-cool-back-off sort of way. I got stuck with Barney. Damn it!

Anyway, back to the book. The one complaint I have in Robertson's treatment of the development of the league is the lack of diagrams of such things as The Flying Wedge, The Single and Double Wing, The T Formation, The Flying J and the Double Buffalo Wing With Dressing. That's a small complaint, and they are easily found online. Robertson's style is straightforward and his research is excellent. The first few chapters about football before the advent of the NFL is the true strength of the book. The Rust Belt is the true home of professional football, and why the Big 10 does the best tailgating. The SEC can suck hot dogs on that one. What were the football hotbeds of the Wilson Administration? Ohio and Indiana.

Robertson also includes an excellent bibliography, which I am finding is becoming a lost art in this day and age. Lousy internet.

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