MIKE CARLSON'S FIVE (Or So) FAVOURITE FOOTBALL BOOKS
Essential reading for anyone interested in the overall history of the NFL is Michael MacCambridge's America's Game, a comprehensive survey of the rise of the league to its position of dominance in American sport. It's particularly well-written, and as far as I can tell, accurate on the issues of business that are so important behind the scenes; it is also scrupulously balanced in its portrayals.
In stark contrast, Jeff Miller's Going Long is a very entertaining oral history of the American Football League, patterned after Terry Pluto's classic Loose Balls, which did the same thing for the American Basketball Association. The players aren't quite as wild as the ABA stars were in their day, but the owners probably are, and it's eye-opening to see exactly how disorganised top-flight American sport was in those days, in contrast to today's corporate world. I often make the comparison between the pre-Rozelle NFL and the Rugby League in Britain: this book shows you the truth of that analogy—while the MacCambridge shows you just how far the NFL has gone since then.
Breaker Boys by Dave Fleming comes from the days when you'd be hard-pressed to separate pro football from early rugby league. It's the story of the 1925 Pottsville Maroons, who were the best team in the fledgling NFL, but still are not recognised as the champions, because they played an exhibition game in Philadelphia, territory of the Frankfort Yellow Jackets, and just as it does today, money talked and the Maroons walked. It's somewhat repetitive in its writing, but it's a great story.
My favourite football biography is J. Brent Clark's Third Down And Forever, the story of Joe Don Looney, an immensely talented running back who lived up to his surname. It was perhaps his misfortune to come to the NFL in the Sixties, when his non-conformist nature was both confronted by the military and could be indulged out of it. Dave Meggyesy's 1970 Out Of Their League tells a somewhat similar, but much less moving and tragic story, about the changing times of the Sixties; it was billed as a football version of Jim Bouton's Ball Four but is much more than that. Weeb Ewbank called it 'communist hogwash', which is a good enough endorsement for me.