the national forgotten league

Reviewed by Richard C. Crepeau, University of Central Florida

2 January 2013       archive

Dan Daly, columnist for the Washington Times, has been writing about professional football for over thirty years and brings his skills and memory to bear in this entertaining and informative look back on the first half century of the NFL. Broken into five sections, one for each decade starting with the 1920s, Daly wanders through many forgettable moments of the National Football League.

In this case forgettable does not mean insignificant, obscure, or irrelevant. It simply means that in the larger scheme of the sweep of history, what Daly brings would not necessarily end up in a serious history of the NFL, even though some probably should. Each of the five sections of the book offers a variety of materials, much of which will not be found elsewhere.

Each section begins with a listing of some basic facts comparing the first and last year of the decade, as well as the Hall of Fame players and coaches active at each end of the decade. This is followed by what Daly designates as "Talking Points," a potpourri as pithy observations characterizing each decade. From there the field is wide open.

In each decade Daly produces lists of various kinds, such as "Ten Defunct Nicknames" or "Ten Great Players Who Never Played in the NFL." There are odd bits and pieces of information scattered through each section; e.g. the "Number of the Decade," or "An Item That May Interest Only Me." At one point you will learn that Otto Graham was a neighbor of Dr. Sam Sheppard as well as Graham's changing views on Sheppard's murder conviction.

Despite the lightness of much of the book there are some informative and significant extended essays. One concerns the end of the helmetless player. Another traces the history of the soccer style kicker in the NFL that began in the college ranks. One particularly interesting piece looks at the origin and development of the T-Formation, and the often overlooked contribution of Clark Shaughnessy, who Daly describes as "a brilliant offensive and defensive mind." (p.171) Shaughnessy used his defensive talents to develop the nickel defense. An extended essay on Sid Luckman and his familial connections to organized crime figure Meyer Luckman is quite interesting, as is the fact that it was a subject seldom touched by the media.

The biggest disappointment is the limited treatment of the African American player. Although there is some good material on the subject, for the most part the topic was treated without depth or explanation, including both the beginning and the end of segregation in the NFL.

The treatment of each decade ends with a section titled "What I've Learned." Here Daly puts together a string of quotations from some person of interest associated with the NFL. Some of these quotes are trite but collectively they offer yet another window on professional football from the point of view of an insider.

Daly ends his trip through the five decades with a final list: "FIFTY REASONS WHY THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS OF PRO FOOTBALL ARE BETTER THAN THE SECOND FIFTY." (p.379-383) Reason number one sealed Daly's argument, "The personal seat license hadn't been invented yet."

And so this trip into the past rolled on from one factoid to another, one list to another, one surprise to another. For those looking for a history of pro football with analysis and depth, for the most part it will not be found here. If you are looking for little known facts, fascinating stories and information, fun, and occasional insights into the NFL, then this is a good place to begin.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard C. Crepeau

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