War Football: World War I and the Birth of the NFL

Rowman & Littlefield. Jul. 2019.. 272p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781538124840. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781538124857. SPORTS.
In this impressively researched volume, journalist Serb (Sam’s Boys: The History of Chicago’s Leone Beach and Legendary Lifeguard Sam Leone) makes the plausible argument that the success of military service football during World War I prompted the establishment of the National Football League one year later. These games and teams demonstrated that fans would show up for post-graduate football that lacked college connections. Moreover, prominent figures such as Walter Camp and Gen. John J. Pershing expressed the view that football was useful in the training and fitness of soldiers, as well as providing men with a positive pursuit in their free time. Serb details the proliferation of service ball at U.S. military bases in 1917–18 while the army and navy were being assembled, and features extensive accounts of significant contests. Several soldiers who played service ball during the Great War would later play in the NFL, including George Halas, who would prove to be the driving force of the league for over 60 years as the founder and owner of the Chicago Bears. He and many other major players and coaches are profiled here.
VERDICT For anyone interested in the early days of football and its interaction with the U.S. military, this book will prove to be a valuable reference.

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