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Thursday, February 3, 2005

The Casual Critic — Myron Cope's The Game That Was

My Eagles are in the Super Bowl. That's right, my Eagles. Of course, I'm merely a fan, but that's how any good fan thinks of their team. So, as the two-week hype-a-thon continues, and broadcasters in Philadelphia debate (literally) whether or not Terrell Owens was limping as he got off the plane in Jacksonville, I figured it was the perfect time to read Myron Cope's The Game That Was: The Early Days of Pro Football.

Cope essentially set out to write the football version of The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter, which covered the beginnings of pro baseball. I haven't read the book, but hope Ritter used a lot more narrative than Cope. While Cope's collection of interviews has it's moments, it ultimately falls short of what it could have been.

Cope merely offers the transcribed words of his interview subjects, only offering explanation or context when he felt it necessary. While Ed Healey, Red Grange, Ole Haugsrud, and the like may have been great football players and the forefathers of today's game, great writers they are not. I admit I was more interested in the guy's I've heard of — Art Rooney, Steve Van Buren, and George Halas — I think Cope's method was the real problem.

The chapter on Marion Motley and Bill Willis proved it to me. These are the two guys credited with breaking the color barrier of the modern game. I'd never heard of these guys, but unlike the other chapters this one had a very specific part of football history to tell and stuck to it. I thought it was the most interesting, and readable, chapter of the book.

While other chapters allowed interviews to ramble a bit, there are certainly some nuggets the dedicated football fan will enjoy. Contract squabbles are far from new, a franchise was once sold for a buck, and T.O. won't be the first to play with a broken bone.

Published in 1970, the book offered one unique aspect to today's reader that I doubt could have ever been intended—perspective on the unending love of "the way things used to be." The book opens bemoaning the soon-to-come day when pro football was going to solely be played in domed, climate-controlled stadiums, which I read while the biggest story leading up to the 2005 conference title games was the weather. Readers also hear plenty from the early players about "today's stars," who are now the guys griping about present stars.

This one might be tough to find (though I found it for a more reasonable price than the link our site received for it), but it might be worth it for the true fan of football history.

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