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  #1  
Old 03-22-2016, 09:41 AM
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TanksAndSpartans TanksAndSpartans is offline
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Default Top 100 Pro Football Books of All-Time By Chris Willis, NFL Films

100-81: http://nflfootballjournal.blogspot.c...=1458503604530

80-61: http://nflfootballjournal.blogspot.c...l-time_95.html

60-41:http://nflfootballjournal.blogspot.c...l-time_18.html

40-21: http://nflfootballjournal.blogspot.c...l-time_19.html

20-1: http://nflfootballjournal.blogspot.c...l-time_20.html

I thought this might give us some good discussion - all collectors are motivated differently, but for me learning about the players, the teams, the times, etc. especially from the eras that predate my memory and/or birth is a big part of what sparks my passion for collecting. And heck, with the prices and difficulty in obtaining some of the out of print books, an argument could be made that the books themselves are collectable.

I’m definitely going to use Willis's list to find some future reading. Here are the ones I’ve knocked out already:

88) The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game
87) The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays
86) Monster of the Midway
74) Passing Game: Benny Friedman and the Transformation of Football
69) The First 50 Years/75 Seasons
46) Headslap: The Life and Times of Deacon Jones
37) The Scrapbook History of Pro Football
36) Red Grange and the Rise of Modern Football
26) The Sunday Game: At the Dawn of Professional Football
18) Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football
16) Pro Football's Rag Days
10) The Game That Was
7) Fatso! Football When Men Were Really Men
3) What a Game They Played

I’ll add comments on just a few for now, but I’m always happy to discuss further. I consider 87 a great unexpected find - I bought it for the Xs and Os, but its much more than that - fun to read, good history, great player analysis etc. I recommended 18 to a fellow board member because I think it’s a fantastic historical overview, the kind of book I would say read this one first and go into specific areas from there depending on what sparks your interest. 7 is the only one I can’t recommend - probably it’s just my taste, but I didn’t enjoy it and took exception to a few of the things said like Chuck Bednarik can’t block. Really? Finally, I stumbled on 26 as a result of a Kindle search - I like it so far, but I’m still pretty early on and it isn’t the only thing I’m reading, so its going to be a while before I finish.

Last edited by TanksAndSpartans; 03-22-2016 at 09:43 AM. Reason: typos/grammar
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  #2  
Old 03-22-2016, 05:35 PM
th38larg th38larg is offline
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I just read #4 When Pride Still Mattered this past fall. It paints a fascinating portrait of Lombardi and is really well written. I highly recommend the book whether you are interested in football or not.
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  #3  
Old 03-22-2016, 06:39 PM
revmoran revmoran is offline
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the list is incomplete because Chris Willis is too modest to post any of his own books on it - the Joe Carr book the Dutch Clark book and at least one other he wrote would be in my top 40.
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Old 03-22-2016, 06:46 PM
jefferyepayne jefferyepayne is offline
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Interesting, John. I've knocked off six of the top 20 but to me there's some glaring omissions in this list unless I missed them.

Bob Carroll's books are scattered throughout but I didn't see The Early History of Professional Football. It is my go to book for pro football history prior to the NFL.

Also didn't see The Man Who Build the National Football League. It's about Joe Carr and is excellent.

Finally, no Breaker Boys! Can't have a list of football books without this epic about the Pottsville Maroons.

jeff

Last edited by jefferyepayne; 03-22-2016 at 06:48 PM.
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Old 03-22-2016, 07:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jefferyepayne View Post
Interesting, John. I've knocked off six of the top 20 but to me there's some glaring omissions in this list unless I missed them.

Bob Carroll's books are scattered throughout but I didn't see The Early History of Professional Football. It is my go to book for pro football history prior to the NFL.

Also didn't see The Man Who Build the National Football League. It's about Joe Carr and is excellent.

Finally, no Breaker Boys! Can't have a list of football books without this epic about the Pottsville Maroons.

jeff
Great list, thank you John.

100% agree with the unfortunate omission of the Breaker Boys and their stolen Championship. Great book!

Last edited by pariah1107; 03-22-2016 at 07:06 PM.
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  #6  
Old 03-22-2016, 09:36 PM
Hot Springs Bathers Hot Springs Bathers is offline
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Great list, thanks for posting John. I have over 500 football books both pro and college and have about 80 of these.

The thing that struck me this afternoon while looking at the list was --yes, there are some great books here-- but there are also some really bad books on the list. Poorly written and researched. I have to agree with George Plimpton, the smaller the ball the better the books. Golf and baseball as a whole offer a much deeper run of really good books.

Don't get me wrong I love football and the goods news is that I think unlike those other two sports football is just now coming upon some really good books like the two Chris has done mentioned above. Let's hope we have a bright future on the shelf with football books.
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  #7  
Old 03-22-2016, 11:16 PM
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Awesome! - I’m glad you guys liked this. And I enjoyed reading all of your points as well. I had a few follow up observations too:

-Jeff and Mike M. pointed out one of the same books - Willis’s own bio of Carr. Like Mike M. said, probably due to modesty, Willis didn’t include any of his own books, but several were deserving in my opinion. I thought his oral history book Old Leather was just as good as the 3 oral history books that made the top 10 for example.

I checked my own bookshelf and found these:

-Home & Away by Carl M. Becker: Given its basically a book about the Tanks and the Spartans, its in my top 5 easily, but Willis may have felt it to be too focussed to include.

-Vagabond Halfback - The Life and Times of Johnny Blood McNally: I’m guessing since Willis already had a lot of bios, he had to leave some out. My argument in favor is that this one is unique since it went out of its way to do some myth busting - I’d include it.

-Pro Football Championships Before the Super Bowl A Year by year History, 1926-1965: Now I know Mike M. doesn’t like this one because there is an obvious flaw. The first year ideally would have either been 1920, 1932, or 1933. By choosing 26, one might buy the book to read about the Yellowjackets and find the Quakers and Yankees on the first page! 1920 would have been a great year to start in my opinion. Even though there weren’t official championships, we all know that each year there was usually a game or two that was a defacto championship. That being said, this book is top 5 for me since I find myself referencing it more than any other book I own. What surprised me is that there seems to be a very similarly focused book by Jerry Izenberg on Willis's list. Does anyone have this one: http://www.amazon.com/Championship-c.../dp/B0007HL4J2?

-Breaker Boys: I was expecting to see this one on the list as well. The only thing that has always nagged at me was that I could’t find support for all the great things Grange said about Latone. Does anyone have the original 1954 “Grit Magazine” article?

Last edited by TanksAndSpartans; 03-23-2016 at 08:17 AM.
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  #8  
Old 03-23-2016, 07:37 AM
jefferyepayne jefferyepayne is offline
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Good catch on the Joe Carr book! I didn't even notice that the person who wrote it was the same person who wrote that article LOL. His name sure looked familiar when I saw it!

jeff

Last edited by jefferyepayne; 03-23-2016 at 12:52 PM.
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  #9  
Old 03-23-2016, 12:25 PM
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Went over the list after writing down the books I have in my library. I only have 8 on the list, out of 25 books on football. I like modern autobiographies, so many of my favorites are not listed such as "Quiet Strength" by Tony Dungy and Nathaniel Whitaker. One I did not see that I really enjoyed was : "The Heisman" by Bill Pennington, a collection of stories about past Heisman winners.

As far as lists go, an excellent one. Though I have a hard time including "Paper Lion", but not "North Dallas Forty" (technically semi-pro fiction I guess).

Last edited by pariah1107; 03-23-2016 at 06:29 PM.
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Old 03-24-2016, 01:22 PM
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I have read No. 20 on the list, "Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe." I am surprised to see this book on this list because it is not really a "pro football book." Only a small portion of the book deals with Thorpe's pro football endeavors.

The book is the most detailed Thorpe bio I have read, however. Most Thorpe bios deal simply with the 1912 Olympics, losing his medals and his time at Carlisle. Kate Buford's book is different, however, in that she also deals extensively with Thorpe's Indian genealogy, his baseball career with the New York Giants, his time as a B-movie actor in Hollywood and his sad descent into alcoholism/being unable to hold a job over the last two decades of his life.

For me, the most revealing fact I learned in the book is that the famous "Thanks, King" reply that Thorpe supposedly uttered to King Gustav V during the medal presentation at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics never actually happened.

The book is meticulously sourced and provides a fair portrayal of both Thorpe's positives and negatives. His generosity and kindness to people he didn't even know is thoroughly detailed. On the other hand, his inability to hold a job, drinking problems and lousy job as a father are also detailed. A couple items that really stood out to me in the book were Thorpe's son Bill calling him "...one mean son of a gun" and son Jack also saying, "As a father, he wasn't worth a ****."

The impact of Thorpe being stripped of his 1912 Olympic medals is emphasized throughout the book. It was hard not to feel sad when reading Thorpe's somber wishes that he wanted his Olympic medals brought to Carlisle if they were ever returned to him posthumously, "I was happy there, for a little while" he sadly lamented.

Last edited by Bored5000; 03-24-2016 at 08:28 PM.
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Old 03-24-2016, 02:50 PM
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Great post Eddie - thanks for that. What I knew about Thorpe was pretty much Wikipedia level and then I read Home and Away and Thorpe wound up being a figure because he coached Portsmouth right before their NFL entry. I mentioned to Jeff that I found it odd that he would just quit the job right before the tie breaking "title game" and Jeff mentioned that it's documented that he was always suspicious of people trying to get more out of him. I'm guessing this book doesn't touch on his time in Portsmouth though since its a really insignificant time at the tail end of his football days.

Last edited by TanksAndSpartans; 03-24-2016 at 02:51 PM. Reason: grammar
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Old 03-24-2016, 04:35 PM
judsonhamlin judsonhamlin is offline
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I've read a few on that list - mostly AFL and 70's era stuff, but was surprised that Badasses by Peter Richmond didn't make the cut. It's really a good book both about the Madden-era Raiders and as a management style manual. In fact, a friend who works for a big package delivery service uses it when he does management training in his company.
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Old 03-24-2016, 04:38 PM
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John, thanks for the kind words. I dug out my copy of "Native American Son" to see what it had to see about Thorpe's time in Portsmouth. The book is largely chronological, so there are a couple pages about Portsmouth. Here is a passage about Thorpe's time in Portsmouth that you may find interesting. The passage is referring to Thorpe's contract with City of Portsmouth director of public relations Jack Creasy:

"When Creasy set up a final, eleventh game of the season, Jim said he would neither coach nor play. His contract was for ten games, he said, not more. Though Creasy offered him a salary increase, he refused. Once again, he felt he was being used unfairly, though the Portsmouth manager and backers had clearly thrown themselves enthusiastically into building a winning team and were proud of their famous coach. Once he got a grudge in his head, he was too proud or too stubborn to act rationally. "

The book talks about Thorpe, even decades later, getting emotional and weeping about his lost medals when he would get intoxicated. Giants catcher Chief Meyers, who roomed with Thorpe during Thorpe's baseball career, told of Thorpe crying when talking about being stripped of his medals and even having trophies given to him by the King of Sweden confiscated by Carlisle coach "Pop" Warner. Meyers told of Thorpe weeping while saying, "Those trophies were given to me by the King of Sweden."

Pop Warner's cut of Thorpe's salary with the New York Giants would even make boxing promoter Don King blush. Thorpe received a $6,000 a year contract upon signing with the Giants, as well as a $500 signing bonus, Meanwhile, Warner received $2,500 for guiding Thorpe to the Giants. That kickback from the Giants was half as much as Warner made for the year at Carlisle in salary.

The book also touched on Thorpe never recovering emotionally from the death of his son (James) in 1919 at the age of 16 months. Thorpe was said to become more bitter upon the death of his young son.

I also remember a story in the book about Thorpe having to be restrained from attacking Giants manager John McGraw after McGraw called him a "dumb Indian" for making a baserunning blunder.

I live 45 minutes from Jim Thorpe, Pa., and the "Thanks, King" story is so pervasive and ingrained that even Thorpe's monument in the town where he is buried tells the apocryphal story of Thorpe's reply to King Gustav V.

Last edited by Bored5000; 03-24-2016 at 04:58 PM.
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Old 03-24-2016, 09:19 PM
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If you haven't read Carlisle v Army I would recommend that. However, it wouldnt be eligible for the list because it has nothing to do with Thorpe's pro career. It is fascinating nonetheless. The author was able to find enough info to give detailed accounts of many of the games Carlisle played in that 1911(?) season. It also goes into detail on the childhood of Thorpe and Eisenhower and tells a fascinating narrative about the historic context of the Carlisle-Army game.
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Old 03-25-2016, 09:01 AM
Hot Springs Bathers Hot Springs Bathers is offline
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For more on Thorpe and Carlisle you might try Sally Jenkins THE REAL ALL AMERICANS from 2007. It gives a very detailed account of football at Carlisle and not only great stuff on Thorpe but of all the other players detailing the differences between the tribes they came from and how they were treated at the school.

Sally is not as good as her Dad the great Dan Jenkins but she can write!
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Old 03-25-2016, 01:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bored5000 View Post
John, thanks for the kind words. I dug out my copy of "Native American Son" to see what it had to see about Thorpe's time in Portsmouth. The book is largely chronological, so there are a couple pages about Portsmouth. Here is a passage about Thorpe's time in Portsmouth that you may find interesting. The passage is referring to Thorpe's contract with City of Portsmouth director of public relations Jack Creasy:

"When Creasy set up a final, eleventh game of the season, Jim said he would neither coach nor play. His contract was for ten games, he said, not more. Though Creasy offered him a salary increase, he refused. Once again, he felt he was being used unfairly, though the Portsmouth manager and backers had clearly thrown themselves enthusiastically into building a winning team and were proud of their famous coach. Once he got a grudge in his head, he was too proud or too stubborn to act rationally. "
Thanks Eddie - nice find - I wasn’t expecting that to even be mentioned in the book.

I once wrote up a wordier perspective on the same events. My version condenses and paraphrases what I read because in “Home & Away” Becker has a whole chapter on this season:

In late summer of 1927, things didn’t look good for the Portsmouth Presidents. But then Jack Creasy bought their equipment, got some corporate funding, and went after a player-coach… none other than one Jim Thorpe. By late September Thorpe was in Portsmouth ready to take charge of the team now known as the Shoe-Steels. Given Thorpe’s age, from what I recall, it was never planned for him to be a 60 minute man. I believe one newspaper mentioned that the plan was he would go in and play the second half of the games. But, he was still the coach, and as such had responsibility for running practices, etc. - the success/failure of the season would be on his shoulders. Thorpe wound up battling injuries all season. He definitely had some games where he starred and led the team to victory (especially with his foot) and some other games he missed entirely with injuries. It was a season that finally saw the dominant (non-NFL) team in the region, the Ironton Tanks, have a down year. There would be a new "champion" and with the second best record, the Steels positioned themselves to have a shot at the title. It was all set up that the Steels would play the Ashland Armcos for the championship of the Ohio Valley and the Tri-State.....

This is where things get weird (or so I used to think). A few days before the big game, for an undisclosed personal reason, that may or may not have had to do with his dogs (Becker didn't get into this, he just mentioned dogs may have been used as an explanation for needing to leave. It made sense to me at the time since I thought of the Oorang Kennels, but knowing what I know now, I'm not even sure why the dogs were mentioned). Anyway, Thorpe wanted to leave Portsmouth before the "championship" game. He argued his contract, which was for 10 games had been fulfilled. Creasy did his best to get him to stay, but Thorpe left. The Steels would lose the game. With just minutes remaining and the Steels leading 6-0, Johnny Stuart of the Armcos returned a punt 54 yards to the two which would soon result in a touchdown and a successful point after. The final score was 7-6. Despite the disappointment, Portsmouth had gotten a taste of what is was like to play for a title and things were just getting warmed up for them. They would eventually fulfill that dream in 1935, but it was bittersweet as they would do so in a different city. What I was wondering is what if Thorpe had wanted to be a part of the team right when they were on the cusp of success? History could’ve been completely different, the name of Jim Thorpe might have become synonymous with the Portsmouth Spartans! Would they have still had to go to Detroit or could they have somehow become another Green Bay? But given this new insight into Thorpe, it all makes more sense now.

P.S. What you mention about the apocryphal story of Thorpe's reply to King Gustav V., reminds me a lot of some of the myth busting done in Johnny Blood's bio.

Last edited by TanksAndSpartans; 03-25-2016 at 01:29 PM.
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  #17  
Old 03-25-2016, 03:43 PM
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I mention one Jim Thorpe story in relation to Jimmy Claxton's many attempts to integrate baseball in my book (sorry for self-promotion), here's the excerpt;

"In a demonstration of the preposterous chances of Claxton integrating Southern California baseball; the PCL's Vernon Tigers turned down an offer to acquire Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe. Though he had hit .330 the previous season, Vernon manager Essick shot down the trade for Thorpe because, 'He was too good', and 'figured the Indian could not be blended in his baseball machine - that he wouldn't harmonize with the pale-faces on the club, either in temperament or pigment.'" (Los Angeles Times, February 7, 1921)

Too good?

Last edited by pariah1107; 03-25-2016 at 04:31 PM.
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Old 03-26-2016, 11:38 AM
revmoran revmoran is offline
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Sorry to go off topic but I also thought the Kate Buford book was brilliant. My father knew Jim Thorpe and actually did a stint dressing up as an Indian for a barnstorming basketball team Thorpe organized called "World Famous Indians" I was doing some research on this and spoke on the phone with Grace Thorpe, Jim's daughter, who directed me to the Marion, Ohio, Historical Society where they had some clippings. So I've collected some nice Thorpe material, including a photo of him with Grace http://hapmoran.org/wordpress/?p=121 and this photo of Jim with his sons Carl Philip, 5, on the left, and William, 3, on the right. Carl Philip had a very interesting life - here is his obit:

CARL P. THORPE, 58, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, died of cancer March 18, 1986, at Walter Reed Hospital. Colonel Thorpe was the son of Jim Thorpe, the American Indian who won two gold medals at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm and then had them taken away on the grounds that he had once played professional baseball. The Colonel participated in the campaign to have his father's medal returned. In 1982, 29 years after the star athlete's death, the campaign succeeded when the International Olympic Committee voted to restore his honors.

Colonel Thorpe retired from the Army in 1974 with 30 years of service, most of which were spent in intelligence and communications security assignments. He was a veteran of World War II, the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam. His decorations included a Bronze Star and four Legions of Merit.


Last edited by revmoran; 03-26-2016 at 01:13 PM.
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Old 04-13-2016, 08:27 PM
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Just finished this one:

81) The Red Grange Story by Red Grange as told to Ira Morton

There were a few really interesting tidbits like Grange mentioning Potsy Clark as a favorite player as a youth, the details of his injury (I would have never guessed he was going up for a pass with Trafton covering - I always kind of assumed it was a dirty play or late hit), Grange's views on Pyle (very positive and complimentary), and what was I think the only drop of drama in the book - his account of walking out of a banquet when Zuppke (whom he loved) made negative comments about his turning pro (but even this was glossed over when he said we both forgot about it the next day). It felt like he gave more detail on his college days than his pro days and among his pro experiences I think there was more emphasis on the Yankees than the Bears (Eddie Tyron probably got his name mentioned more than any other pro teammate.) Despite some positives and the overall optimistic tone of the book, in my opinion, even though it was a relatively short fast read, I didn't think there was enough in there... Not enough information that can't be easily gleaned from other sources, not enough of his opinions, not enough depth to the majority of events covered, etc. Probably not a great choice for me as I don't particularly like autobiographies, but it was Red Grange and super cheap via a third party seller on Amazon, so I gave it a try. Looks good on my shelf and the cover picture of him holding a 77 jersey superimposed over what looks like a classic photo of him running the ball in the background is pretty cool.

Last edited by TanksAndSpartans; 04-14-2016 at 11:42 AM. Reason: Safari auto correct drives me crazy
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Old 04-14-2016, 05:28 PM
revmoran revmoran is offline
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On the Sally Jenkins book - this review on Amazon highlighted some serious historical deficiencies

Poor Research
ByJames G. Sweeney on September 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
Don't be fooled by the media blitz behind this book. It is filled with serious errors and is the product of poor, second hand, research. The "Long Knives" metaphor around which this book is built is just plain false. Jenkins picked that up from Babe Weyand's first book. He, in turn picked it up from none other than the less than believable 1940-50's sportscaster Bill Stern who included it in a 1948 ghost written book for juvenile readers without single authoritative source behind it. In a lengthy series of correspondence and ghost written articles Warner never mentions the Long Knives pep talk once. Nor do authoritative and contemporaneous (with Warner) football historians such as Allison Danzig and Tim Cohane. As to the double wing, Warner's correspondence, newspaper articles and interviews reveal that the Warner was using the single wing in 1906 and the double wing in 1910. Even Army in this game used the single wing as were many other teams in the Country. The Indians didn't consider Army very important. The "Big Four" (Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale) were far more important to Carlisle and Warner than Army. As to Ike. He was a bit player on a terrible "D" who was knocked out of the game when, comic book like, he and his teammate Charley Benedict collided headon in a missed attempt to "high low" Thorpe in the 3d quarter. If the "Long Knives" metaphor can be distilled into one game it is the 1905 game between Carlisle and the Cadets at West Point - seven years closer to Wounded Knee - and a game far more important on the national stage than the 1912 game. It took a special act of the War Department to be played at all. Jenkins doesn't even mention it. The Indians won that game too. Want more? See my "There Were No Oysters - The Truth About the 1912 Army vs. Carlisle Game" which I wrote earlier this year in response to Jenkins' and Lars Anderson's companion book about the 1912 game.

Last edited by revmoran; 04-14-2016 at 05:29 PM.
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Old 04-16-2016, 11:44 PM
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On this look, I just looked at the 20-1 post.

As someone that doesn't read much, I was shocked to find that I've read the #1 book. I've actually read it a few times. That's saying something with as little as I read. Right now I'm trying to read a book by Dave Revsine...again. I'm on my second attempt.

I owned "The Hidden Game of Football" from the time I was a kid. However it was on the bookshelf in my old room when my dad's house burnt down a couple of years ago.

I have "Fatso." Perhaps I should go dig it out.
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