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The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved…
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The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football

by John J. Miller

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For once I actually bothered to acquire this book on purpose rather than receiving it for free. Because of that, I'm doubly motivated to be honest about it.

On the positive side, the book does cover a rather little-known period of history. We don't often give much thought to the early-early history of football and in traditional history classes the wars get all the coverage. The life of collegiate athletes during the early 1900s is vastly under appreciated. Our author also does a great job of pulling forth some interesting tidbits from the period and stitching them together. In a vast deviation from my usual habit, I'm keeping this book on the shelf to read again in a year or so. It's just that informative.

On the negative side, the whole Roosevelt connection is a bit of a sham. Yes, he agreed with the idea of keeping football around but his role was tiny when compared with others of the time. His portrait is on this book just to sell copies of it. Admittedly, that's what got me to buy it but I did feel rather duped at the end. Further, the author does have some wonderfully history encapsulated in this book but it can get rather tedious. Events are not described in chronological order, are often repeated and sometimes just plain muddled. Organizationally this could use some work.

In summary, a lot of really nice factoids here for the patient. A bit of a misrepresentation as titles go, but still well worth the read. ( )
  slavenrm | Aug 23, 2013 |
Review originally published on my blog: AWordsWorth.blogspot.com

Being the football nut I am, there was no way I could pass this one up. I haven't read much football history, and had no idea Teddy Roosevelt had anything to do with football - let alone saving it. Boy, did I learn a lot! John Miller did a wonderful job of blending fact and narrative - even though I was reading a lot of history and biography, it read like a story. Or possibly a collection of stories, since Roosevelt is not the only person spotlighted.

The Big Scrum is a look at the beginning of football in America: the very beginnings of "'pick-up games" and the evolution into a bloody battle-esque game that raised eyebrows even as it attracted a growing fan-base. To understand football, you have to understand everything surrounding it's "birth" and evolution, and Miller introduces the ideologies and mindsets that helped football prosper. Movements such as "Muscular Christianity" and the growing realization that a healthy, active nation will become a powerful nation. I loved getting a glimpse of the way "athletics" infiltrated society - even appearing in popular literature. I also loved watching the development of a distinctly American game - football - out of the English traditions of soccer and rugby.

In addition to the cultural and intellectual history presented, Miller also looks at the lives of key players in the development of American athletics, as well as football itself. While the primary focus is on Roosevelt: his life, his impact on society and nation, as well as his personal involvement with physical exertion and contests, particularly his love of football, other figures who are mentioned are examined more closely, to offer insight into their various positions on the issue. It adds a roundness, a completeness to the argument that my inner-historian appreciates. (My inner-historian also geeked out at Miller's use of a variety of sources, including a lot of primary sources that really added depth and merit to the study). And of course, I loved the story too, the way football grew, was attacked and almost did not survive, and then through masterful negotiations and much passion, it rose from the mud as that glorious past time I live for every fall.

A wonderful nonfiction offering that reads as a pleasure book, with a ton of historical information presented in a manner that intrigues and excites rather than overwhelms. (Why didn't anybody tell me you could do history like this?) It's football history, yes, but a reader with an interest in Teddy Roosevelt or America in the Gilded and Progressive eras will also appreciate The Big Scrum. ( )
  RivkaBelle | May 10, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061744506, Hardcover)

The intriguing, never-before-fully- told story of how Theodore Roosevelt helped to save the game that would become America’s most popular sport.

In its infancy during the late nineteenth century, the game of football was still a work in progress that only remotely resembled the sport millions follow today. There was no common agreement about many of the game’s basic rules, and it was incredibly violent and extremely dangerous. An American version of rugby, this new game grew popular even as the number of casualties rose. Numerous young men were badly injured and dozens died playing football in highly publicized incidents, often at America’s top prep schools and colleges.

Objecting to the sport’s brutality, a movement of proto-Progressives led by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot tried to abolish the game. President Theodore Roosevelt, a vocal advocate of “the strenuous life” and a proponent of risk, acknowledged football’s dangers but admired its potential for building character. A longtime fan of the game who purposely recruited men with college football experience for his Rough Riders, Roosevelt fought to preserve the game’s manly essence, even as he understood the need for reform.

In 1905, he summoned the coaches of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to the White House and urged them to act. The result was the establishment of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, as well as a series of rule changes— including the advent of the forward pass—that ultimately saved football and transformed it into the quintessential American game. The Big Scrum reveals for the first time the fascinating details of this little-known story of sports history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:38 -0400)

The never-before-fully-told story of how Theodore Roosevelt helped to save the game that would become America's most popular sport. During the late nineteenth century, the game of football was a work in progress that only remotely resembled the sport of today. There was no agreement about many of the basic rules, and it was incredibly violent and extremely dangerous. Numerous young men were badly injured and dozens died in highly publicized incidents, often at America's top prep schools and colleges. Objecting to the sport's brutality, a movement of proto-Progressives tried to abolish the game. President Theodore Roosevelt, a vocal advocate of "the strenuous life" and a proponent of risk, acknowledged football's dangers but admired its potential for building character. In 1905, he summoned the coaches of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to the White House. The result was the establishment of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, as well as a series of rule changes that ultimately transformed football into the quintessential American game.--From publisher description.… (more)

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