The Big Scrum

The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football
John J. Miller
HarperCollins, 2011

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.

Book provided by my local library.

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