Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Book Review: Birth of the New NFL

Birth of the New NFL: How the 1966 NFL/AFL Merger Transformed Pro Football by Larry Felser tells the story of the 1966 NFL/AFL merger, as you might guess from the subtitle. Felser's primary problem in telling the story is he's working on pretty well-trod ground. Michael MacCambridge's excellent America's Game tells the story of the merger pretty well, and does a very good job of placing the merger in the context of the pre-merger war and the post-merger transition into the combined whole.

Felser's book covers a narrower time-frame and consequently has to either tell the broader story with less gloss or drill down on some of the more topical aspects. He goes with the latter path, only the way he drills down is by writing about the late-season contests that determine the representatives in the Super Bowl. The problem is, these stories aren't very interesting to the broader scope of his story. There's a potentially relatively interesting story, about how things could have been different if, say, the Raiders had won the 1968 AFL title and played the Colts in Super Bowl III, but that's an inherently trickier story than Felser's more straight-forwardly historical narrative.

Beyond that I didn't quite get the value-add of Felser's book after previously reading MacCambridge, Birth second primary drawback is it's not as well-done as MacCambridge's book. I'd expect a book by a veteran journalist (long-time Buffalo News scribe and head of the Pro Football Writer's Association) to be better proof-read and error-checked.

This review probably makes Birth sound worse than it is. It's not that it's a bad book, just that it fails to supersede or improve upon in any real manner an earlier book on the same topic. Read America's Game if you haven't, or re-read it, and feel free to skip Birth of the New NFL.

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