By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Part 5 of 5
When compiling my list of the Top 100 Pro Football Books of All-Time I had just a few criteria that I kept to. Of course the book had to mainly be about pro football, so sorry no Friday Night Lights. I also took
Numbers # 20-1
20) Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe by Kate Buford (Knopf, 2010) The single best volume written about Jim Thorpe. Beautifully written and well-research Native American Son is the definitive biography on the man who brought pro football to the mainstream. This is another book that once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. Only one other football biography is higher on the list.
19) When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore: A Father and a Son, a Team and a Time by William Gildea (Houghton-Mifflin, 1994) Similar to John Eisenberg's Cotton Bowl Days, When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore by William Gildea, sportswriter for the Washington Post, writes a moving memoir of his childhood in Baltimore and his connection with the Colts. Focused around his relationship with his father and their shared love for the Colts, Gildea writes with heart about a kid's and a town's love for their football team. Gildea fills his memoir with memories of his favorite team and interviews with all the key coaches and players of the Colts' golden era of the 1950's and 1960's.
18) Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football by Robert W. Peterson (Oxford University Press, 1997) Former magazine editor and author of Only the Ball Was White, about the segregated Negro Leagues, Robert Peterson does a yeoman's job covering the early history of pro football in a lively and easy-to-read manner. Roughly 200-pages long, if you want a short, concise book on the early
17) Finding the Winning Edge by Bill Walsh with Brian Billick and James Peterson (Sports Publishing, Inc., 1997) Published in 1997 Finding the Winning Edge is the ultimate coaches "textbook" on how to run a football team. Written by former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh, with the help of Brian Billick and James Peterson, the 550-page bible wasn't that big of a best-seller when it was published. But since '97 the book has taken on a life of its own among football coaches of all levels and front office executives. A one-of-kind book that only the Genius could have pulled off.
16) Pro Football's Rag Days
15) Run to Daylight! By Vince Lombardi with W.C. Heinz (Prentice-Hall, 1963) During one week in the 1962 season Packers head coach Vince Lombardi sat down with
14) The Pros: A Documentary of Professional Football in America by Robert Riger with commentary by Tex Maule (Simon & Shuster, 1960) The Pros
13) Pro Football: It's Ups and Downs, A Light-hearted History of the Post Graduate Game by Dr. Harry A. March (J.B.
12) Total Football and Total Football II (Turner Books, 1997/Harper-Collins, 1998) No football fan, writer or historian can have a football library without having a copy of Total Football in it. The precursor to popular websites of
11) The Hidden Game of Football by Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer and John Thorn (Warner Books, 1988) Nearly a decade before Total Football the trio
And Now the Top 10!
10) The Game That Was by Myron Cope (The World Publishing Company, 1970). One year after the release of Pro Football's Rag Days, author Myron Cope (his second book on the list after Off My Chest, # 52) delivers The Game That Was, an oral history of early pro football. Cope interviews the key players of the early days of the NFL including Red Grange, Johnny Blood, George Halas, and Dutch Clark. But Cope interviews a few newer subjects that played in the 1940's like Marion Motley, Bill Willis and Bobby Layne. But two of
9) When The Grass Was Real: The Ten Best Years of Pro Football by Bob Carroll (Simon & Schuster, 1993). Written in 1993 by Bob Carroll, the founder of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) and arguably the best football historian that ever lived, When The Grass Was Real takes us back to one of the sport's greatest decades- the 1960's. According to Carroll, that decade was the best ten years of football and takes the reader back to the AFL-NFL war and a game that "celebrated the days of mud, sweat, and cheers." Told in Carroll's own unique way and loaded with over a hundred photos and illustrations (by Carroll himself) one can't put this book down once they have started reading.
8) The Golden Age of Pro Football: A Remembrance of Pro Football in the 1950's by Mickey Herskowitz (MacMillan, 1974) What Carroll did
6) A Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football/ The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football by Paul Zimmerman (Simon & Schuster, 1971, updated 1984) Another cult classic of football fans and historians, A Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football by Paul Zimmerman, the long-time pro football writer
Sports Illustrated, is packed full of different ways of watching and interpreting the game of pro football. The first edition was written in 1971 and then updated in 1984 as the game on the field of
5) Halas by Halas: The Autobiography of George Halas by George Halas with Gwen Morgan and Arthur Veysey (McGraw-Hill, 1979) The highest autobiography on the list goes to only one man- George Halas. One of the original founders of the NFL Halas finally got around to writing his story, with the help of long-time newspaper and
4) When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss (Simon & Schuster, 2000) The best football biography ever written to date. David Maraniss's masterpiece
3) What a Game They Played by Richard Whittingham (Harper & Row Publishing, 1984) The third oral history book of early pro football on this list, What a Game They Played is simply the best. Author-Historian Richard Whittingham interviewed 18 subjects from the NFL's
2) The Pro Football Chronicle: The Complete (
And Now Number # 1!
1) America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge (Random House, 2004) Written in 2004 America's Game by Michael MacCambridge is quite simply the top pro football book of all-time. Beautifully written and well researched MacCambridge tells the unique story of how the NFL, starting with state of the NFL during World War II and the 1958 NFL Championship Game, went on to dethroned baseball as the country's favorite sport. T