He was a natural athlete… And he possessed the three most important qualities needed to attain greatness: the qualities of body, mind and spirit. He had what no coach or system can teach – football intuition… Knute Rockne


Those were the words Knute Rockne used to describe George Gipp the Notre Dame football player whose greatness was amplified by his early tragic death that allowed most to overlook the times when his halo was slightly askew. As Notre Dame sports historian Francis Wallace wrote, he was A most peculiar kind of saint. All of the players considered in these two books somehow fit that kind of definition. In a game that might not exist if it did not generate so much gambling revenue and that would not exist without the most outlandish public subsidies it is at least comforting to know there was a time when the players were not recruited from the thuggish classes and may have had some real merit as human beings.

Today the college games will begin being televised at 9 am and continue until past midnight. They will have huge audiences not all of who will be cheering their alma mater but most of whom may have part of their week’s wages riding on a point spread – which may be more important that a victory. Sunday fans will gather in public parking areas, burn meat and drink and somehow believe their identity is enhanced by being affiliated with players who have either gone through rehab, have yet to go through rehab, have been acquitted of felonies or are on parole being given one more chance that a lesser felon without their physical prowess would find hard to come by.

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It wasn’t always quite this bad and if you would like something for your team’s bye week either or both of these books is well worthwhile. And if you want to know why George Gipp is still remembered as lore has it these words were spoken from his deathbed:

I’ve got to go, Rock. It’s all right. I’m not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys — tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.

As Gipp requested, these words were used to inspire “the boys” in the November 1928 game against Army, and they did “Win one for the Gipper.”

Carlisle versus Army : Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the forgotten story of football’s greatest battle  Lars Anderson  New York : Random House, 2007  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 349 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG 

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A stunning work of narrative nonfiction, Carlisle vs. Army recounts the fateful 1912 gridiron clash that pitted one of America’s finest athletes, Jim Thorpe, against the man who would become one of the nation’s greatest heroes, Dwight D. Eisenhower. But beyond telling the tale of this momentous event, Lars Anderson also reveals the broader social and historical context of the match, lending it his unique perspectives on sports and culture at the dawn of the twentieth century.

This story begins with the infamous massacre of the Sioux at Wounded Knee, in 1890, then moves to rural Pennsylvania and the Carlisle Indian School, an institution designed to “elevate” Indians by uprooting their youths and immersing them in the white man’s ways. Foremost among those ways was the burgeoning sport of football. In 1903 came the man who would mold the Carlisle Indians into a juggernaut: Glenn “Pop” Warner, the son of a former Union Army captain. Guided by Warner, a tireless innovator and skilled manager, the Carlisle eleven barnstormed the country, using superior team speed, disciplined play, and tactical mastery to humiliate such traditional powerhouses as Harvard, Yale, Michigan, and Wisconsin–and to, along the way, lay waste American prejudices against Indians. When a troubled young Sac and Fox Indian from Oklahoma named Jim Thorpe arrived at Carlisle, Warner sensed that he was in the presence of greatness. While still in his teens, Thorpe dazzled his opponents and gained fans across the nation. In 1912 the coach and the Carlisle team could feel the national championship within their grasp.

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Among the obstacles in Carlisle’s path to dominance were the Cadets of Army, led by a hardnosed Kansan back named Dwight Eisenhower. In Thorpe, Eisenhower saw a legitimate target; knocking the Carlisle great out of the game would bring glory both to the Cadets and to Eisenhower. The symbolism of this matchup was lost on neither Carlisle’s footballers nor on Indians across the country who followed their exploits. Less than a quarter century after Wounded Knee, the Indians would confront, on the playing field, an emblem of the very institution that had slaughtered their ancestors on the field of battle and, in defeating them, possibly regain a measure of lost honor.

Filled with colorful period detail and fascinating insights into American history and popular culture, Carlisle vs. Army gives a thrilling, authoritative account of the events of an epic afternoon whose reverberations would be felt for generations.

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The first star : Red Grange and the barnstorming tour that launched the NFL  Lars Anderson  New York : Random House, c 2009  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 252 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In The First Star, acclaimed sports writer Lars Anderson recounts the thrilling story of Harold “Red” Grange, the Galloping Ghost of the gridiron, and the wild barnstorming tour that earned professional football a place in the American sporting firmament.

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Red Grange’s on-field exploits at the University of Illinois, so vividly depicted in print by the likes of Grantland Rice and Damon Runyan, had already earned him a stature equal to that of Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, and other titans of American sports’ golden age. Then, in November 1925, Grange made the fateful decision to parlay his fame in pro ball, at the time regarded as inferior to the “purer” college game.

Grange signed on with the dapper theater impresario and promoter C. C. Pyle, who had courted him with the promise of instant wealth and fame. Teaming with George Halas, the hard-nosed entrepreneurial boss of the cash-strapped Chicago Bears NFL franchise, Pyle and Grange crafted an audacious plan: a series of seventeen matches against pro teams and college “all-star” squads–an entire season’s worth of games crammed into six punishing weeks that would forever change sports in America.

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With an unerring eye, Anderson evocatively captures the full scope of this frenetic Jazz Age spectacle. Night after night, the Bears squared off against a galaxy of legends–Jim Thorpe, George “Wildcat” Wilson, the “Four Horsemen of Notre Dame“: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller, and Layden–while entertaining immense crowds. Grange’s name alone could cause makeshift stadiums to rise overnight, as occurred in Coral Gables, Florida, for a Bears game against a squad of college stars. Facing constant physical punishment and nonstop attention from autograph hounds, gamblers, showgirls, and headhunting defensive backs, Grange nevertheless thrilled audiences with epic scoring runs and late-game heroics.

Grange’s tour alone did not account for the rise of the NFL, but in bringing star power to fans nationwide, Grange set the pro game on a course for dominance. A real-life story chock-full of timeless athletic feats and overnight fortunes, of speakeasies and public spectacles, The First Star is both an engrossing sports yarn and a meticulous cultural narrative of America in the age of Gatsby.

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