A Note on Names and Nicknames x
Prologue: “War Football”
1: George Halas Sees His Future
2: Walter Camp’s Vision
3: Cupid Takes Aim at the Northeast
4: A True All-American at Camp Custer
5: Camp Sherman’s March through Ohio
6: Beckett’s Marines Conquer the West
7: Selling War Football
8: Brickley Kicks for Uncle Sam
9: Jock Sutherland’s Fighting Dentists Head Down South
10: Frank Pollard, Omar Bradley, and Race in War Football
11: Coach Ike
12: The Cleveland Navy Battles Pop Warner
13: George Halas and the 1919 Rose Bowl
14: How Football Helped Win the War
15: The AEF Tournament
16: Peace and College Football’s Golden Age
17: War Football and the Birth of the NFL
Appendix 1: War Football Players
Appendix 2: All-Service Teams, 1917–1919
Appendix 3: War Football Records
About the Author
In this impressively researched volume, journalist Serb makes the plausible argument that the success of military service football during World War I prompted the establishment of the National Football League one year later. These games and teams demonstrated that fans would show up for post-graduate football that lacked college connections. Moreover, prominent figures such as Walter Camp and Gen. John J. Pershing expressed the view that football was useful in the training and fitness of soldiers, as well as providing men with a positive pursuit in their free time. Serb details the proliferation of service ball at U.S. military bases in 1917–18 while the army and navy were being assembled, and features extensive accounts of significant contests. Several soldiers who played service ball during the Great War would later play in the NFL, including George Halas, who would prove to be the driving force of the league for over 60 years as the founder and owner of the Chicago Bears. He and many other major players and coaches are profiled here. VERDICT For anyone interested in the early days of football and its interaction with the U.S. military, this book will prove to be a valuable reference.
In War Football, Chris Serb not only makes a strong case that football played during The Great War “created an environment where professional football could finally succeed on a large scale,” but also crafts one of the more complete records of the game as it was played at various stateside training camps.... Although he recognizes that professional football was becoming more popular before the war, he argues that the pros suffered from a lack of organization, a dearth of known players, and negative public perceptions. He makes a persuasive case that the taste for gridiron glory that was extended for many former college stars during the war, along with the athletic networks that they formed in the various training camps, set the stage for a postwar surge in professional football’s popularity.... With an engaging narrative that is accessible to a wide audience, Serb’s book should interest academics and general readers. It also would be a good read for undergraduate students in a football history course, as well as for those in a more general course on World War I. War Football is well worth a read.
. . . an enjoyable page-turner. . . This account of how the war impacted the growth of the sport takes us in a different direction from previous histories that focus on Walter Camp, George Halas, or the sport’s semi-professional roots. Serb’s analysis of the impact of WWI as a situational factor provides a new way to understand the sport’s growth.
11/16/20: Author interviewed on podcast Sports' Forgotten Heroes discussing the book.