The NFL is the king of American pro sports, but it wasn’t always this way. In his book The National Forgotten League: Entertaining Stories and Observations from Pro Football’s First Fifty Years, Washington Times sports columnist Dan Daly recounts pro football’s rocky beginnings. Bill Littlefield spoke with Daly about the book and why today’s NFL isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be.
Ah, football’s good old days, when some guys wore leather helmets, and other guys wore no helmets at all, because they felt they ran faster without them.
Dan Daly’s The National Forgotten League is full of stories about events that transpired on forgotten fields as the rules of pro football were still in the development stage. For example, there used to be no rule preventing a team that wasn’t going to the playoffs from renting a player to a team that was. For that matter, there was apparently no rule stipulating that all the teams should play the same number of games.
Though Mr. Daly’s own favorite characters in the book are no doubt fearless players and rogue team owners, mine is a humble fellow known as John D. “Bonesetter” Reese. He was known to the pro players of the ’20s as “Doc,” though Reese was more physical therapist or chiropractor. He was well-regarded and did a lot of work on the knees, shoulders, and necks of various football gladiators. But eventually he stopped taking them on as clients, because he grew tired of seeing them leave his office healthy, only to undo his good work the next weekend.
Daly collected stories like that in part because, as far as he could tell, nobody else had done it. But apparently he was also driven by the conviction that the game the pros play today is not nearly as interesting as the one their predecessors played. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether he’s right, and football fans will have a fine time doing so.