Review Detail

Great Overview of Football History
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
Fred Bowen's fictional sports books are usually tied to an event in sports history, so it makes perfect sense that he would eventually turn his hand to an anecdotal history of football. Starting with the early days of the sport, and dividing it into four "quarters", Bowen explores and explains the development of this beloved but controversial American pastime by using short but illustrative stories. From the beginning of the NFL in a car dealership in Canton to the diagnosis of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in player Mike Webster, Bowen deftly choses specific instances that mirror the evolution of the sport as a whole. This manages to cover a wide array of topics both on the field and off. We learn about the development of gear, strategies, plays, and positions but also how football was shaped by the culture of its times. There are well known stories, such as the 1967 Ice Bowl, but also lesser known ones that could use whole books of their own, such as early African American players Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall who played in 1916!
Good Points
Each story is brief but powerful; I don't know if high school speech teams have a Prose and Poetry division any more, but there were a couple of stories that made me want to work them into a speech for competition, since they made me tear up a little bit! The accompanying illustrations will appeal to young readers, since Ransome's colorful style has a sense of urgency and movement to it.

I was impressed by the variety of stories, and it's odd to think that football has been played for over 100 years. Bowen reaches into the past to tell stories that help understand why this sport has appealed to both players and spectators, and has worked its way into popular culture: I had no idea what kind of player Deacon Jones was, but I remembered his name because he appeared as himself on an episode of The Brady Bunch.

While there are huge numbers of nonfiction football books about football teams and players, they are often formulaic and a bit lacking in literary quality and emotion. Readers who have enjoyed more specific football history books like Sheinkin's Undefeated : Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, or McClafferty's Fourth Down and Inches, or other overviews like Shenolikar's Football Then to Wow! will find that Gridiron delivers exciting and evocative stories that entertain but also beg to be investigated more thoroughly. This is a must purchase for elementary and middle school libraries, especially where Bowen's fictional titles circulate well.
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