Although the Super Bowl is at the hub of Doeden’s story, he also follows the evolution of professional football from mud bath to cultural institution and beyond.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the sport rose above the status of Midwestern semipastime. It was during that decade, Doeden explains, that the owners of the 11 professional teams created what was to become the National Football League. Of equal importance, writes Doeden, a championship game was established. It didn’t matter that it was held on a field that was 20 yards short “and hadn’t been properly cleaned after a circus had been in town.” Still, “it didn’t take the league long to discover that playoff games made a lot of money.” Doeden easily negotiates all the brouhaha surrounding the upstart American Football League and the inevitable path to a clash between the two leagues. Sidebars complement the accounts of great contests, memorable plays, and halftime extravaganzas (tactfully dodging the wardrobe malfunction). Doeden doesn’t mince words when it comes to chronic traumatic encephalopathy: “A 2016 study showed that 40 percent of retired NFL players showed some sign of brain injury.” His big question is equally frank: “How far can the rule changes go before the game itself stops resembling the game that fans love?”
A memorable and thought-provoking work of sportswriting that transcends the excitement of championship games. (Nonfiction. 8-14)