An accomplished sports historian traces pro football's metamorphosis from a regional curiosity into a national obsession. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pro football was seen by athletes and organzers as a corruption of the purer, more noble college pasttime--never mind that many pros were collegians playing under assumed names. Today, universities fight a losing battle to keep their best players from bolting to the National Football League after a season or two on campus. With consummate skill and an impressive command of sources, Peterson (Only the Ball Was White, 1971, etc.) chronicles the persons and events that made this turnabout a reality. Formed in 1920 by a cabal of coaches, players, and team owners who gathered in a Canton, Ohio, auto dealership, the NFL was initially a loose confederation of teams representing such burgs as Duluth, Minn., Decatur, Ill., and Dayton, Ohio. By luring such high-profile college and ``amateur'' athletes as Jim Thorpe, Illinois's ``Red'' Grange, Stanford's ``triple-threat,'' Ernie Nevers, and Michigan's Benny Friedman, the league slowly gained acceptance. Star names on the marquees helped gain attention and fans for a new version of football, featuring liberalized ball movement and substitution rules, changes that helped to make the game (for better or worse) into the high-scoring attraction it is today. After WW II, a restless public hungry for a game with more action than the pastoral sport of baseball took to football as never before. In the 1950s the game entered its golden age, landing, thanks to coast-to-coast TV coverage, in the national spotlight. With the classic 1958 Championship--an overtime thriller pitting the Baltimore Colts against the New York Giants--watched in some 10 million homes, the modern commercial colossus we know as the NFL finally arrived. Peterson reconstructs this colorful aspect of America's sporting past accurately and with great immediacy.