Today the NFL is one of world’s most popular sports league and brings in almost $15 billion in revenue annually, but few know of the organization’s humble beginnings. Join author and Baltimore Raven’s columnist John Eisenberg as talks about his book “The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire” on Thursday, July 18 at 7 p.m. at the Jesup Memorial Library. Booklist writes that “fans who only know the league as it exists today will be shocked and fascinated by its early years.”
Eisenberg extensively researched the beginnings of the NFL and interviewed family members of the founders to show just how the league got its start. “The League” sheds a light on the work of the five founders, George Halas (Chicago Bears), Tim Mara (New York Giants), Bert Bell (Philadelphia Eagles), Art Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers), and George Preston Marshall (Washington Redskins) and Eisenberg brings readers into the backrooms where they built their business and onto the dirt fields on which their game first flourished. He highlights the hard scrapple beginnings of the league where players piled onto buses and stayed at local YMCA’s for road games, packed their own lunches, and were even paid in IOUs one season. Eisenberg shows the early NFL survived only because each of the founders brought to it a particular skill; Marshall had a nose for business, Halas the innovative football mind, Rooney the gambler’s eye for the main chance, Mara the chutzpah and Bell the managerial talent. Together they did it all – finding the stadiums and the crowds to fill them, coaching the teams (and even taking the field in a pinch) and marketing their product, even while squabbling among themselves over matters of profit and prestige. However, they usually put aside their hard feelings for the sake of the league, sometimes damaging their own team’s prospects to achieve long-term progress. Eisenberg also pulls back the curtain to reveal how the founders constantly tweaked the game in order to make it more appealing to fans, and how such a struggling league evolved into what it is today.
In a starred review, Kirkus writes, “A rich history of the rise of the National Football League from its virtual obscurity at its genesis in the 1920s to its position as an economic and cultural powerhouse today… Thoroughly researched and gracefully told… An engaging and informative cultural history, on and off the gridiron.” Ernie Accorsi, former General Manager of the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and New York Giants, writes, “We have had some terrific owners since the first half of the 20th century but founders are founders, and this is their marvelous story—how they survived the Great Depression and a World War, scrambling to make their player payrolls from week to week. They did it through their incredible character, loyalty to each other, and their love of the game—and they built the greatest sports league in America.”
Eisenberg, a native of Dallas, Texas and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, started out covering the “Friday Night Lights” for the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald in 1979. After rising through the ranks to cover pro basketball, he joined the staff of the Baltimore Sun. For the next 23 years, he wrote columns in the Sun about the Orioles, Ravens and Maryland Terrapins and covered major events such as the World Series, Super Bowl and Olympics. His honors included several firsts in the prestigious Associated Press Sports Editors’ contest. Since 2012, he has written columns on the Ravens’ website. He also has written for Sports Illustrated and Smithsonian Magazine and the author of ten books about sports including “The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken, and Baseball’s Most Historic Record” and “Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future.” Eisenberg lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Books will be on sale that night courtesy of Sherman’s Books. For more information on Eisenberg visit johneisenberg.com and for more information on the talk contact the Jesup at 207-288-4245.