The Pro Football Experience (Abrams, 1973)
By David Boss
Out of print – available secondhand
What was it like to go to an NFL game in the early 1970s? That’s the ‘Experience’ in question in this book’s title. It’s not about what it’s like to be a player, going through training camp, the season and the playoffs. Nor is it about the history and development of the NFL. It’s about game day, from the pre-game build-up, to the victory celebrations afterwards.
First published in 1973, the book has great photos and minimal words. The cameras take us everywhere, mimicking the story of a game. We see fans travelling to the game, cheerleaders and officials on the sidelines and players getting taped and putting on pads in the locker room. Then the game begins and a sequence of tightly-cropped, close-up photos put us at the heart of the action on the field, switching only occasionally to catch the faces of the fans in the stand.
Some of the photos are blurred to suggest movement but even those that aren’t contain an energy and power, a real sense of a moment captured amid a flurry of activity.
The author, David Boss, was a former photographer himself, which perhaps explains why the images here are so well chosen and laid out. He worked under Pete Rozelle at the LA Rams and, when Rozelle became NFL Commissioner, went with him to work at NFL Properties. He designed the posters and programs for the first 25 Super Bowls and has been credited with updating the NFL’s shield logo in 1970 to the version that was used until 2008.
Boss also worked on a number of books besides this one. He’s listed as creative director of 1969’s The First 50 Years and publisher of Tom Bennett’s excellent The Pro Style (1976). I’ve no idea how much of it is down to Boss, but all three of these NFL Properties books share a great visual sense and a desire to set football in a historical and social context, not simply to promote it.
The only exception to the parade of imagery in The Pro Football Experience is an opening essay by Roger Kahn, author of numerous books including the baseball memoir, The Boys of Summer, and a slightly out-of-place chapter of “A portfolio of American sports art”.
Kahn’s essay is similar in tone to the commentaries from NFL Films productions of the time, full of high drama. He writes of playing football at school during the Depression and of “men who had seen Guadalcanal and the Remagen Bridge” playing college football. “Like no other game in America,” he writes, “football has become a ritual for coming of age.” He watches from his window as two eight-year-old boys play a game, one-on-one.
Those boys would be in the mid-50s now. If you want to travel back to pro football as they would have seen it, The Pro Football Experience is an effective time machine.