NFL 100: The Greatest Moments of the NFL’s Century (Triumph, 2019)
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The 100 greatest moments from the NFL’s first 100 years is one of those ideas that was waiting to be done. Craig Ellenport, former senior editor at NFL.com, has taken up the challenge.
Ellenport chooses to start with the number one greatest moment and work down the list, which means there’s no tension about which moments will take the top spots. However, it adds the benefit of getting the best-known stories out of the way early. As the book goes on, the stories get less familiar.
Since it opens the book, there’s no reason to keep secret Ellenport’s number one moment. It’s ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’, the 1958 NFL Championship game in which the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants in the first ever sudden-death overtime game. Ellenport argues that not only was it a classic game, and one that demonstrated the NFL’s suitability for the emerging medium of TV, but also it set in motion events that would lead to the creation of the AFL and the eventual transformation that came with the merger.
Part of the fun of a book like this is pondering your own list while you read. Does the Patriots’ comeback in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons deserve 12th place, for example, or does its freshness in the memory boost it up the list? The ‘Sneakers Game’ is a great anecdote but is it really one of the 100 greatest moments? And so on.
There are no right or wrong answers, obviously. With a century of history to choose from, everyone’s list will differ slightly.
The top 10 entries in the book have each had entire books written about them, so it’s impressive that Ellenport manages to keep his write-ups concise. He tells each story, sets it in context and brings it to life with quotes from those who were there. And he does it without getting bogged down in statistics, which would be easy to do in many cases.
Anyone who has read a little NFL history will know most, if not all, of the stories here but Ellenport adds some nice details throughout. It’s also enlightening to read all these stories together. It’s striking, for example, that the top seven all took place within a 15-year period between 1958 and 1973. It’s probably fair to say this was the NFL’s golden age, with new ground constantly being broken, but is the concentration on this era also a result of Ellenport’s age?
Perhaps the most interesting effect of the book is to act as a reminder of how often sporting events turn on tiny moments of chance. If Jerry Kramer’s block hadn’t got Bart Starr into the end zone in the Ice Bowl, would the Lombardi Trophy have a different name? If Dwight Clark hadn’t been able to pull in ‘The Catch’, and the Cowboys had gone to Super Bowl XVI, would the 49ers dynasty still have emerged? These questions keep coming up.
This is an excellent summary of 100 history-making moments in NFL history but it’s also filled with examples of how different that history might have been.
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