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Football's forgotten savior

WILLIAM L. CLEMENTS LIBRARY Lecture Series: 4 p.m. Wednesday, September 14

John J. Miller, U-M graduate and author of The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, will lecture on his new book and the history of college football and the social changes in America that made college football popular.

For more information, please contact the Library at (734)764-2347 or visit the Clements Library Chronicles

The following is from HARPER COLLINS, publisher of “The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football” by John J. Miller

John J. Miller delivers the intriguing, never-before-told story of how Theodore Roosevelt saved American Football—a game that would become the nation’s most popular sport. Miller’s sweeping, novelistic retelling captures the violent, nearly lawless days of late 19th century football and the public outcry that would have ended the great game but for a crucial Presidential intervention. Teddy Roosevelt’s championing of football led to the creation of the NCAA, the innovation of the forward pass, a vital collaboration between Walter Camp, Charles W. Eliot, John Heisman and others, and, ultimately, the creation of a new American pastime. Perfect for readers of Douglas Brinkley’s Wilderness Warrior, Michael Lewis’s The Blind Side, and Conn and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys, Miller’s The Big Scrum reclaims from the shadows of obscurity a remarkable story of one defining moment in our nation’s history.


The intriguing, never-before-fully- told story of how Theodore Roosevelt helped to save the game that would become America’s most popular sport.

In its infancy during the late nineteenth century, the game of football was still a work in progress that only remotely resembled the sport millions follow today. There was no common agreement about many of the game’s basic rules, and it was incredibly violent and extremely dangerous. An American version of rugby, this new game grew popular even as the number of casualties rose. Numerous young men were badly injured and dozens died playing football in highly publicized incidents, often at America’s top prep schools and colleges.

Objecting to the sport’s brutality, a movement of proto-Progressives led by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot tried to abolish the game. President Theodore Roosevelt, a vocal advocate of “the strenuous life” and a proponent of risk, acknowledged football’s dangers but admired its potential for building character. A longtime fan of the game who purposely recruited men with college football experience for his Rough Riders, Roosevelt fought to preserve the game’s manly essence, even as he understood the need for reform.

In 1905, he summoned the coaches of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to the White House and urged them to act. The result was the establishment of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, as well as a series of rule changes— including the advent of the forward pass—that ultimately saved football and transformed it into the quintessential American game. The Big Scrum reveals for the first time the fascinating details of this little-known story of sports history.