I recently read The Real All Americans by Sally Jenkins. The book tells the story of the beginnings of American football and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School during the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. There are multiple different themes in this book. The interweaving of these different themes makes The Real All Americans a fascinating and illuminating book.
The football history part of the story educated me on a subject about which I knew almost nothing. The name Pop Warner is a familiar one but I didn’t know about his life and what he contributed to the game of football. I also didn’t know that Pop Warner once coached at my alma matter, Iowa State University. I didn’t realize how brutal a sport football was in the early years. Did you know that "1904 was among the dirtiest and most violent college football seasons ever played. There were twenty-one fatalities and more than two hundred serious injuries across the nation." and "in the 1905 season there were another eighteen deaths and 149 serious injuries reported."
Understandably after these two years there was a big push to abolish football. Major rule changes were implemented. As a result of the rule changes the forward pass was developed. In 1907 the Carlisle Indian football team was the first team to "throw the ball deeply and regularly downfield".
The story of the Carlisle Indian School and of what was happening to American Indians as they were integrated into American society is also fascinating. I didn’t know that the government created boarding schools to educate Indian children. It is always disturbing for me to read about how we treated the Indians. The Real All Americans is especially interesting because it gives a balanced view of this period in American history and how through football the Indians were able to fight back. The Indian culture educated the white culture as much as vice versa. The story begins and ends with the 1912 game between the Army West Point football team and The Carlisle Indian School team coached by Pop Warner.
In addition to Pop Warner the familiar names who played football during this period include Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. Theodore Roosevelt was big fan of the game. The Real All Americans is also the story of Lt Col. Richard Henry Pratt who founded the Carlisle Indian School.
The back dust cover flap of The Real All Americans sums up the book well. " The Real All Americans is about the end of a culture and the birth of a game that has thrilled Americans for generations. It is an inspiring reminder of the extraordinary things that can be achieved when we set aside our differences and embrace a common purpose."
Even if my teams didn’t win the play off games last weekend it seems appropriate to recommend The Real All Americans as the Superbowl approaches. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can highly recommend it.