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Iron Men

March 2023
1min read

Bucko, Crazylegs, and the Boys Recall the Golden Days of Professional Football

By Stuart Leuthner; Doubleday; 324 pages .

Now that a Super Bowl game attracts as much attention as a presidential election, it is easy to forget that not so long ago professional football was a little-noticed backwater of the American sports landscape. Before the advent of media stars like Broadway Joe Namath, players such as Jim Ringo, Ed Sprinkle, and Toy Ledbetter toiled in relative anonymity for low pay in often half-empty stadiums. Stuart Leuthner has interviewed two dozen men who helped the pro game grow into the spectacle it is today—heroic quarterbacks, mean linebackers, scrubs, front-office figures, and even a member of the Washington Redskins’ band.

The era covered starts in the mid-194Os, when war veterans brought the toughness gained at Normandy and Iwo Jima to the playing fields of Pittsburgh and Green Bay. And they were tough. “We used to have a saying,” says Francis J. “Bucko” Kilroy, ’“Don’t get hurt, because you’ll have to play anyway.’” Leuthner ends his story in the mid-1960s, when network television coverage began to make football a serious rival to baseball as the national pastime. The glimpse of a little-remembered time before face masks, computerized scouting, and drug tests is fascinating, and the players’ recollections of taking off-season jobs to make ends meet, or of running backs doubling on defense and kicking field goals too, show just how far this quintessentially American sport has come.

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