Professional football was not a “thing” in the early 1900s. In fact, if anything it was a nothing more than a regional idea in many areas of the country, particularly the Midwest. College football was the “big” game along with Major League Baseball. When the U.S. entered World War I, however, things changed. Most of the regionalized professional leagues went by the wayside and many colleges/universities were affected as well, having to cancel seasons because too many players left school to fight for their country. Before most of these “new” soldiers finished training (and thankfully, the armistice was signed before many of them were to be shipped out), they joined football teams that were formed at their respective camps. And, those camps were located all over the U.S., from coast-to-coast and border-to-border. Once these teams were formed, they needed teams to play. So, games were set up. The games attracted crowds. Money was raised for several different funds related to war-time efforts. The games were good. Schedules were actually created, men like renowned-football reporter Walter Camp, started covering games and ranking teams. Playoffs for championships were staged. Even on the other side of the world, games were played between different divisions and the different branches of the U.S. armed forces. Heck, back here in the U.S., the Rose Bowl was contested by two military teams, the Mare Island Marines beat the Camp Lewis Army, 19-7. Men who had played college ball years earlier were once again putting on a pair of cleats and suiting up alongside younger players who had put their college football dreams aside to fight for their country. The success of “war Football” couldn’t be overlooked and it ultimately served as a proving ground, the predecessor to what we now know as professional football. Chris Serb, who wrote the book, “War Football: World War I and The Birth of The NFL,” joins Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for a most interesting topic on the world of football prior to the formation of the National Football League.
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