Keepers of the Flame
NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media
University of Illinois Press 2014
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FilmNew Books in JournalismNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SportsNew Books Network May 16, 2014 Bruce Berglund
Last weekend was the NFL Draft, the annual event when teams select college players who have shown the talent to advance to the professional ranks. Staged at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, broadcast live on two cable networks, and surrounded by ceaseless media attention and analysis, the Draft is the spring anchor-point of the NFL as a year-round attraction.
Decades ago, the Draft was nothing more than a business meeting. Yet even then the NFL was taking steps to establish itself as a year-round sports league. This came not on cable television, but in church basements and community meeting halls. The menfolk would gather after banquets or father-son dinners and watch films of football–real films, supplied in metal cans and spooled into projectors. They might watch highlights of the last Super Bowl or their local team’s season, a documentary about the great players of the recent past, or a compilation of on-field blunders by players, coaches, and referees. Even though it was the dead of winter, the audience would come away from the screening eager for football.
These were the productions of NFL Films. Captured by motion picture cameras, set to orchestral scores, and narrated by the dulcet baritone of John Facenda, these films presented football as high art: a contest of mythic heroes and the embodiment of American virtue.Travis Vogan gained full access to the NFL Archives for his study of the filmmaking arm of the National Football League: Keepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media (University of Illinois Press, 2014). Starting as a father-and-son operation, NFL Films became an integral part of the rise of professional football in the US. Even more than that, Travis argues, its productions have shaped the way that all sports are broadcast and promoted.
As a side note: Travis will be one of the writers for the new online journalThe Allrounder, along with several scholars and journalists you’ve heard on past episodes of the podcast.The Allrounderhas the same aim as New Books in Sports, to get people thinking in new ways about the sports they follow by making available in-depth research and thoughtful writing.