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Lunch » Tags » Book » Reviews » Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and the Eagles--"The Steagles"--Saved Pro Football During World War II

Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and the Eagles--"The Steagles"--Saved Pro Football During World War II

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Matthew Algeo

"A great account of how different life was during World War II…geared toward both football fans and history buffs." --Penn State Daily Collegian, 7/27/06    "Algeo's account...is a colorful and sympathetic one about the struggles … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Matthew Algeo
Publisher: Da Capo Press
1 review about Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and...

Here we go, Steagles, here we go!

  • Sep 8, 2009
Rating:
+3
World War II called Americans to all kinds of sacrifices on the home front, and Algeo tells the story of one little known and --well lets face it, not really that important sacrifice: The story of the merger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles for the 1943 season.

Not that important, true, in the grand scheme of things, but quite entertaining, and indeed wistfully nostalgic when viewed from the distance of six decades of prosperity and explosive growth in the technology, economics, and stature of professional football.

Facing labor shortages as able-bodied men went to war and work in war-material manufacturing, the still-fledgling NFL was left scrounging for warm bodies to fill rosters, money to pay for transportation and equipment, and paying customers to occupy seats in the stands. Heading into the 1943 season, the Cleveland team had already suspended play citing shortages of all three of those key resources, so the league was down to nine teams, playing havoc with the (pre-computer!) scheduling and travel. And the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia teams looked to be next in line at the morgue--until they introduced the plan to merge for a year. League owners reluctantly agreed, if only to save one franchise rather than lose two, and to solve the scheduling dilemmas.

Algeo tells the story of the season as it unfolds--the merging of disparate rosters, feuding coaches, and absentee owners (the Philadelphia owner an enlisted private, the Steelers inimitable owner Art Rooney at home half a state away from the Philly-based team). Neither team was any good before the merger, and the war-time roster shortages didn't make the situation any better. Amazingly, to keep the players out of the draft and enable them to make ends meet (huge salaries negating the need for year-round employment would only come after the war) while contributing to the war effort on the home front, all the Phil-Pitt players were required to keep their daytime jobs--including one prewar Steeler player who kept his job at the Westinghouse plant in Pittsburgh (building, he found out later, parts for the Manhattan project that developed the atomic bomb that ended the war) during the week and commuting to Philadelphia by train on weekends to play in the games! One wonders how today's highly-payed and over-pampered players would deal with working full time (and usually overtime) during the week in factories then practicing after work and playing on weekends.

Algeo's light National Public radio reporting style (he is an NPR reporter for his day job) keeps the story moving with plenty of human interest and hearty anecdotes, while describing the action on the field and the progress of the season with a minimum amount of football jargon and background knowledge required. Perhaps the best measure of Algeo's skill and the reason to read this book is the gentle and convincing way he shows us (rather than tells us) how important sports were as outlets of escape and normalcy during the darkest days of the War--and along the way, telling us about how this ragtag bunch of "4-F" rejects had one of the best seasons their Pennsylvania franchises had ever had.

Review update: To learn about the college side of the game during World War II, read Wilbur Jones' excellent "Football! Navy! War!" How Military "Lend-Lease" Players Saved the College Game and Helped Win World War II These two books make a good pair to cover the landscape.

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