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Walter Camp and the Creation of American Football.

Walter Camp and the Creation of American Football. By Roger R. Tarnte. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2018. Pp. xvi, 389. $24.95.)

In Walter Camp and the Creation of American Football, Roger Tamte aims to reinstate clock company executive Walter Camp's place in national memory as the "Father of American Football". "Would there even be an American football as we know it--without Walter Camp?" he asks. As he chronicles the game through its infancy in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, Tamte suggests a definitive "No."

Citing an impressive amount of primary documents, mainly from Walter Camp's collected papers at Yale and the New Haven Clock Company records, Tamte attempts to interweave Camp's life story with an account of football's origins and growing pains. While Camp and football come of age simultaneously, Camp died unexpectedly in 1925, and football lived on, becoming the big-stakes, highly professionalized, American spectacle that we know today.

In Tamte's telling, the juncture in football's development when Camp was most impactful was during the crisis of 1905-1906. The college game was under attack for causing too many severe injuries and deaths, and football rule makers tossed around ideas for reforming play to make it compelling, yet safer, including the adoption of what we have come to know as the "forward pass." Camp worried that allowing aerial play would compromise the one-on-one confrontations of football that, for him, were the essence of the game. Nevertheless, he conceded variations of the forward pass to get rule makers to agree to his "downs and distance" principle, which required offenses to advance ten yards in four tries or surrender possession. Tamte reminds us that Camp's idea was not popular at the time, but his persistence led to acceptance of this defining characteristic of the modern game.

While Tamte convinces us that Camp is a football legend, he does not try to convince us that he is a broader American icon, which is a shame. Tamte's clear priority is to chronicle Camp's role in the creation of football's structure and rules, but the reverberations of Camp's writings and philosophies about athletic amateurism, sportsmanship, time management, manhood, and male bodies have also been significant and lasting--both in football and in American culture. What feels conspicuously absent in this book is an analysis of Camp's life and work within broader contexts--such as the American athletics revolution, turn-of-the-century race and gender anxieties, the scientific efficiency movement, transformations of the American university, and innovations in physical culture. Tamte nods to these contexts, but he stays zoomed in on the institutional development of football, rather than allowing for Camp to be a lens into the broader culture. For narrative purposes, contextualizing Camp would have allowed Tamte to incorporate facets of Camp's non-football life (his family, his work behind a desk, his writing, his military "service", and his other athletic activities, for instance) more seamlessly into the football story he prioritizes. More engagement with secondary scholarship, both on Camp specifically and football and American sport generally, would have buttressed Tamte's claims for Camp's historical significance to more readers than merely football enthusiasts.

Independent Scholar

Julie Des Jardins
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Title Annotation:THE AMERICAS
Author:Jardins, Julie Des
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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