Purdue sports historian on football legends Bear Bryant, Joe Namath

August 28, 2013  

Randy roberts

Randy Roberts
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A new book by a Purdue University sports historian looks at how Bear Bryant and Joe Namath helped transform football into a national pastime as the big business and star power of sports emerged during the tumultuous 1960s.

"This was a new age for football," says Randy Roberts, distinguished professor of history and co-author of "Rising Tide: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath, and Dixie's Last Quarter." "Namath made the American Football League and brought show business to it at a time that was just the beginning of huge contracts with television. The AFL needed stars, and Namath delivered."

The legendary coach and quarterback were together from 1961-65 at the University of Alabama. Namath would go on to a Hall of Fame professional football career and really define the modern celebrity athlete, Roberts says. Namath was one of the first to use an agent, and in 1965 he signed a professional contract with the New York Jets for more than $400,000, which was the largest at the time.

 "But this book is more than just a narrative of these two characters or a play-by-play of their time at the University Alabama; it's really about what football meant to America at this time," says Roberts, who co-authored the book with Ed Krzemienski, a history instructor at Ball State University.

The book, published by Twelve Books, weaves the story of these football legends with a historical perspective highlighting how the Civil Rights era was changing American football. The authors conducted hundreds of interviews with coaches; players, including Namath; and journalists to tell a story about the game of football, the business aspects of the growing professional game, and the culture and politics surrounding football in the 1960s.

 "Alabama and the South were resisting the Civil Rights movement, but other schools and conferences were integrating," Roberts says. "At a time when black football players were playing at major universities throughout the rest of the country, Alabama and Birmingham were the epicenter of the resistance to the Civil Rights movement. It was there that police used high-power fire hoses against black demonstrators and even turned lose dogs on them. We can't talk about the power of sports without looking at the social context behind them."

Roberts, who focuses on American and sports history, is the author of more than 30 books and has made more than 50 appearances on television documentaries and films in the past 20 years for the History Channel, ESPN Classic, HBO, BBC, PBS, E!TV and on the ABC, CBS and NBC networks. He is the author of "A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation," "Joe Louis: Hard Times Man," "Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler," "Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes" and "Heavy Justice: The State of Indiana v. Michael G. Tyson." He also was featured in an HBO documentary "Joe Louis: America's Hero ... Betrayed" that aired in 2008.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Randy Roberts, rroberts@purdue.edu 

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Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in more information about the book can contact Paul Samuelson, publicity manager for Twelve Books, at 212-364-1259, paul.samuelson@hbgusa.com

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