America’s Game

One morning in early 2017, I learned everything I needed to know about football.

It was around 5 a.m. and I had dozens of notifications on my phone. The night before, I had shut off Super Bowl LI early in the second half when the New England Patriots were trailing the Atlanta Falcons 3–28, believing the game was over.

I looked down at my phone the next morning and saw a flood of banners from ESPN, CBS, Bleacher Report, and Yahoo! Sports. They all said some version of: “New England beats Atlanta 34–28.” Huh? How?

I was shocked and confused, although I shouldn’t have been. I had missed it, or rather gave up on the idea of a team coming back from such a deficit. I didn’t want to do that anymore, with football or with anything that mattered to me.

Michael MacCambridge, a noted sports author, cited that famous comeback in his recent book Football: The Impossible Collection (Assouline) as one of the game’s greatest moments. It’s a list he worked on for some time, with help from former football GM Ernie Accorsi and NFL executive Joel Bussert. To celebrate the NFL’s centennial and college football’s 150th anniversary, they set out on the task of choosing the game’s “100 legendary moments.”

MacCambridge started with a working list of 70 and 80 must-haves and put together another 75 that merited consideration. From there, he said, “it was a question of balancing pro and college, early years and latter-day years, trying to find the right mix.”

Assouline’s new book

As a journalist, MacCambridge was also interested in football’s relationship with the U.S. When asked about the lessons the game teaches us, he talked mostly about interdependence. “Trust is built,” he said, “knowing that if you do your job, the player to your right and the player to your left will do their job.” He particularly enjoyed reflecting on his own relationship with football, combing over pictures from the Sixties and Seventies, the period when he fell in love with the game.

Asked who he wants to win this year’s Super Bowl, he said the Chiefs, a team notorious for heartbreak in the playoff season. (MacCambridge was six when the Chiefs won their last Super Bowl. It was 1970, and Kansas City had beaten Bud Grant’s Vikings 23–7.) “Seven losses in the past eight home games over the past twenty-five seasons,” he reminded me.

But MacCambridge still has hope. “For better or worse, I haven’t wanted anything in my life as long as I’ve wanted the Chiefs to get back to the Super Bowl.”

As of writing this article, the Chiefs are still in the hunt for Super Bowl LIV. And if Andy Reid and his Chiefs do make it to Miami this year, I have a strong feeling MacCambridge isn’t going to call it a night at halftime.

President Kennedy greets 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis at a reception sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City.