Review

Monster of the Midway: Bronko Nagurski, the 1943 Chicago Bears, and the Greatest Comeback Ever

by Jim Dent

In
the interest of journalistic integrity, this review must begin with
a confession. For nearly fifty years I have been a Chicago Bears
fan. Indeed, "fan" may not be a strong enough word to describe my
attitude toward my beloved team. Quite frankly, I live and die with
their exploits on the football field. These feelings may be
expected to influence what I'm about to say in the next few
paragraphs about MONSTER OF THE MIDWAY by Jim Dent. But regardless
of the prejudice brought to my review, this is a book that every
professional football fan should read and enjoy. If you love
football, you will love this recounting of the generation of
professional football that played a style of football vastly
different from the game seen weekly by millions of fans. The
experiences of the founders of the National Football League shaped
the modern game and Dent shows us with clarity, insight and wit
just how the infant NFL grew to the colossus that exists
today.

When it comes to football, Dent is a writer with established
credentials. THE JUNCTION BOYS was the story of Bear Bryant and his
Texas A&M football program of 1954. THE UNDEFEATED told of the
Oklahoma Sooner powerhouse of the 1950s and their coach, Bud
Wilkinson. In each of those books Dent captures the heart and soul
of the college game. In MONSTER OF THE MIDWAY, Dent has portrayed
the essence and spirit of professional football in its early days,
at a time when the influence of television and wealth had not yet
impacted the game. It was an era when money was scarce in
professional football and signing bonuses, long-term contracts and
salary caps only existed in the imaginations of those prophetic
enough to recognize the potential of professional sports.

The monster of the midway in Jim Dent's tale is Bronko Nagurski, an
All-American football star at the University of Minnesota. In his
career, Nagurski was as legendary a Minnesotan as Paul Bunyan, if
not as powerful. During a time when football players participated
in both offense and defense, Nagurski was a star running back and
defensive lineman. It was as if Walter Payton and Dick Butkus were
combined into one player. Had the Heisman Trophy existed in 1929,
Nagurski would have been a landslide winner. Instead, he settled
for being named to All-American squads at two positions. After the
East-West Shrine game in San Francisco, Bronko signed one of the
richest professional football contracts. In 1930 he joined the
Chicago Bears and was paid $5,000 for the season.

No story about Bronco Nagurski and the Chicago Bears would be
complete without mention of Papa Bear, George Halas, the owner and
coach of the Chicago franchise. Halas, along with other pioneers
such as Curley Lambeau and the Mara brothers, ultimately made the
NFL the most successful professional sports venture in history. But
the period that stretched from the depression to World War II was
anything but a huge financial success. Teams lived from game to
game; revenues and salaries often were delayed or reduced. Indeed,
Halas would reduce Nagurski's lucrative salary of $5,000 after each
season. To supplement his salary, Nagurski turned to professional
wrestling. During his career he would often travel separately to
Bears games because of wrestling events that he was obligated to
attend.

Through the life of Bronko Nagurski we meet many of the National
Football League's groundbreaking stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Sid
Luckman, Sammy Baugh, Steve Owen, Red Grange and countless other
residents of Canton, Ohio all make appearances in Dent's narrative.
Readers who grew up with professional football in the 1960s will
appreciate this tale of the birth of the modern NFL. Younger
readers who discovered the game after the merger of the National
and American Football Leagues will understand how and why the game
has evolved to its current structure. Quite simply, this is a book
that every football fan should read and pass along to fellow
fans.

Although we are still early in the fourth quarter of the year,
MONSTER OF THE MIDWAY may very well be the best sports book of
2003.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 22, 2011

Monster of the Midway: Bronko Nagurski, the 1943 Chicago Bears, and the Greatest Comeback Ever
by Jim Dent

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2003
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312308671
  • ISBN-13: 9780312308674