A Review of John Eisenberg’s Ten-Gallon War

“When the Texans’ home attendance at the Cotton Bowl failed to spike despite the team’s success, Lamar became increasingly convinced he had no choice [to move]. He had always believed his beloved hometown couldn’t support two teams, but he had hoped the Texans could survive if won enough games. Everyone loved a winner, right? Well, apparently not. The Texans had drawn crowds of 13,557 and 19,137 on their way to the title. It was beyond exasperating. What do these people want? “

from Chapter 18 “It’s nice to be wanted” in Ten-Gallon War, page 244

My acquaintance with the American Football League came in the late 1960’s when the Cincinnati Bengals started playing in Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati campus until they moved to the new Riverfront Stadium in 1970. I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan and as life entered the 1970’s, and the AFL merged with the NFL, I began to root for the Bengals and have ever since. I also remember watching the first Monday Night Football game which pitted the Browns against the Jets, now playing in the same conference (the AFC) whereas a year earlier they were, respectively NFL and AFL teams. And I rooted for the Jets in the 1969 Super Bowl and loved it when they won!

So when I saw John Eisenberg’s book Ten-Gallon War available for review through the Amazon Vine program, I had to request it.

I was glad I did.

This book chronicles the battles in one town as pro football began to emerge from the shadow of Major League Baseball in the late 1950’s and 1960’s and as the NFL was challenged by the upstart AFL in both established markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York and in emerging markets like Denver, Houston, Minnesota, Boston…

…and Dallas.

Eisenberg centers his story on two rich Texas oilmen, Lamar Hunt and Clint Murchison, Jr. Hunt began what became known as the American Football League and was the owner of the Dallas Texans while Murchison was the first owner of the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League. Eisenberg  takes both the football fan who values the past as well as the present, and the fan who loves to argue who was the best and why, and re-opens the curtain on a period from 1960 through late 1962 when the football world watched as Hunt and Murchison battled for the control of the Dallas market (and hearts) for professional football to finally be established after a series of earlier misfortunes.

As he does, names and faces from football’s past are again front and center – Len Dawson who would establish himself as a leading AFL passer for both the Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs; “Dandy” Don Meredith – the young Texan, who would eventually lead the Cowboys to prominence in the NFL; Tom Landry, the legendary Cowboy coach who would coach through two owners and whose coaching genius has made a mark on pro football; Hank Stram, the Texan coach who dressed well, demanded his players dress well and play hard; and other players such as John Hadl, Jim Brown, YA Tittle, and “Broadway” Joe Namath who could have ended up a St. Louis Cardinal and not a New York Jet. He also weaves a larger story of a changing America that serves as both backdrop and the field into which Hunt and Murchison pour their egos and wealth to bring a major league franchise to place where college football was still king and minor league sports the rule.

Both teams struggle not just to win on the field but off the field as well. And the ego drivenness of the two owners make for a lively and truly “oil slinging” story. Court battles and going to any length to sign a player first. Hip marketing verses steady leadership and steady finances. In short, a Texas size story.

As I read the book and as Eisenberg begins to slowly shift the story from a madcap race to be the best to simply staying and thriving, I began to ask why did Hunt leave Dallas after the 1962 AFL championship for Kansas City and new life as the Chiefs in 1963 ?  It was a hard question to answer but the starting quote for this review is a partial answer to it.

This is a book about vision and risk; hopes and fears; success and failure. It is a great story about extending the boundaries (and pushing the envelope) and starting something new. It is about a legendary history a young football fan needs to know and an mature one will enjoy to remember.

It is a great book and it tells a great story about a great time in both pro football and America.

I give it a ‘great’ rating.

Note: This was an advance readers copy I received from Amazon Vine in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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