Cover for LESTER: Stagg's University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago

Stagg's University

The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago
Awards and Recognition:

Winner of the North American Society for Sports History Book Award, 1996.

For this first case study of college football by a social historian, Lester has brought life to the story of a university football program that had an unusual beginning, a glorious middle, and a unique and inglorious conclusion. The nation's first tenured coach and the most creative and entrepreneurial of all college coaches from the 1890s to the 1920s, Amos Alonzo Stagg headed a program marked by creation of the lettermans club and by the dominant use of the forward pass, of jersey numbers, and of the collegiate modern T formation.

Stagg, who had been an all-American football player at Yale University, joined the company of nine former college or seminary presidents and academic notables including John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, and Albert Michelson when he was named associate professor of physical culture and coach of the football team at the University of Chicago in 1892. Within fifteen years the charismatic Stagg had developed a program so powerful that more Americans knew of it than of the physics experiments of Michelson, who in 1907 became the first U.S. citizen to win the Nobel Prize.

The logical commercial trail established by Stagg and University President William Rainey Harper helped change football into a mass entertainment industry on American campuses. This fascinating look at the birth of bigtime college sport shows how today s gridiron glory and scandal were prefigured in Chicago s football industry of the early twentieth century, presided over by the brilliant, combative, saintly, but very human Amos Alonzo Stagg.


"This volume is academically solid, scrupulously researched, and written with style. . . . Lester's narrative is compelling, and, in short, if you want to understand the place of intercollegiate athletics in the larger American society in the twentieth century, this volume is the place to start."--Ronald A. Smith, Journal of Sport History

"Lester, who had private access to all of Stagg's papers and letters, has scrutinized the phenomenon of college football as closely as anyone has. His book is an amazing compendium of the forces that bred big-time college football."--Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times

"An impressive analytical account. . . . Lester's unsparing look at big-time college athletics is thought-provoking and challenging."--Vernon L. Volpe, Illinois Historical Journal

"Lester's attractive study of [Stagg] has provided an important contribution both to the history of American football and the general history of sport."--International Journal of the History of Sport

"Lester's attractive study of [Stagg] has provided an important contribution both to the history of American football and the general history of sport."--International Journal of the History of Sport


Robin Lester, a writer who lives in Pawling, New York, earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. He has published articles in the Journal of American History, the Journal of Sport History, and the New York Times.

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