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The Real All Americans [Paperback]

Sally Jenkins

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Book Description

Aug. 12 2008
Sally Jenkins, bestselling co-author of It's Not About the Bike, revives a forgotten piece of history in The Real All Americans. In doing so, she has crafted a truly inspirational story about a Native American football team that is as much about football as Lance Armstrong's book was about a bike.


If you’d guess that Yale or Harvard ruled the college gridiron in 1911 and 1912, you’d be wrong. The most popular team belonged to an institution called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Its story begins with Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt, a fierce abolitionist who believed that Native Americans deserved a place in American society. In 1879, Pratt made a treacherous journey to the Dakota Territory to recruit Carlisle’s first students.

Years later, three students approached Pratt with the notion of forming a football team. Pratt liked the idea, and in less than twenty years the Carlisle football team was defeating their Ivy League opponents and in the process changing the way the game was played.
 
Sally Jenkins gives this story of unlikely champions a breathtaking immediacy. We see the legendary Jim Thorpe kicking a winning field goal, watch an injured Dwight D. Eisenhower limping off the field, and follow the glorious rise of Coach Glenn “Pop” Warner as well as his unexpected fall from grace.
 
The Real All Americans is about the end of a culture and the birth of a game that has thrilled Americans for generations. It is an inspiring reminder of the extraordinary things that can be achieved when we set aside our differences and embrace a common purpose.

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From Publishers Weekly

In this sprawling, heavily researched sports tale, author and Washington Post reporter Jenkins (It's Not About the Bike, with Lance Armstrong) covers more than a half-century-from mid-19th century battles between the U.S. Army and Native Americans to the 1918 closing of Pennsylvania's seminal Carlisle Indian Industrial School-telling the long-buried story of Carlisle's football team (the Indians, natch), which defied tradition and arguably did more to shape the modern collegiate game than any of its Ivy League competitors. Founded in 1879 by Army Lt. Col. Richard Pratt, an abolitionist who believed Native Americans deserved a visible place in U.S. society, Carlisle introduced fans and opponents to shoulder pads, the forward pass and the reverse option. Led by renowned coach Glenn "Pop" Warner and player Jim Thorpe, regarded as one of the greatest athletes America has produced, the Indians' struggles, especially with racial and political bigotry, prove surprisingly prescient (think Don Imus). That said, Jenkins shoehorns so much peripheral history that football often takes a back seat; in addition, her detached narration gives the book a term-paper feel, made all the more obvious by the enthusiasm and pride she details in her subjects.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner may be familiar names, but it's unlikely that teens have heard of U.S. Army Captain Richard Henry Pratt or the Sioux leader American Horse. Jenkins introduces readers to these figures and others in her vivid social history of the decline of American Indian culture and the development of college football. Her lively writing features unbiased descriptions of major historical figures, thumbnail sketches of minor personalities, and cameos by Mark Twain and President Eisenhower. The book opens with familiar events–the battles between Native Americans and U.S. Army soldiers over Western territories and the abysmal treatment Native American tribes received at the hands of the government. Less widely known is Captain Pratt's dream of providing educational opportunities for Indians and his founding of the Carlisle Indian Training School in Pennsylvania. Jenkins's strength is in her sports writing; the most compelling sections of the book are descriptions of the Indians at Carlisle inventing new plays and prevailing against all odds in pivotal games against Harvard and West Point. The volume is enhanced by an eight-page spread of black-and-white photos with detailed captions. All Americans is a history book of heartbreaking stories that will appeal to teens interested in football or Native American history; it also has value as a narrative nonfiction supplement to the U.S. history curriculum.–Sondra VanderPloeg, Tracy Memorial Library, New London, NH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Carlisle story is more than Jim Thorpe and football June 23 2007
By Peter Lorenzi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For a few years, I lived adjacent to Haskell, an "Indian school" in Lawrence, Kansas. I had some, but little direct contact with the federal effort to provide higher educational opportunities for American Indians. It was a cursory exposure. It was also the place where Jim Thorpe started his formal education. For any longstanding football fan, the Jim Thorpe Carlisle story is familiar, popular and tragic territory. It may be a coincidence that Lars Anderson, who earlier covered the Jim Thorpe Army-Carlisle story has another book, "The All-Americans". Now we have the REAL All Americans and the story is a whole lot more fascinating than a simple rags to riches back to rags story like Thorpe's.

Although the opening scene is a fateful football match in New York, the real roots of the story lie in the Midwest, forty years earlier. Jenkins builds her story slowly, with a thorough history of the debacle we call "Indians and the U.S. Army". The horrendous treatment of the Indians by the federal government finally prompts a visionary officer to propose an educational alternative to warfare, as a method of assimilation into the white man's culture. In some respects, and certainly on the surface, this is an arrogant solution. Dragging children and young adults from their families, culture and land is the ultimate form of cultural smugness. But, given the period, the problem, and the potentail for a solution, the Carlisle solution was worth the effort. And, in many resepcts, it worked. Henry Pratt, an enlightened -- for that period -- Army officer commits most of his life to building an institution to serve Indians deprived of almost all of their land and dignity by Manifest Destiny and broken treaties. He is both a caring, paternal figure and a stern task master, both loved and despised. Much of the same can be said for Pop Warner, Carlisle's most famous coach. He once left the team for a year in a pique and went on first to Pitt, then to other schools before ending his career at Temple.

Football became a tool, one part of a strategy for the assimilating Indians to not only become part of American culture but also to wreak some symbolic vengeance on the oppressor, taking on Army on the playing field rather than the battlefield. And, for a time, this worked well. Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe helped build a short-lived but memorable dynasty, an ironic all-American icon. The sad part is their victory over Army was bittersweet and their success short-lived. Carlisle lost their following game and within five years, Carlisle was no more. War in Europe and a re-examination of this public investment in Indian education closed the school. Few students ever earned degrees from Carlisle in its forty years. Assimilation via education worked -- but only a little.

Jenkins offers a fascinating read with a strong narrative, interesting anecdotes and angles, and a healthy respect for history. She provides brief, follow up biographies on the key players and their lives after Carlisle. It isn't always a pretty picture, but you needn't be a football fan to enjoy this sad but engrossing story.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, even for non-football folks June 10 2007
By V. Egar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I heard this book reviewed on NPR and immediately purchased it. I am not particularly interested in football ( sacrilege, I know!) but the game between Carlisle and West Point peaked my interest. I saw a great exhibit at the Heard Museum several years ago about the Indian schools, Carlisle among them, and I wanted to know more about the school and the famous game.

The book is a fascinating account of the Carlisle school, the development of football, coach "Pop" Warner, Jim Thorpe and the famous football game with West Point. It will interest anyone with an interest in football history, but it is also of interest to those who want to know more about the great Indian chiefs, what the US did to try and control the Indians, what happened to the children of the great chiefs at Carlisle. The book also has other facts and anecdotes I found of interest. There is a fair amount about football at Princeton, Harvard, Yale and U of Pennsylvania (these teams all played Carlisle). There is also mention of Teddy Roosevelt and poet Marianne Moore, who taught at Carlisle for a short period.

The book is well written, a real pleasure. A great father's day gift! I have already purchased another copy for a friend and am passing my copy to my adult son as a "gotta read this!"
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Team That Invented Modern Day Football June 12 2007
By Earl A. Myers, Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you are a student of Indian culture and the game of football, you are in for the treat of your life. Sally Jenkins has given the reader an engrossing overlay of a school that attempted a social experiment of indoctrination and assimilation of displaced Western American Indians into a predominately white man's state of refinement. Though only partially successful in forcibly educating children of notable relocated tribes, Carlisle introduced students to life skills and to the newly emerging sport that would captivate the country in ensuing years.

Under tutorlage of the legendary coach Pop Warner, the Carlisle Indians would revolutionize the game. Reverses, hidden ball tricks, the single wing, sweeps, audibles, hurry up offense and most innovatively, the forward pass became the stock in trade of the team that included celebrated olympian, Jim Thorpe. In 1912, with a record of 11-0-1, including a 27-6 victory over the much touted Army team that fielded a young cadet by the name of Dwight D. Eisenhower, The Carlisle Indians became the highest-scoring team in the country.

Scandal, governmental mismanagement, lack of visionary leadership, and later gridiron failures would eventually bring down this once esteemed institution, but its legacy is resurrected through the author's informative, entertaining, thought-provoking handiwork.

This written documentary has given myself, and hopefully all who indulge, a most enjoyable, rich, and rewarding read as we enter the summer season and anticipate the beginning of another collegiate football year.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long forgotten but important slice of American history comes alive in Sally Jennings new book. July 2 2007
By Paul Tognetti - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century the ongoing hostilities between the American government and Native Americans began to wind down. By this time it had become abundantly clear that the white man had indeed won the West and that most Native Americans would have to settle for whatever our government was willing to give them. Among those who was extremely disturbed by these developments was an officer in the U.S. Calvary named Richard Henry Pratt. Throughout his long and distinguished military career Pratt had witnessed first hand the injustices done to the Native Americans. He abhorred the ongoing treaty violations perpertrated by the American government and thoroughly understood and sympathized with many of the Indians grievances. Pratt was bound and determined to do something about it. In 1879, Pratt established the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, PA. It was Pratt's sincere desire to make Indian youths the equal of white youths and he firmly believed that the way to achieve this end was to teach Indian youngsters the white mans ways. Not everyone agreed with his tactics. Over the next four decades this unusual and highly controversial school would certainly make its mark on the American scene. "The Real All Americans" documents the 40 year history of Carlisle and introduces us all to the amazing cast of charactors who would teach, coach and go to school there.

Before I read "The Real All Americans" I had absolutely no idea that Native Americans had played such a prominent role in the evolution of the game of football. Sally Jennings theorizes that as hostilities were winding down out West the game of football began to take hold back East. In those days football was an extremely violent game with very few rules. Football programs sprung up at elite colleges like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. In those days the game was pretty much dictated by power running. There was precious little innovation. Now while all this was happening back East young American Indians were developing an affinity for the game as well. However these young men were much smaller and lighter than their counterparts at the Eastern schools. So out of necessity they played a very different brand of football. In the early 1890's some of the students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School petitioned Richard Henry Pratt to start a football team. He reluctantly agreed to do so and within just a few short years Carlisle found itself playing games against some of the most talented college teams in the nation. Soon an innovative young coach by the name of Glenn "Pop" Warner would arrive on the scene. Warner drew up a number of new plays that put an emphasis on speed and quickness. Before long Carlisle would be considered one of the top football teams in the nation. And just a few years later a young Native American named Jim Thorpe would come to play at Carlisle. Before his career at Carlisle was through many would come to consider him as nothing less than the "greatest athlete in the world".

"The Real All Americans" brings to life an extremely important piece of Americana. Whether you are a sports fan, history buff or just someone interested in expanding your horizons this is an informative and highly entertaining book that is certainly well worth your time. Kudos to Sally Jennings for an outstanding job! Highly recommended.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Come for the football. Stay for the history. Oct. 25 2008
By David McCune - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a guy rule of thumb, when your wife says "I think you should read this book about football", it's a good idea to listen to her. My wife started recommending this book after the first chapter, and I was happy when she finally turned it over to me. Sally Jenkins' "The Real All Americans" is by turns fascinating, entertaining, and moving.

Anyone who has ever played football is likely to enjoy the description of the early stages of the game. It is amazing how brutal it could be, and how little regard there was for the "rules", such as they were, of the day. The phrase "if you're not cheating, you're not trying" comes to mind.

Ever wonder why we have "Pop Warner" football? Well, here is Warner in all of his glory. He does not come off as a particularly nice person, but as an innovator and a competitor, he had few peers. He took control of the speedy-but-undersized Carlisle Indian School football team in an era when brute force was what won football games, and he created a winning program by emphasizing speed, passing, and misdirection. My favorite anecdote? In order to create confusion, prior to a Carlisle game against Harvard he had players sew football-shaped patches onto their uniforms. In response, the Harvard coach had the balls painted the same crimson color of his team's jerseys. In a compromise, the patches and colored balls were both removed.

The book does more than just revisit football's roots. It is a fascinating history of the aftermath of the United States' western expansion. The director of Carlisle, LTC Richard Pratt, comes of as stern but fair, with the best interests (as he saw them) of his students at heart. He was a firm believer that the conquered tribes would fare best if assimilated into larger American society. The Carlisle Indian School was explicitly set up to remove children from their parents and their tribes, separate them from their heritage, and indoctrinate them into America. It was at best a mixed success, and it ultimately failed after Pratt left. For many, myself included, this chapter was missing from our history books. Jenkins' retelling is riveting and at times poignant.

So, think of this as two books for the price of one. If you are a fan of sport, you'll think the chapters on football are a hoot. If you enjoy American history, even in one of its darker moments, the descriptions of the moral dilemma facing the country and the tribes will fascinate you. Either way this book will be well worth the read.

5 stars.

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