From the 55 Yard Line- Symbiosis of Football Literature and Film With Chris Willis


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For those of us over a certain age, who have loved professional football, be it in Canada or America, we have come to it through two primary means- books and film. For those of who truly love books we have gained a deeper understanding of the game through the words and literary artistry of writers like Chris Willis, who is the resident historian at NFL Films, where he oversees all aspects of research for the company and their producers. In 2002 he was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the HBO documentary- The Game of Their Lives: Pro Football in the 1950's." He is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) since 1993 and writes for the Pro Football Journal.

In addition to his work with NFL Films, he has authored many fine books. His first, Old Leather: An Oral History of Early Pro Football in Ohio, 1920-1935, was published in 2005 by Scarecrow Press. Old Leather was given the 2005 Nelson Ross Award by the Professional Football Researchers Association for recent Achievement in Football Research and Historiography. His second book, The Columbus Panhandles : A Complete History of Pro Football's Toughest Team, 1900-1922, was published in 2007 by Scarecrow Press. His third book was released in September of 2010, The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr is a biography of the former NFL president from 1921-1939. His fourth book, Dutch Clark: The Life of an NFL Legend and the Birth of the Detroit Lions, is about the man who played seven seasons in the NFL and was the first big star for the Lions.

His fifth book, A Nearly Perfect Season: The Inside Story of the 1984 San Francisco 49ers, and contains over 30 interviews from that team that went 18-1 and won Super Bowl XIX and is considered one of the NFL's greatest teams. In 2017, he wrote Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe and the Oorang Indians, another story about the early days of the NFL, and in 2019 he completed his full-scale biography, Red Grange- the Galloping Ghost, which was published in conjunction with the NFL's 100th season. Currently Chris is working on a biography of Bronko Nagurski, former Chicago Bears Hall of Fame fullback, which is scheduled to be published in August of 2022.

In this episode, Chris joins the show to talk about his career as an author and as part of the team of creative geniuses at NFL Films. He tells us about his approach to his writing and research, how many of his books came to be, and he also shares with us personal stories of the man your hosts and guest continue to idolize and be inspired by- Steve Sabol.

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