Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, and Otto Graham – the average football fan probably
recognizes these famous Hall of Fame quarterbacks but likely has no idea who they threw the ball to.
Jerry Roberts’ Pass Receiving in Early Pro Football: A History to the 1960s is a unique attempt to answer
this question by examining the receivers who caught the balls, not only from these great quarterbacks,
but many others as well.

The book divides nicely into seventeen chapters that are grouped into three unevenly-sized
sections. The first five chapters focus on the passing game in the early years of football before the
formation of the National Football League. This section includes mostly college quarterbacks, but also
pulls in those that belonged to the unofficial “Ohio League.” In this section Roberts reminds the reader
of the early passing highlights from 1906 to the 1913 Notre Dame Army game but does not go into much

The second part of the book is the largest section and focuses on the growth of receiving in the
NFL from the 1920’s through 1960. Roberts breaks down this time frame by examining the strongest
team every few years as an example. Sometimes this means presenting a dominant player, such as Don
Hutson in the late 1930s, but usually it is looking at a system. In the early 1940’s, the Chicago Bears ran
the “T”-formation designed, at least in part, by Clark Shaughnessy and run by Sid Luckman. By the late
1940’s and early 1950’s, Roberts shows Paul Brown, Otto Graham, and Browns’ receivers like Dante
Lavelli and Mac Speedie were the best receiving corps in the league.

The third part focuses on the tight end and running back as pass receivers through the late
1970’s when the pass interference rules changed due to the “Mel Blount” rule. This rule disallows
contact with a receiver once he moved more than five yards past the line of scrimmage. The chapters
concentrate on the great players who filled these positions and less attention payed to offensive scheme
or style. In both chapters, this becomes a who’s who of All-Pro running backs, such as Lenny Moore and
Chuck Foreman, and All-Pro tight ends John Mackey and Mike Ditka getting much recognition.

There is a brief appendix highlighting receivers who earned various individual honors, such as
making the Hall of Fame or All-Pro Teams. There are no photos from games but rather photos of
football cards of the various receivers. As a football card collector, I thought this was a great change of
pace, though I don’t know if this will be universally popular. There are a few exceptionally minor errors,
such as naming Miami’s “Mark Brothers” as Mark Duper and Mark Jackson instead of Mark Duper and
Mark Clayton.

In a field with many team and individual biographies this novel approach, to look at just one
aspect of the game over time, makes for a nice change and a great addition to the football scholar’s
library. Even better, the book is quite readable, thoroughly researched, and highly recommended.

This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800-253-2187 or by shopping at