Rosemary Sekora is the publicity manager at UNP and a Greenbay Packers fan.
Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America’s Game (Nebraska, 2017) is more than a football story. Like most fascinating sports books UNP publishes, it illuminates a new side to the game, players, managers, and a particular history that is unique to a person or a team. In the case of Present at the Creation, that person is Upton Bell.
From the beginning of our conversations about publicity for his book, Upton Bell has always maintained that his story, the autobiography of Bert Bell’s son, was about much more than football. Upton’s mother, Frances Upton, was one of the country’s most popular Broadway actresses of her time. She had shared the stage with W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, and Bing Crosby, not to mention she costarred with Eddie Cantor in Whoopee! Bell says in chapter two that she “saw football’s future even before my father did.” And she financed his father’s efforts to buy the Philadelphia Eagles in 1933.
On the opposite side of Frances Upton was, of course, the legendary Bert Bell who not only saved the game from financial ruin after World War II but was one of its greatest innovators. He coined the phrase “On any given Sunday,” and he invented the pro football draft and proposed sudden death rules. And Upton Bell grew up along side the NFL as his father transformed it to the league we know today.
Over the past fifty-three years, Bell has been an owner, a general manager, a personnel executive, a scouting director for two Super Bowl teams, a television commentator and analyst, and a talk-radio host. And now he is sharing his story, co-written with sports writer Ron Borges, with all of us.
Aside from the great praise from media (a Library Journal starred-review, wonderful mention in Sports Illustrated by Peter King as the Underrated Book of the Year, interview with Bill Littlefield on NPR’s Only A Game, and Dan Shaughnessy at the Boston Globe telling readers to go pick up the book), Upton Bell has been receiving email after email from readers sharing how much they’ve loved the book.
“My Christmas present, from a dear and savvy friend, was Present at the Creation. I can’t put it down. Not only do I feel transported to my super-fan days in Maryland. It’s also wonderfully well written.”
“I’ve been reading the book, and it’s terrific so far. I am not even a fan of the NFL or football and it’s enjoyable. I am on page 55 now. I can’t wait to get to the Brad Bleidt section!”
Even Theater critic Peter Filichia broke his own reading rules to dive into Upton Bell’s history:
“A few years ago, I decided that I wouldn’t read any book that didn’t deal with theater. All I wanted to read was material that would help me learn more about the subject that makes my livelihood. Reading Upton Bell’s book was a very rare excursion into a subject that, yes, I like quite a bit. But as I opened the book, I thought, ‘You know, I could be reading about theater.’ And yet, the book turned out to be so magnificent that I am reading it again. I truly believe it’s one of the best memoirs I have ever read—and that includes all the theatrical ones.”
And as fate would have it, this weekend’s Super Bowl is between the Patriots (which Upton ran) and the Eagles (which Upton’s family owned). Whichever team comes out on top, I hope that Upton’s book has continued success well into the next football season.