Dr. Manuel Flores
Latinos love American football.
That is evident every NFL Sunday when droves of Hispanics don their Sunday best, sporting Dallas Cowboys t-shirts and paraphernalia to prepare for the customary backyard barbecue or family “pachanga.”
Yet, there is this illusion that Hispanics don’t like football. What’s more, some believe Latinos can’t play the game of football — American football as in Dallas Cowboys- or Texas Longhorns-style — well.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
To the Latino culture, football is as Hispanic as “carne guisada.” Football is enjoyed throughout the nation and Hispanics have been playing football at every level since it started to be played across the United States, and other countries for that matter.
A new book, “Latinos in American Football – Pathbreakers on the Gridiron, 1927 to the Present,” challenges and puts to rest those myths about the Latinos’ love for and ability to play football. Jorge Iber and Mario Longoria, two of the premier sports historians in the nation, have compiled a well-researched and semi-comprehensive book on American Latinos on the gridiron. The book will have football aficionados hurrying through its pages to learn the next juicy detail.
True, Latinos had a tough start, at the beginning. Obstacles like discrimination, deprived education beyond lower grades, and perhaps cost kept the number of Latino participants down at all levels. But like all other walls or obstacles Latinos have faced, this was overcome. The result is a thrilling narration of the Latino odyssey in American football by Longoria and Iber. This is a great and must-have resource book for all who love football and enjoy Hispanic History.
The authors spare no pain tracking down many Latinos who have played football at a pro, college and even high school level. What’s more, they cover every nook and cranny of the nation to discover the “pathbreakers” from coast to coast and reveal cities and high schools where these Latinos were the football stars. Believe me, there are plenty of heroes. For those who do not know the names of the first Latino to play football in their hometown or area, this may be the book for them. A caution, the book is not comprehensive. In other words, not every Latino who played football is listed. Instead, the recognition is left for those who were inspirational and successful, left their mark on the game and honored the Hispanic and Latino tradition of always doing their best.
For the record, according to the authors, football arrived in Texas in Galveston in 1869. Little nuggets of information like this are priceless, and it is what keeps the reader intrigued. But there’s more. For example, Amador Rodríguez became the first Spanish-surnamed player for the Edinburg High School Bobcats in 1927, perhaps the first in Texas. He became a local legend and still is, the authors report. In Kingsville, that honor belongs to Everardo Carlos “E.C.” Lerma who starred at Kingsville High and later Texas A&I. In New Mexico Anastacio Apodaca became a prep star in 1935.
They mention several pioneer football stars from the Rio Grande Valley, including the remarkable stories of Poppy Rodriguez, Luz Pedraza, Alfredo Avila and Robert Vela. And the list goes on from coast to coast.
Fact is, the Latino was playing American football almost from the start of the sport in our country. They, too, left their mark on the sport.
Staying in Texas, at the college level the authors point to Kingsville brothers Bobby and Lauro Cavazos, who starred at Texas Tech, and refer to Hebbronville’s Rene Ramirez at the University of Texas as pathbreakers.
There are many more. You must read the book to discover the myriad of names that dotted college rosters from the 1920s to today. For example, Peter Perez played for the University of Illinois in 1945, and Waldo Don Carlos starred for Drake in the 1930s. Ignacio Saturnino Molinet starred for Cornell in 1927. He was of Cuban descent and became the first Latino to sign a contract to play professionally when he joined the Frankford Yellow Jackets of the old National Football League.
The Modern Era of the NFL revealed several Latino football stars. Among the ones reported on in the book are Ron Rivera, Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, Tony Gonzalez, Jim Plunkett, Tom Flores and Anthony Munoz. Each has an inspirational story, including Romo, who suffered several injuries at the high school level but went on to stardom as a pro.
There are many more who are honored in the book, which is a testament to the character and hard work of all Latinos.
With Hispanic Heritage Month starting in September, it is appropriate to see how the Latino, the Hispanic (the terms were used interchangeably in this review), has influenced the game of American football for the better and will have a say on how it will evolve in the future.
Iber and Longoria did a masterful job of researching and writing this important book. It truly champions the cause of diversity in America and shows Latinos can play more than baseball and soccer, as they note. They can play football, American football, and play it well at all levels,
About the book
“Latinos in American Football – Pathbreakers on the Gridiron, 1927 to the Present”
by Mario Longoria and Jorge Iber
McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2020
Available at: barnesandnoble.com.com, PBK $49.95, also Barnes and Noble Bookstores and McFarland & Company website
About the authors
Mario Longoria (Ph.D., University of Texas-San Antonio), a Vietnam War veteran, retired from USAA Insurance Co. and the United States Forest Service. His research interests include the Southwestern United States and Mexican American sports history. He lives in San Antonio.
Jorge Iber (Ph.D., University of Utah) is a professor of history and associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech University. He is the author or co-author and editor of 14 books, predominantly on the history of the role of Latinos and Latinas in U.S. sports. He lives in Lubbock.
This weekly column focuses on new and old books about Texas or related to Texas. It includes fiction and nonfiction books, reports on political and sports books as well as cultural or historical works. The common thread among these books is their relationship to Texas, specifically South Texas.
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