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Tribute to PFRA Founder Bob Carroll (1936-2009)

Bob Carroll Coffin Corner Cover

On June 22, 1979 Bob Carroll gathered five other football researchers and writers in Canton, Ohio to form the Professional Football Researchers Association. Earlier that year he edited the first editions of what was to become the organization's official newsletter/magazine The Coffin Corner. For the next thirty years he devoted most of his life in operating the PFRA.

Robert N. (Bob) Carroll, Jr. was born on July 10, 1936 in Wheeling, West Virginia to Robert Carroll, Sr. and Katherine Carroll.

After graduating from college Carroll went on to teach art and English at McKeesport (Pennsylvania) High School.

He married Suzanne Sprowls and had two children, daughter Katherine and son, Martin, who goes by the nickname "Hoss."

For thirty years he edited The Coffin Corner for the PFRA, as well as authoring over 200 articles for the The Coffin Corner and other PFRA publications. He also authored many books on football and other subjects.

Total Football

Football Books by Bob Carroll:

100 Greatest Running Backs (Crescent Books, 1988)

The Hidden Game of Football, with Pete Palmer and John Thorn (Warner Books, 1988)

The Football Abstract, with Pete Palmer and John Thorn (Warner Books, 1989)

The Official Pro Football Hall of Fame Fun & Sticker Book (Simon & Schuster, 1990)

The Sports Video Resource Guide (Simon & Schuster, 1992)

When the Grass Was Real (Simon & Schuster, 1993)

Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (HarperCollins, 1997)

Football Legends of All-Time, co-author with Joe Horrigan (Publications International, 1997)

Football Greats, co-author with Joe Horrigan (Publications International, 1998)

Total Super Bowl (HarperCollins, 1998)

Total Packers (HarperCollins, 1998)

Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (HarperCollins, 1998)

In addition to working on The Coffin Corner Carroll was also an accomplished artist. Almost every issue of the PFRA's newsletter/magazine would be accompanied by a drawing from him. Over 1,000 drawings were stored in his personal library. His artwork appeared in many books and articles as well as in Pro Football Weekly.

In 1994 Bob Carroll appeared in the NFL Films documentary "75 Seasons" a two-hour film about the NFL's first seventy-five years that aired that fall on TNT.

Probably his ultimate accomplishment was being the lead editor of Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League . A labor of love that turned into 1,652 pages of the NFL's official history. No sportswriter, researcher, librarian, author, historian or football fan can be without Total Football.

In Volume 31, Number 4 of The Coffin Corner the last article with the name Bob Carroll attached to it was published. Titled "The Packers Crash Through: 1929" it was a summary of the 1929 NFL season.

On August 25, 2009 Bob Carroll passed away at the age of 73. In the first issue of The Coffin Corner after his passing the editors dedicated the entire issue to its founding father. Several long-time PFRA members and close friends said their good-byes.

John Thorn:

"It is easy to reflect back on Bob's amazing knowledge and, more important, sweeping curiosity. Sure he knew pro football's history better than anyone, and wrote about it better than anyone. And his cartoons gave evidence that his brain was ambidextrous. And there was his mordant and delightfully cornball sense of humor, in evidence on his blog and in most everything he wrote.

But what sticks for me about my dear departed friend of three decades is his uncommon decency. He thought the best of people unless and until they repeatedly gave him reason to think otherwise. Bob was a generous man, to a fault. He and I worked together often, and he liked to say that I had done a lot for his career. And I always assured him that he had done more for me than I had done for him. And he's still doing it, as my model friend."

David S. Neft:

"Bob was a talented, dedicated, professional writer, researcher, artist and teacher. If you stop for a minute and think about your friends and colleagues you will realize how rare it is for someone to achieve his level of proficiency in four different areas of activity.

Moreover, he was a great guy with the most tolerant disposition. In the 36 years that I was privileged to have him as a friend he was never angry at another person. He only got upset at an inanimate object - his computer when it wasn't working properly. I deeply miss our frequent telephone conversations about sports, theater, art and politics.

Mark Ford:

I'll remember Bob for two things. He was a professional writer who helped aspiring amateurs (like me), to get published; and he had a great sense of humor that added to the telling, and retelling, of pro football's history.

It would be overly dramatic to describe Bob as Prometheus of the sports pages, but the Coffin Corner has been the place where we football fans got a chance to see our work in print, getting a small measure of immortality before returning to our mundane jobs. He helped bring these enthusiasts together, creating a market for publications about pro football history. Talented authors would have been published, even without PFRA; but I'm not sure that their books would have been about football. You needed no resume' to get published in The Coffin Corner, Bob Carroll would accept your contribution to the CC, regardless of your background.

That leads him to the other topic, Bob Carroll the humorist, and he was at his best when he was responding to other. Some people at the PFRA Forum didn't like it, of course. I looked at it this way- if Bob acknowledged what you were saying, then it was an obvious sign that he cared about what you were saying. It was an unwritten rule; let's wait and see how Bob deals with this guy, and it was fun to watch. As far as snappy comebacks that leave you saying, "I wish I'd thought of that," he was the master. In this issue, of course, are some of the best of Bob's Coffin Corner writings, most of which are punctuated with humorous observations. He was one of these guys who could see the funny side to just about anything. I think he would have appreciated the irony of a football publication discussing "the passing of Bob Carroll," without a single passing statistic. Thanks, Bob, for the ground you gained for us.

Vince Popo:

I first met Bob back in 1978 or so. We were brought together as a group of people interested in football research. I was working at the Football Hall of Fame in Canton and was a friend of Joe Horrigan when Joe twisted my arm to help with this new organization called the Pro Football Researchers Association (PFRA). No one in this group ever thought it would last more than a few years. It is amazing that it lasted three decades. For the most part, it was due to Bob Carroll's dedication. Our first meeting was held in Canton at the HOF and I remember clearly because we met for a cookout at my house and I was the chef. The menu consisted of barbecue chicken, corn on the cob, salad and beverages.

As I got to know Bob, three things stood out to me. First was his dry sense of humor. Christmas cards the early years from Bob were always homemade. My favorite was "Seasoning" Greetings featuring a salt and peppershaker in yuletide attire. What was sad, I had to have Joe Horrigan (the king of bad jokes and puns) explain it to me.

The second thing I remember about Bob was his artistic talent. I still have a set of early Canton Bulldog lithographs that Bob drew. My favorite was Pete "Fats" Henry.

The third thing I remember about Bob was his love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the 70's, Bob had a lot to crow about. Being a Browns fan I found this irritating. Not as irritated as I am today with the Browns but four Super Bowl trophies (as of 2009) to the Brownies' none was a sore topic.

It is with great sadness that I say goodbye to Bob Carroll. I know that whenever the Steelers are playing, Bob and Myron Cope are sitting somewhere together waving those damn terrible towels. My only solace is that the Bengals (the closest thing to the Browns) pulled out a victory against the Black and Gold on September 27, 2009."

Ken Crippen:

"My first experience with Bob was through a telephone call in the early 1990's. I was calling to talk about football history in Western New York and he was in the middle of watching a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Anyone who knows Bob, knows that he was an avid baseball fan. He stopped watching the game in order to talk with me. We had never met before and he barely knew me. It was not until later that I realized how much he loved baseball, and it meant a lot to me that he would stop watching the game to help me with my research.

Bob appointed me Assistant Executive Director in December of 2006. Since that time, he and I worked closely together to make sure that the PFRA would continue after his passing. I have dedicated myself to making sure that the PFRA will continue to grow and flourish in the future.

I am honored to have had Bob as my mentor and friend.

The PFRA would not be where it is today without the vision, dedication, loyalty and hard work of Bob Carroll. The PFRA is his lasting legacy.

Hall of Very Good Logo

This month's Coffin Corner

1958 Baltimore Colts

The 1966 Green Bay Packers

The All-America Football Conference

The Early History of Professional Football

A Minor Masterpiece