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Joe Ziemba

Born: Evergreen Park, Illinois
Connection to Illinois: Ziemba is a life-long resident of the south side of Chicago.

Biography: Recognized as one of the leading authorities on the history of professional football in the country, Joe Ziemba is the award-winning author of the books When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL; Cadets, Cannons, and Legends: The Football History of Morgan Park Military Academy; and Bears vs. Cardinals: The NFL’s Oldest Rivalry.

A life-long resident of the south side of Chicago, Joe first became interested in the history of pro football after discovering that his father was a draft choice of the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals in the 1940s. Because of his knowledge of the early days of the professional game, Joe has been a resource for articles or reports in Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Southtown, the Arizona Republic, NBC Sunday Night Football, CBS Sunday Football, ESPN, and many others. Joe has appeared on the WGN documentary “Football in Chicago,” a Comcast Sports special on the Chicago Bears, on radio stations such as WBBM and WSCR in Chicago, as well as the Global Sports Broadcasting Network.

He hosts the “When Football Was Football” podcast on the Sports History Network (which was one of eight global finalists in both 2022 and 2023 for the football podcast of the year) and is a frequent guest on numerous pro football podcasts. Joe was recently a speaker at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH on the origins of the National Football League (NFL) as the NFL celebrated its belated 100th Anniversary. In 2022, Joe was the recipient of the prestigious Ralph Hay Award presented by the Professional Football Researchers Association for “lifetime achievement in pro football research and historiography.” Finally, in 2023, Joe’s book Bears vs. Cardinals was awarded the “Certificate of Excellence” from the Illinois State Historical Society in that organization’s annual “Best of Illinois History Awards.”

“Ziemba is also the author of When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL, making him the world’s leading — and only — Chicago Cardinals historian.” – Chicago Magazine, October, 2022

  • Body of Work Ralph Hay Award for Lifetime Achievement in Pro Football Research and Historiography, Professional Football Researchers Association
  • Bears vs. Cardinals Certificate of Excellence, Best of Illinois History Awards, Illinois State Historical Society
  • When Football Was Football Nelson Ross Award for Outstanding Achievement in Pro Football Research and Historiography, Professional Football Researchers Association

Primary Literary Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Primary Audience(s): Adult readers


Selected Titles

Bears vs. Cardinals: The NFL's Oldest Rivalry
ISBN: 1476688516 OCLC: 1291695083

McFarland 2022

In their early years, the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals-- the two oldest teams in the National Football League --travelled the country with only rare mention in the newspapers. Both teams later saw their official records destroyed by fire. Most of what is now known about those initial seasons is based on often inaccurate statements made many years later. Reconstructing their missing history, this book draws on newly available resources to document the battles and brawls on and off the field, the cunning backroom deals, the financial woes and the 40-year rivalry that endured while both teams were in Chicago. Figures like Al Capone, Red Grange, Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski make appearances in the lore of two old adversaries whose uneasy alliance helped ensure the survival of the fledgling NFL.

Cadets, Cannons, and Legends: The Football History of Morgan Park Military Academy
ISBN: 1642373419 OCLC: 1079909989

Gatekeeper Press 2018

Digging deep into the intriguing past of football, Cadets, Cannons, and Legends: The Football History of Morgan Park Military Academy takes the reader back to a time when game travel was via train and horse-drawn carts and reporters from the major Chicago newspapers eagerly covered this violent, new sport. With professional football nowhere in sight, high school and college gridiron exploits captured the interest of local readers in the early part of the 20th century. With rare vintage photos, exhaustive research, and numerous personal interviews, author Joe Ziemba details the fascinating history of the Academy football program from its beginnings in 1893 through its final season as Morgan Park Military Academy in 1958. Brutal line play, travel challenges, wacky rivalries, and wildly supportive fan bases are all vividly captured in this glimpse into football’s often inglorious past.Although it has been decades since tiny Morgan Park Military Academy last fielded a football team, the influence of its gridiron program cannot be disregarded. This remarkable school on Chicago’s south side completed twelve undefeated seasons, sent four representatives to the College Football Hall of Fame, and often experienced difficulty scheduling games due to the powerful teams it sent out on the field. Yet, it rarely enrolled more than 200 students in its high school curriculum! Cadets, Cannons, and Legends provides new insight into the early days of high school football and recognizes the forgotten pioneers of what is now America’s favorite spectator sport. This fascinating book is not merely a journey into the gridiron history of Morgan Park Military Academy, but rather, it ushers us down to a front row seat where we can closely observe the roots of football itself.

When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the Birth of the NFL
ISBN: 1572433175 OCLC: 42804041

Triumph Books Chicago, Ill. : 1999

Chicago has a reputation as a tough, practical town. People get the job done without any fuss, and they get the job done well. Chicago's football tradition carries a similar reputation. These are men's men, fighting the good fight and never complaining, playing in the driving snow and the cold wind, taking hits and getting right back out there in the next series. They are tough, honest, Midwestern athletes, and the pride of their city.Containing over ten years of extensive research and accompanied by original archival photographs, When Football was Football delves into this rich football past. The Cardinals, now in Arizona and the sport's oldest franchise, were born in Chicago in 1899. We follow their history, from the early days, when casualty lists were reported after each game, through the inception of the NFL in 1920, the growing pains of the league, the rivalry between the Cardinals and the Bears, two world wars, and finally a resurrection in the late 1940s which resulted in a Cardinal's victory in the 1947 championship.A unique, entertaining look at the early days of football and one of its proudest franchises, When Football was Football captures an era in sports history and brings to life its personalities, rivalries, triumphs, and tragedies.