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Irish 11's Time Machine -- 1925: A Colorful Season

 
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Irish 11


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 4:28 pm    Post subject: Irish 11's Time Machine -- 1925: A Colorful Season Reply with quote



At the outset of the 1925 season, the NFL had come a long way in its 5-year existence. When first established, the league was a general association of teams with professional players who wished to stop players from leaving one team in midseason to join another. The owners and managers who formed the league in 1920 named it the American Professional Football Association. There was no set league calendar or schedule, and even the rules regarding mercenary players weren’t effectively enforced. Jim Thorpe was elected president of the association mainly due to the recognition his name would provide.

By 1925 the league had developed a greater structure, thank in large part to league president Joe Carr. Carr succeeded Thorpe in 1921 and following that season, helped enact the name change to National Football League. Under Carr’s watch the fledgling league also adopted a stricter calendar, with firm start and end dates for the playing season, and because teams were still responsible for scheduling their own games, established a minimum number of “league games” that each team was compelled to play to maintain membership.

The NFL’s sixth season witnessed the birth of one of its bedrock franchises. With the relaxation of New York City’s blue laws, Sunday football was finally possible in the nation’s biggest city and Tim Mara took advantage, paying $500 for the territorial rights to the NFL’s New York City franchise. The Giants posted an 8-4 record in 1925 and would go on to win the franchise’s first championship in 1927, just the team’s third year of existence. The Giants’ fine first season played second fiddle to a couple of other 1925 storylines – all of which involved shades of red.

Another freshman team in that year was the Pottsville (Pa.) Maroons, who took the NFL by storm from the start by posting a 10-2 record. Pottsville defeated the Chicago Cardinals, the next strongest team in the league, on the road by a 21-7 margin in the squad’s last game of the season, putting Pottsville in the driver’s seat for the league championship with two weeks remaining in the season. On the heels of this victory, which essentially sealed the league championship for the team, the Maroons entered into a contract to play an exhibition game against a team of Notre Dame all-stars at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.

Prior to 1933, NFL Championships weren’t earned on the field, rather they were awarded by the owners to the consensus “best team” in the league. This was generally determined by winning percentage and late season victories.

********

While the upstart Maroons were enjoying a fantastic breakout season, the league’s two teams in Chicago were making headlines of their own. As previously mentioned, the Chicago Cardinals were enjoying their finest season to date, thanks to a career year from Paddy Driscoll, the team’s star halfback/defensive back/punter. However, his performance was upstaged by speculation regarding the status of college football’s greatest star – Harold “Red” Grange of the University of Illinois.

As the end of Grange’s senior season approached, he was besieged by offers for his professional services. The winning bid came from George Halas, the owner and coach of the Chicago Bears, who guaranteed Grange 50% of all ticket sales. Red Grange made his professional debut on Thanksgiving Day, 1925 in a rivalry game between the two Chicago teams. While he made a smash hit at the gate, a record crowd of 36,000 people showed to see his first game, he did not have a great impact on the field and the game ended in a scoreless tie. Even more disappointing to Cardinals manager Chris O’Brien was the fact that he agreed to a flat guarantee before the contest, shorting his club of thousands of dollars in gate receipts.

Grange, Halas and the Bears then set off on a barnstorming tour across the Midwest and Northeast to showcase the new Chicago star to football fans who had read about his heroics in Grantland Rice’s syndicated columns, but never had the opportunity to see him play in person. The tour was a tremendous financial success for both Halas and Grange: 35,000 people watched the Bears defeat the Frankford Yellow Jackets in Philadelphia; 25,000 saw Chicago lose a squeaker to the Providence Steam Roller in Boston; and a record crowd of 65,000 people filled the Polo Grounds to see the “Galloping Ghost” down the New York Giants.

While the Bears were away on tour, the Cardinals lost the aforementioned contest to Pottsville and, as a result, the lead for the league championship. Because the teams were free to schedule their own contests and because the season did not officially end for another two weeks, O’Brien scheduled the Cardinals to play two games against weak opponents. His hope was to increase the team’s winning percentage in hopes of earning another game with the Bears when they returned from tour. Of much lesser concern was the league championship, the Cardinals franchise was losing money and needed the payday another, better negotiated, game with Grange’s Bears would bring.

The Cardinals won their “extra” games handily as both their opponents, the Milwaukee Badgers and the Hammond Pros, had already disbanded for the year. At 11-2-1, the Cardinals felt they were back in the Championship picture and, more importantly, had earned another shot at the Bears.

The Grange barnstorming tour was a grueling 14-day affair, during which the Bears played 10 games. The schedule was too ambitious for the team and their new star and the team returned to Chicago in mid-December licking their wounds and with their new star nursing an injured arm and on the shelf until the end of the regular season. O’Brien’s dream of a big 1925 payday was dashed.

******

Meanwhile, with their regular season finished, the Pottsville Maroons prepared for their exhibition game against the Notre Dame all-stars. Since the Maroons had posted the league’s best record and defeated their closest competition handily, the local press and team managers proclaimed the team “NFL Champions,” figuring it a mere formality until the title was officially bestowed upon them by the rest of the NFL owners.

There was one problem with the exhibition game that Pottsville was scheduled to play: the Frankford Yellow Jackets held the territorial rights to Philadelphia and had scheduled a game across town the same day as the exhibition. If the Maroons followed through with their contest at Shibe Park, they would be in violation of the Frankford franchise’s sovereignty. When league president Joe Carr caught wind of the situation, he issued several warnings to Pottsville management not to play the exhibition game or face suspension. The Maroons decided to test the NFL’s resolve and played the game as scheduled. Immediately following the contest, Carr suspended the Maroons from competing for the rest of the season and eliminated them from contention for the Championship.

The outcry from the Pottsville faithful was tremendous. Local newspapers claimed the league stole the championship from the small town team. After the season, Pottsville management appealed the decision, but the verdict remained. Adding to the Maroons’ outrage was the fact that the Cardinals’ game against the short-handed Milwaukee Badgers violated league rules as well, due to the usage of amateur players. Despite the claims of unfair treatment from Pottsville and its supporters, the league owners awarded the 1925 Championship to the Chicago Cardinals, the league’s best eligible team.

The story doesn’t end there. Chris O’Brien recognized that his team had been soundly defeated by the Pottsville squad and stated that the Cardinals would not accept a championship that had not been won on the field of play. The league owners, in hopes of changing O’Brien’s mind, tabled the vote but never re-addressed the issue.

Technically speaking, the 1925 Championship was never officially won by, nor awarded to anyone!

The Maroons and Cardinals weren’t the only ones in this tale to end their season in disappointment. With his one season contract with the Bears fulfilled, and at a stalemate in negotiations for another season, Red Grange jumped ship to the New York Yankees franchise in the American Football League for the next season, leaving George Halas without his starring attraction and providing a rival league with a bona fide headline grabber.
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Steegles46


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 7:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Outstanding post Irish 11, and as a man born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania - a short drive from Pottsville - this story hits home. A couple of things I can add to the story:

- The league did hand down a punishment for the Chicago-Milwaukee game. The owner of the Milwaukee was given an ultimatum by the league and forced to sell his franchise within 90 days. Cardinal player Art Folz, who admitted to procuring the handful of high schoolers so that Milwaukee could field a team, was banned from the NFL for life. Cardinals owner Chris O'Brien is widely believed not to have known about this matter, and was therefore only fined $1,000. The NFL then said that they would remove the game from the official standings, but never got around to it. Technically, it wouldn't have mattered anyway, as the Pottsville team was already suspended, and the Cardinals had the next-best record with our without the win.

- The league appointed a commission to review the case in 1963, but ultimately that commission voted 12-2 to reaffirm the decision. The two dissenting votes, it should be noted, were from Art Rooney (owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and George Halas (owner of the Chicago Bears).

- The league held a vote to determine whether or not to reopen the case in 2003, but at the owners meeting that issue was voted down 30-2. The two dissenters: Art Rooney again, and Jeffery Lurie (owner of the Philadelphia Eagles).

- It should also be noted that Pottsville had (and still has) a small population. Therefore, to make enough money to operate the club, Dr. J.G. Striegel (the owner of the Maroons) held a good number of the Maroons' home games in Frankfurt, a neighborhood just outside the city of Philadelphia and a close proximity to Pottsville. Because of strict Pennsylvania Blue Laws, football games were banned from being played on Sundays. Therefore, the only day a football game could be held on without losing money were Saturdays. Because the Yellow Jackets played in Frankfurt, it was difficult to schedule games that didn't conflict. In a real way, this circumstance which forced the Maroons' suspension was inevitable.

Great post Irish 11! Thank you for the effort!
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spush


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 7:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Irish, you never cease to amaze me.

You are the most legitamate football history buff I've never met. This is why I defer history discussions to you in the Steelers forum.

Great work.

One question though, I thought the Canton/Massilon Bulldogs were the class of the league back then. Isnt that who Jim Thorpe played for?

Also, what happened to the Pottsville team? Did it dissolve or move under a new name? Are the Maroons the current Eagles?

OK, more than one question. Great work though.
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ab712g


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 7:50 pm    Post subject: 1925 Reply with quote

That was a very good post, Irish 11. If you do more yearly time flashbacks to a certain year, you should do 1980 next, which was a very exciting year with a very thrilling postseason. Another season that I would like to examine would be 1981, the year that I started following the NFL as an 8 year old. That was a fun year as well.
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ConvenientTruth


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 10:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My Hero!
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Steegles46


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

spush wrote:
Irish, you never cease to amaze me.

You are the most legitamate football history buff I've never met. This is why I defer history discussions to you in the Steelers forum.

Great work.

One question though, I thought the Canton/Massilon Bulldogs were the class of the league back then. Isnt that who Jim Thorpe played for?

Also, what happened to the Pottsville team? Did it dissolve or move under a new name? Are the Maroons the current Eagles?

OK, more than one question. Great work though.

I can field the question regarding the Pottsville team. After 1926, the team sank into the cellar of the NFL as their stars aged, retired, or signed elsewhere. Unable to compete in such a small market, the owner moved the team to Boston in 1929, renaming the team the Boston Bulldogs (quite the popular name at the time). However, Boston was not the football town it is today, and after a poor financial showing there - coupled with the realities of the Depression Era - the team folded. A few years later in 1932, the Boston Braves were formed (what are now called the Washington Redskins), though the NFL is very clear that this is a new franchise, not the reforming of the Maroons.
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tml_gogo


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 10:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, one of the more interesting posts I've ever read here on FF, thanks for the 15 minutes of flashback Irish 11.
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Irish 11


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2007 10:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another interesting fact is this:

The Frankford Yellow Jackets were the team that originally set up the contract for the exhibition against the Notre Dame All-Stars. The contract called for the former Fightin' Irish to play the "best team in the East."

The motivation for playing these type of exhibition contests was simply to bring in more money for clubs that were mostly operating in the red.

Frankford management made the arrangements after defeating Pottsville midway through the season, giving the Yellow Jackets the best record in the east at 10-3. However, Frankford lost three out of its next four games, including a humilating 49-0 loss against the Maroons, and lost the right to play in the exhibition.

Considering they established the contract, Frankford never expected another team to play the exhibition in Philadelphia, but much to their consternation, local rival Pottsville held the mantle of "best in the east" and prepared to play the game. In a move most speculate was born from pure spite, Frankford management scheduled the home game that conflicted with the Notre Dame exhibition for the expressed purpose of creating the conflict. If Frankford couldn't reap the windfall of the exhibition game, then they didn't want any team to.

-------

spush, I'll address your question regarding Jim Thorpe and the Ohio teams tomorrow. I want to be sure to have my dates right and it's too tedious to do online fact checking on my dial-up connection at home.

Thanks to all who enjoy the thread.
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Irish 11


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

spush wrote:


One question though, I thought the Canton/Massilon Bulldogs were the class of the league back then. Isnt that who Jim Thorpe played for?

.


The Canton Bulldogs were the class of Pro Football, but it was in the years leading up to the formation of the NFL.

A little back history is in order here. Professionalism in football got its start in Western Pennsylvania. It was part of the social scene to be a member of an athletic club and these athletic clubs would compete against one another in various sports, football included. Of course, with competition comes two things -- rivalry and gambling. Because of the these two factors, teams began bringing in paid ringers to compete in big games. This eventually evolved into a situation where athletic club football teams were made up of recruited mercenary pros.

After pro football in Western Pennsyvania hit its zenith in the early 1900s and went into a decline, the same phenomenon began to occur in Ohio. The teams in Ohio were referred to as the "Ohio League" although there was no real organization about the way games were scheduled and no official champion was declared. The two dominant teams during that era were the Canton Bulldogs and the Massillon Tigers.

In 1915, Jim Thorpe began playing for the Canton Bulldogs and they were the best team in the region for the remainder of the decade. Meanwhile, Massillon ran into financial trouble and folded. Sky-rocketing salaries and players jumping from team to team throughout the season was killing teams.

The initial meeting to organize the AFPA was held in a car dealership owned by Canton Bulldogs manager Ralph Hay. Thorpe was aging but was still the best player around and was the Bulldogs' coach.
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Purple-Pride07


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 20, 2007 2:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice post..i saw this whole thing on NFL network as well.
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