If you love good writing, football history and the meaning of football to society, look no further than this account of the 1925 Pottsville Maroons. This is sports history and sports writing at its very best.
The Pottsville Maroons were a team located in a small, hard scrabble coal mining town in Eastern Pennsylvania, the kind of small town that would never be able to successfully host a professional team in 2010. But 1925 was a different era when professional football was a more quixotic endeavor and college football reigned supreme.
The team featured some great players that came from the coal mines, like tough running back Tony Latone, whom the author convincingly argues should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. The author tells the stories of many of the key players on this team, including player/coach Dick Rauch and colorful owner Dr. John G. Striegel. It was a very fascinating era and group of men.
This book also does an outstanding job of placing the team in its era and locale. He renders up what it must have been like to live in a tough coal mining town in the 1920’s, as well as what professional football was like at a time when many of the professional teams were located in smaller markets.
He also relates the importance of the team to the town. It was the one common element between the poorest of the poor, the hard working coal miners, and the wealthy owners of the mines and other establishments. This team was the one thing the entire town could rally around. It gave the very hard working denizens of Pottsville something to look forward to.
And of course the team itself is just absolutely fascinating. It was a motley group of men with some great players and a dedicated coach who had a year that should have crowned them in perpetuity as champions of the football world.
This book walks us through the entire 1925 seasons with the context of previous seasons mixed in so we understand just where the Pottsville Maroons stood. They only lost two games that year but they avenged each close loss later in the season with convincing blowout wins over the Providence Steam Rollers and the Frankford Yellow Jackets.
The 1925 Pottsville Maroons went 14-2 including a 9-7 win over the Notre Dame All-Stars. At that point in history, college teams were superior to professional football teams and no professional team had ever won this exhibition game. This win over the storied Notre Dame players and the Four Horsemen put the NFL on the map and legitimized professional football.
At the end of the season the Pottsville Maroons were the rightful owners of the NFL title. But then a travesty occurred.
At that time in professional football they had “territories” where no other professional team could play an exhibition game in another teams “territory.” Being cash strapped and wanting to prove to the world how great they were, the Pottsville Maroons played the exhibition game against the Notre Dame All-Stars in Philadelphia, the territory of the Frankford Yellow Jackets (a suburb of Philadelphia).
Frankford's general manager, Shep Royle, protested and in a convoluted turn of events the Pottsville Maroons had their title striped from them by then-NFL commissioner Joseph Carr.
The championship was given to the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) who are officially listed at the NFL Champion of 1925, despite that the Pottsville Maroons beat them convincingly 21-7 in the lat game of their season. The controversy of the Pottsville Maroons continues today.
Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship by David Fleming
ESPN Books 2007
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