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The NFL Needs a Marooning


This is a repost from the entry I did on Sporting News and other sites. Enjoy.

In 83 years, this great country has seen many things change the very landscape of the nation as we know it. This is a day of age where accolades are more important to us than results. Also, controversy and negative publicity are what we would much rather read about than a feel-good news headline of any kind. Then there's the story of the Pottsville Maroons.

The year 1925 was significant in many ways during the "Roaring 20s". It was a time where Prohibition was very much alive, and Calvin Coolidge was our 30th U.S. President in office. Babe Ruth was in the midst of an iconic career in baseball. Bobby Jones was on top of golf. Jack Dempsey was the household name in boxing. And Red Grange was the most popular name on the college gridiron. Then there's the Pottsville Maroons.

Pottsville, Pennsylvania, a small town about 90 miles northeast of Harrisburg, had signed on to play in the National Football League in 1925. Pottsville, known for it's overabundance of arthricite(a fine carbon coal), had played in the very tough Arthricite League prior to joining the NFL. After meeting with NFL Commissioner Joseph Carr, Pottsville owner J.G. Streigel, a town physician, was looking forward to competing in the NFL.

The Maroons won five of their first six games of the season with their only loss to Providence in Week 2 by the score of 6-0. The Maroons didn't allow anyone else to score in those games as they outscored their opponents 131-6 which included avenging their loss to Providence by the score of 34-0 in Week 4. In Week 7, the Maroons lost their second game of the season to rival Frankford, 20-0. The next day, Pottsville beat Rochester 14-6 to get back on track. Then they beat Cleveland and Green Bay before getting their rematch with Frankford. The rematch was a far cry from the first meeting as Pottsville dominated in a 49-0 win over Frankford.

So after their win over Frankford, they played the Chicago Cardinals in what was billed as the unofficial NFL Championship Game. In snowy and bitterly cold Chicago conditions, the Maroons beat the Cardinals 21-7 to seemingly lock up the NFL Championship.

Pottsville was contractually obligated to play Notre Dame six days later in Philadelphia, but received stiff warnings from Carr about playing the game. Streigel claimed he did receive permission from the front office to play the game. Since Frankford was in that territory and they had a scheduled game that day, they said Pottsville violated territorial rules. It should be noted that Frankford had originally scheduled a game against Notre Dame not long after the first game between them and Pottsville fully expecting to be the league champions. However, they slipped down the stretch and Pottsville ended up with the best record so they played Notre Dame instead. Also, Frankford and Pottsville were heated rivals long before the 1925 season.

The game was played and Pottsville beat the Notre Dame All-Stars on a field goal in the closing minute, 9-7. This was the same Notre Dame team that had the famed Four Horsemen playing, and was played during a time where the college game was thought to be far better than the pro game. The win by Pottsville gave the fledging NFL legitimacy after many believed that it was a castoff league for former college players.

Two days earlier, the Cardinals played a game against the Milwaukee Badgers, a team that disbanded during the season. Milwaukee played the game with four high school players, a violation of league rules. The Cardinals won that game 59-0. Then they won a game against another team that disbanded from the league that year in their finale, the Hammond Pros.

So after having to sort out the mess, Carr ruled that Pottsville would be stripped of the NFL Championship. Furthermore, the Maroons were suspended well as having their franchise returned to the league, and they couldn't complete their remaining schedule. The Cardinals were fined and one player, Art Folz, received a permanent ban for his part in recruiting high school players in the game the Cardinals played against Milwaukee.

At that time, the rival American Football League was forming and they signed star Red Grange. Grange, who had just signed with the Chicago Bears that season, played during a barnstorming tour that gave the league much needed notoriety, and he was the biggest gate attraction at the time. After the season, Grange decided to join the AFL. This also posed a serious problem for Carr.

So after consideration, a meeting took place between Carr, Streigel, and Frankford Yellow Jackets owner Shep Royle. It was agreed that Streigel would be allowed to bring Pottsville back into the league if he didn't request the document stating the territorial rule any longer. Also, Royle would receive the money that Pottsville made during their game in Philadelphia against Notre Dame, though not all of it. Carr considered to remove the Cardinals/Badgers game from the standings, but that never happened.

Carr didn't have much choice in bringing back Pottsville fearing they would join the AFL, and knowing they had great fan support, too. Pottsville had such great fan support that teams would try to schedule games in Pottsville to take advantage of the coalmine crowds as well as help them out financially. Carr awarded the 1925 NFL Championship to the Cardinals, but then-owner Chris O'Brien refused to accept it because he didn't feel they earned it on the field. As it turned out, O'Brien became a strong advocate for Pottsville, and the title was never officially awarded to anyone.

Pottsville finished in third place in 1926, but the lingering effects of 1925 signaled dark days ahead for not only the team but town, too. The team played in Pottsville until 1928, then played their final season in 1929 in Boston as the Bulldogs. They went out in style as they beat the Buffalo Bison in Pottsville on October 27, 1929. Two days later, the Stock Market crashed in what later became known as "Black Tuesday". The Great Depression had begun.

Americans had begun to look for alternatives for fueling their homes as well which put the nail in the coffin for the town of Pottsville. Pottsville had lived the American dream of being the smallest town to host an NFL team, but fell to it's knees by having the NFL Championship taken from them as well as economic collapse.

In 1932, the Cardinals were bought by Charles Bidwell. The franchise then claimed the 1925 NFL Championship as their own. The Cardinals won the NFL Championship in 1947, but Bidwell was not around because he died that season. The Cardinals have made the playoffs only four times since then and have just one playoff win which came after the team last made the playoffs in 1998.

By 1963, the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened up with their initial class. It was also in 1963 that the NFL voted on whether Pottsville should be 1925 NFL Champions. The league voted 12-2 against Pottsville. The two lone supporters were the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears. Also in forty five years since the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened, not a single player from the 1925 Pottsville team has ever made it in. I'll get back to that in a little bit.

Forty years later in 2003, a vote took place amongst the NFL owners as to whether they should discuss the 1925 NFL Championship controversy. The league voted 30-2 against Pottsville on this occasion. The two in favor of Pottsville were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, the Pennsylvania teams. Oddly enough, it was the Philadelphia Eagles who bought the rights to the Frankford Yellow Jackets franchise in 1931, the very team who started this whole mess to begin with.

It's also very important to note that current Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell is part of a three person committee that looks into the controversy of the 1925 NFL Championship. It is believed that Bidwell is using his influence behind the scenes to squash the hopes of the Maroons ever seeing the 1925 NFL Championship returned to them. It's also believed that with the lack of success and only one other NFL Championship is why the Bidwell family has a strong hold on the 1925 NFL Championship.

Here's the roster for the 1925 Pottsville Maroons team:

Owner: J.G. Streigel
Head Coach: Dick Rauch

Clarence Beck, T
Charlie Berry, E/K
Frank Bucher, E
Harry Dayhoff, RB
Eddie Doyle, E
Jack Ernst, QB
Hoot Flanagan, RB
Walt French, RB
Russ Hathaway, T
Denny Hughes, C
Tony Latone, RB
Fungy Lebengood, RB
Armin Mahrt, RB
Bob Millman, RB
Duke Osborn, G
Frank Racis, G
Ed Sauer, T
Herb Stein, C
Russ Stein, T
Barney Wentz, FB
The players are listed by their primary positions. Typically, offensive linemen played either on the defensive line or at linebacker on defense. Running backs and offensive ends played defensive back for the most part.

Now here's a couple of players from that team that should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

Tony Latone: If you were forced to pick only one guy off the 1925 Pottsville team to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Latone would be that guy. He was the unofficial leader in rushing yards in the 1920s. Football statistics weren't as up to date then, but Latone is often credited with 2,648 career rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. He had 32 more career rushing yards and five more touchdowns than Red Grange in 30 less games. He played only six seasons, but in the era that they played and the fact he was the best running back in the 1920s, one has to wonder why the Pro Football Hall of Fame has overlooked this guy for 45 years. Latone belongs in.

Duke Osborn: One of the reasons why Pottsville had a dominant ground game is because of the play of Osborn. Osborn joined the NFL in it's inaugural season in 1920 with the Canton Bulldogs. Canton had many star players, and put together an impressive 26-game winning streak beginning in 1922. One of the first great lineman to pull out of the line to lead a block to the second level, Osborn was very good at center and guard. Canton won NFL Titles in 1922-23, and moved to Cleveland where they won their third NFL Championship in a row in 1924. Osborn signed with Pottsville in 1925 to lead them to what many still believe is their championship. If Pottsville is ever awarded the 1925 NFL Championship, Osborn will officially be the only player in NFL history to win four consecutive NFL Championships. I believe for that reason as well as his play that he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, too.

I didn't research all of the players, but I believe these guys belong in.

Some fast facts about the Pottsville Maroons......

-Pottsville is the smallest city to have an NFL team as well as the smallest to win a league title. They were often dubbed as the "Green Bay Packers of the East" in the years they existed. Green Bay is currently the smallest city to have an NFL team.

-Charlie Berry kicked the game-winning field goal in the win against the Notre Dame All-Stars in 1925. After 1926, Berry played catcher in Major League Baseball for the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Philadelphia Athletics between 1928-1938. He later became an American League umpire in 1942, doing that for twenty years. Berry also became a head linesman for 24 years in the NFL at the same time. In 1958, he became the only person in pro sports history to officiate the World Series, NFL Championship(the famous "Sudden Death Game" between the Giants and Colts), and College All-Star game in one year. Oh, I forgot to mention that Berry was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980 for his great play at Lafayette College in the 1920s. One of his teammates at Lafayette was Pottsville quarterback Jack Ernst. An impressive list of accomplishments for Berry.

-Pottsville's all-time NFL record is 31-24-1 which includes the last season as the Boston Bulldogs in 1929. Rauch coached the team in all those years except 1928 when the team had Osborn and Pete Henry running the Maroons.

-Pottsville made a trophy of their own and the surviving players presented it to Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964. It is carved out of arthracite coal mined near Pottsville which is the picture shown at the top of the page.

Here are some quotes about the Maroons.....

"I have always believed that the Pottsville Maroons won the 1925 NFL Championship, but were robbed of the honor." ~ NFL and College Football legendary Hall of Famer Red Grange at a banquet in Williamsport, PA after the 1954 season. Source: David Fleming's "Breaker Boys"

"When you're talking about the birthplace of professional football, you're talking about Pennsylvania, you're talking about the Maroons." ~ NFL Hall of Famer and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney

"Your history of the Maroons was illuminating." ~ U.S. President George W. Bush talking about David Fleming's book.

Other famous past and present supporters of the Maroons include Chicago Bears founder George Halas, Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Since the release of David Fleming's Breaker Boys, the Maroons have received much needed media attention. The Maroons have been featured on HBO and ESPN the Magazine. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and current U.S. President George W. Bush have also been informed of the Maroons. Even in London, Pottsville is getting support across the Atlantic Ocean.

On April 18, 2008, a debate took place in Pottsville between Fleming and Joe Horrigan, a long-time opponent of the Maroons. Fleming scored a big victory for the Maroons in the debate as he won 254-218 according to the three judges. The key questions asked in the debate regarded the territorial rule that the Maroons were guilty of violating.

Fleming's answer: "The territory rule never existed. And to this day it probably still doesn't exist."
Horrigan's answer: "I cannot produce any written rules of any sort in 1925." This was after he quoted the 1926 rule of territorial rights.

According to one of the judges, Horrigan's argument mostly consisted of rules that existed in 1926. I think Fleming scored a huge win for Pottsville in that debate from Friday.

I want to thank David Fleming for writing the Breaker Boys and telling the fabulous and objective story of the Pottsville Maroons. I was skeptical about reading it, but the more I read it, the more I became appalled about what the NFL did to Pottsville. As a former resident of Pennsylvania that worked in Harrisburg for over a year, I can safely say that state is most proud of it's pro football history. And admittedly, that's part of the reason why I support the Maroons and Fleming because of being a former PA resident.

For 83 years, the NFL has chosen to ignore the Maroons in every way imaginable. The town only asks to be heard, and the NFL has been passive about doing so. No other city or team has been treated unfairly as the town of Pottsville. When you think about the great pioneers of the NFL like Halas, Grange, or Pete Rozelle, one has to include the Pottsville Maroons in the conversation. They helped to establish what the NFL has become today. They deserve better than this.

Thank you David Fleming for opening the eyes of many, including myself. It's my hope that the NFL will open it's eyes to a team that did so much to shape the NFL to what it is today. Besides, 83 years is long enough to be blinded by what has happened to Pottsville. It's my hope that the 1925 NFL Championship be returned to Pottsville. After reading that book, I'll never forget the story of the town that did the unthinkable in it's first year of existance. It's my hope that others who read this will do the same, and give credit to the man who truly deserves it: David Fleming.

Sources: David Fleming's Breaker Boys, pro-footballreference.com, breakerboys1925.com, NFL.com, wikipedia.org

For those who agree with Fleming, who is an ESPN sportswriter, here is the petition in support of the Pottsville Maroons:

Maroons petition

So far, close to 12,000 people have signed this petition.

Here is the official site of the Maroons: Breaker Boys. This site gives you updates on the Maroons as well as a place to buy the book, too.

Thank you to all who read this and this one's for the Breaker Boys!

David Funk
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