Pottsville Maroons

The Maroons' self-made trophy (carved out of anthracite coal) now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In American football, there is considerable controversy over whether the Pottsville Maroons should have been awarded the 1925 National Football League Championship instead of the Chicago Cardinals. Officially, the league lists the Cardinals as the champions because they finished with the best record during the 1925 season. However, many fans to this day claim that the Maroons were the legitimate champions: Pottsville would have had the official best record if not for a disputed, controversial ruling by then-league president Joseph Carr to suspend the club after it played an unauthorized exhibition game against a non-NFL team in Philadelphia.


Under the league rules during that time, the NFL title was automatically given to the team with the best record at the end of the season instead of having the winner be determined by a playoff tournament. Also there was an open-ended schedule during that season; although the final listed league games ended on December 6, teams could still schedule contests against each other through December 20 so they could make more money.[1]

Pottsville vs. Chicago (1925)
1 2 3 4 Total
Pottsville Maroons 0 14 0 7 14
Chicago Cardinals 0 7 0 0 0
Date December 6, 1925
Stadium Comiskey Park
Location Chicago, Illinois
Pottsville vs. Notre Dame All-Stars (1925)
1 2 3 4 Total
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 7 0 0 0 7
Pottsville Maroons 0 0 6 3 6
Date December 12, 1925
Stadium Shibe Park
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Referee Bill Hollenback
Attendance 10,000

On December 6, Pottsville defeated Chicago, 21-7, to establish the best record in the league and seemed to all but officially clinch the NFL championship.[2] However, two things happened: First, the Cardinals hastily scheduled games against two weak teams which had disbanded for the year.[1] Secondly, NFL President Joseph Carr suspended the Maroons for playing a team of University of Notre Dame All-Stars in Philadelphia (and winning 9-7) on the same day the Frankford Yellow Jackets were previously scheduled to play the exact same team in Philadelphia, violating Frankford's franchise rights.[1] Although Carr warned the Maroons in writing that they faced suspension if they played the Notre Dame All-Stars in Philadelphia, the Maroons claim that the league office verbally approved the game during a telephone call.[2]

Prior to the controversy, a non-league exhibition game was scheduled in which the Notre Dame All-Stars would face the best NFL team in the east.[1] Although most believed this would be Frankford, the Maroons became the top NFL eastern team, and therefore became contractually and legally obligated to play the Notre Dame exhibition game after they defeated the Yellow Jackets, 49-0, on November 29. Frankford, who were Pottsville's bitter rivals even before both teams had joined the NFL, then quickly scheduled a game for the same day against the Cleveland Bulldogs, and subsequently protested the Maroons-Notre Dame game to the league. By those two actions, the Yellow Jackets appeared to be playing the role of spoilsport since it was they who had helped arrange the exhibition game with Notre Dame, fully expecting they would play host.[1]

Due to the suspension, Pottsville did not complete its 1925 schedule. Earlier, the Maroons had announced that a game at Providence was scheduled for the day after the All-Star game. With the suspension, the Maroons were unable to fulfill their schedule. Ironically, Frankford was hurriedly substituted.

Chicago was declared the 1925 champions by default as the result of Pottsville's suspension.[1] This decision was controversial. First, the Maroons' final league game, the 21-7 victory over the same Cardinals on December 6, was a dominant win. Secondly, Chicago, after losing to Pottsville, played two hastily-arranged games against clubs which had disbanded for the year: the Milwaukee Badgers and the Hammond Pros.[1] The Badgers were forced to field four high school students in the season finale, which was in violation of NFL rules, while the Pros had not played a game in 6 weeks.[1] The NFL heavily sanctioned both Chicago and Milwaukee following their game, going so far as to force the Badgers owner to sell the team. Carr said they would consider the game for removal from the standings; however, this never happened.[1]

Although the NFL attempted to officially award the 1925 NFL championship to the Cardinals, they refused the title.[3] At the owners' meeting after the season was over, Cardinals owner Chris O'Brien felt his team did not deserve to take the title over a team which had beaten them fairly, and thus the 1925 championship was never officially awarded to anyone.[2]


For several decades, various fans and sportswriters continued to lobby the league to reverse the decision. Though it is sometimes stated that the largest obstacle facing the Pottsville supporters is that the NFL would have to strike two of the Cardinals' wins for the Maroons to have the best record in 1925, this is not so. Even if Carr disqualified only the Badgers-Cardinals game, while it would not be enough to give the Maroons sole possession of the best record in 1925 (because tie games were not officially counted in the standings under the rules during that time), the Maroons had beaten the Cardinals head-to-head and would be ahead in the standings based on that win. Fans of football who want to see the current situation changed generally only ask that Pottsville be given a share of the championship, accepting the reality that the NFL is unlikely to completely strip a team of a championship it has had for over 85 years.[original research?]

It is sometimes stated that Pottsville played a fairly easy schedule prior to their suspension, often facing teams that were less than full strength from playing the day before in Frankford, making Pottsville's case less sympathetic.[1] However, the Maroons' final three games were against the Green Bay Packers, who finished the year at 8-5-1, the Yellow Jackets, who had beaten them earlier in the year and finished 13-8, and the Cardinals.[4] Furthermore, Pottsville beat both Chicago and the Notre Dame All-Stars (at a time when elite college football teams were generally superior to teams from the emerging NFL), proving they were definitely a premier team.

By 1963, the NFL appointed a special commission to examine the case, but voted 12-2 in favor of continuing to recognize the Cardinals as champions. The lone dissenters were Art Rooney and George Halas, the then-owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears, respectively.[1] In 2003, the issue was brought up again during the league's October owners meeting. However, the NFL voted 30-2 not to reopen the case, with the lone supporters being the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles, the league's two Pennsylvania teams.[5] Ironically, Philadelphia's franchise is the direct successor to and is the same franchise (although, in league records, not the same team) as the Frankford Yellow Jackets, the very team that filed the protest that resulted in the ruling in the first place; the Eagles replaced the Yellow Jackets after the latter went bankrupt and ceased operations.

One of the strongest opponents of a reversal has been the family of Charles Bidwill and his son Bill Bidwill, who have controlled the Cardinals since 1933, and began to claim the 1925 title as their very own.[6] Because the now-Arizona Cardinals franchise currently holds the NFL record for the longest championship drought (and second only to the Chicago Cubs within the four major professional sports leagues), having won only one title since 1925 (in 1947) and only five playoff games (three of those in one postseason) in sixty years, this futility has been attributed to a sports-related curse placed on the team by Pottsville.[6][7]

The controversy involving territorial rights also led to the founding of the first American Football League after New York Giants owner Tim Mara objected to the leasing of Yankee Stadium and the application of an NFL franchise by C. C. Pyle. When the NFL rejected Pyle's overture, he formed a competing league to showcase the talents of Red Grange and University of Washington All-American George "Wildcat" Wilson. The rival league folded after the 1926 season.[8]

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