|Pottsville Maroons - Boston Bulldogs|
|Based in||Pottsville, Pennsylvania (1920-1928) |
Boston, Massachusetts (1929)
|Home field||Minersville Park|
Anthracite League (1924)
National Football League (1925-1929)
|Team History||Pottsville Eleven (1920-24)|
Pottsville Maroons (1924-29)
Boston Bulldogs (1929)
|Team Colors||Maroon, White, Gold|
|Head coaches||Dick Rauch (1925-27, 1929) |
Pete Henry (1928)
|Owner(s)||Yorkville Hose Company (1920-1922)|
Kingsbury, Heinz & Schoeneman (1923)
Dr. John G. Streigel (1924-27)
George Kenneally (1929)
*NFL does not recognize
|Other League Championship wins||Anthracite League:|
The Pottsville Maroons played in the National Football League (NFL) from 1925 to 1928. The team was owned by Dr. John Streigel and played at Minersville Park, now the site of King's Village shopping plaza. The team became the Boston Bulldogs in 1929 (not related to the Boston Bulldogs of the American Football League three years earlier). The NFL considers the Bulldogs and the Maroons to be the same team.
The Maroons, from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, were one of the best teams in the league in 1925 and 1926, recording regular-season records of 10-2 and 10-2-1, respectively. However, the team suffered losing records the next two seasons. In 1929, the team then moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and became the Bulldogs, but folded after the season.
The 1928 roster included three future Pro Football Hall of Fame members - Johnny "Blood" McNally, Walt Kiesling, and coach Wilbur "Pete" Henry - but posted the worst record in franchise history. Writer John O'Hara, who would go on to become a world-famous novelist with Appointment in Samarra, covered the team for the local newspaper.
The Maroons were originally founded in the early 1920s, as the Pottsville Eleven, around the members of the Yorkville Hose Company. In 1922 the team had attracted the sponsorship of area businessmen Harold Kingsbury, Irvin Heinz and Frank Schoeneman. These men upgraded the club by luring talented pro players such as Carl Beck, Benny Boynton and Stan Cofall. However the team still maintained a strong local presence on the field by employing many local residents. This led to success on the field and resulted in a growing fan base.
The team originally played in the Anthracite League, a football league made up of teams based in Pennsylvania coal mining towns. By the end of the 1923 season the team was on the brink of capturing the Anthracite League title.
In 1924 the Pottsville Eleven was purchased for $1,500 by Dr. John G. "Doc" Striegel, a local surgeon. 1924 was the same year the team also adopted the Maroons name. As legend has it, the team placed an order for new football jerseys with Joe Zacko, a local sporting goods supplier. Zacko was told that the color of the jerseys was not important. Knowing that the color of the jerseys was not an issue, Zacko sent the team twenty-five maroon colored jerseys and soon the team was known as the Maroons.
1924 Anthracite League champs
During the 1924 Anthracite League season, the Maroons added three members of the NFL's 1923 Canton Bulldogs championship team to their roster. These players were Larry Conover, Harry Robb and future Hall of Fame inductee Wilbur "Pete" Henry. NFL President Joseph Carr was not pleased to see stars like Henry deserting the league to play for an independent coal region team, but there wasn't much he could do about it unless Pottsville joined the league. A suit filed by Henry's former NFL team was thrown out on a technicality by a Pennsylvania judge. The Maroons then posted a 6-0-1 record against Anthracite League teams and clinched the league title that November with a victory over Coaldale.
Immediately after winning the league title, the Maroons issued challenges to both the NFL champion Cleveland Bulldogs and the Frankford Yellow Jackets, who claimed the Eastern professional championship. When neither team accepted, Striegel scheduled a game with the NFL's Rochester Jeffersons-- arguably the worst team in the NFL, since they had not won a game against an NFL opponent since 1921. These two teams met in a season finale on the last Sunday of November. In what could be seen as an upset, Rochester defeated Pottsville 10-7, giving the Maroons their only loss of the season. However Pottsville ended its 1924 season with an overall record of 12-1-1, scoring 288 points and allowing only 17 while capturing the Anthracite League title.
In August 1925 the Maroons were granted a National Football League franchise. The Maroons proved to be a popular NFL attraction. The Maroons were a good team and also located close to Philadelphia, home of the Yellow Jackets. This allowed visiting teams to play Saturday games against the Yellow Jackets and then play the next day against the Maroons, who ignored Pennsylvania's blue laws prohibiting Sunday sporting events. This led to twice the gate receipts for visiting teams.
Since many Maroons players moved back to their NFL teams in 1925, the Maroons recruited several talented players to replace them. These included former Army great Walter French and Jack Ernst, a quarterback from Lafayette College. Another Army recruit, end Eddie Doyle, was a fine player who during World War II would sadly become the first American killed in the landings in North Africa. Topping this collection of stars was Charlie Berry, possibly the best athlete on the team. After a spectacular athletic career at Lafayette College, he signed both pro baseball and pro football contracts.
All of that talent cost money. Players were paid by the game. Former player Russ Hathaway later pointed out that he was receiving $100 a game, while the local miners didn't make that in a month. Dr. Striegel's payroll in 1925 exploded. He was gambling that the Maroons' share for road games would make up for the meager receipts even a sell-out at little Minersville Park would bring.
During this time the Maroons insisted that their players live in the Pottsville area. During the 1920s most players had to travel great distances from their homes and only joined their teams on game day. By having the players live in Pottsville, coach and former Colgate University assistant Dick Rauch instituted regular practices for his players. This helped the Maroons to a 28-0 win over the Buffalo Bisons in their first NFL game. When not practicing, the Maroons spent their days hanging around the fire house, drinking Yuengling, playing cards and tossing footballs in the street. The Maroons then jumped out to a 9-1-1 record. However some believe that having visiting teams play Frankford the day before the Maroons benefited the team. Pottsville was 5-1-0 in their six games against teams that played the Yellow Jackets the previous day. On the first snap of the game against the Chicago Bears, the Pottsville players knocked football legend Red Grange out cold. Grange soon recovered from the hit, only to be knocked out again. Immediately Grange said "The hell with (the $500 owed to him for the one game), it ain't worth it." He then proceeded to walk off the field. The team's only loss in 1925 came from a 20-0 upset to the Yellow Jackets. However in the second meeting of the two teams, the Maroons beat Frankford 49-0.
At this time Pottsville and the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) were the two top teams in the league. This led to a "championship game" between the two teams that November near the end of the season. The game was held at Chicago's Comiskey Park, under snowy conditions. The Maroons won the game 21-7 and captured the 1925 NFL championship. However the season still wasn't officially over, since the early NFL titles were given to the team with the best regular-season record, and the team geared up to play the Providence Steam Roller for the season finale. More importantly the Maroons were looking at a huge payoff by playing in a possible exhibition game against an all-star team from the Notre Dame, which was viewed as the best amateur team in the nation and featured the College's famed Four Horsemen.
1925 NFL Championship controversy
Controversy surrounds who actually won the 1925 NFL Championship. Officially, the Cardinals are listed as the 1925 NFL champions because they finished with the best record; however, many Pottsville fans at the time claimed that the Maroons were the legitimate champions. The Maroons and Cardinals were the top contenders for the title, with Pottsville winning a late-season meeting between them, 21-7. But the Maroons scheduled a game against a team of Notre Dame All-Stars, which included the famed "Four Horsemen", in Philadelphia (winning 9-7). The game was scheduled to take place in Shibe Park instead of Pottsville's Minersville Park because of the expected high turnout and the fact that Minersville Park was a high school stadium. Professional football was still struggling to carve out a niche in a sport that was only previously played collegiately, lacking credibility with fans who viewed the level of play as inferior. This was a major victory on the path to legitimizing the NFL and gaining much needed exposure for the fledgling league. However, on the same day the Frankford Yellow Jackets were scheduled to play a game in the same city. Frankford protested, citing an NFL bylaw that the game's venue violated their protected territory rights, by playing the game in Philadelphia.
Despite warnings from the NFL and the Yellow Jackets, Striegel went ahead and booked the game against the All-Stars. He did this partly because he didn't think the league's ruling would survive a legal challenge and partly because he had lost money on the team and couldn't resist the huge paycheck that came with the Notre Dame game. Although NFL president Joe Carr warned the Maroons in writing that they faced suspension if they played in Philadelphia, the Maroons claimed that Carr approved the game during a telephone call and played anyway. However at halftime of the Notre Dame game, Striegel was handed a telegram from Carr fining the Maroons $500 and suspending the team from the league, stripping them of the title they had just won. Spurred on by the news, the Maroons played on. Down a point with less than a minute to go, Charlie Berry kicked a 30-yard field goal to upset college’s best team 9-7. The Maroons' victory over the Irish ensured that the NFL now had the credibility to exist on an equal standing with college football. However for all this victory did for the league, the Maroons were repaid by having their NFL title team stripped. The Maroons were also thrown out of the league.
It should be noted, that the then Chicago Cardinals did not attempt to publicly take credit for the title until 1933, when it was acquired by the Charles Bidwill whose descendants still own the modern day franchise (since relocated to St. Louis and now Arizona). There are some who believe that a "curse" was place on the Cardinals as a result of the debacle, and that in an era where the NFL has implemented measures to ensure competitive parity, the curse is the reason for the failure of the Cardinals to win as many championships as would be expected with a team of such longevity (the Cardinals only other championship came in 1947).
The team has since been immortalized in the town of Pottsville, where there are bars and establishments bearing the team's name and an inspirational picture of the 1925 "World Champion" team displayed in the high school football team's locker room. In 2003, the NFL briefly decided to address via a vote during an owners meeting on whether the league should re-examine the case regarding the 1925 championship. But in October, the NFL voted 30-2 not to reopen the case. Thus the Cardinals are still listed as the 1925 NFL champions.
Return to the NFL
The NFL reinstated the Maroons the very next season. The league feared that the Maroons would jump to the threatening American Football League. In 1926 Red Grange and his manager C. C. Pyle wanted an NFL franchise in New York City. However, that move would have infringed on the territorial rights of the New York Giants. Pyle and Grange were turned down, so they decided to start their own league, the AFL. To keep independent teams from joining Grange's league, the NFL hastily expanded to 22 franchises. The Maroons were one of the teams added, or in this case reinstated. That year the Maroons were once again in the thick of title contention until late in the season. Pottsville’s shutout victories over the Buffalo Rangers and Akron Indians led to the team finishing with a 10-2-1 record and third place in the final standings. 1926 also saw the signing of George Kenneally, a rookie out of St. Bonaventure University, who earned all-pro status and was named team captain in just his second season, and would later become part owner of the club.
However, towards the end of the season, the Maroons management struggled to meet its financial obligations, and there were published reports of a strike among the team's players.
The 1927 season saw a decline in the team's on-field performance. Pottsville lost several of its stars, and others were growing older, and finished the season with a disappointing 5-8-0 record. Doc Striegel relinquished operational control of the team for the 1928 season by "loaning" it to a group of three players: Herb Stein, Pete Henry and Duke Osborn. Henry took over the coaching reigns but the downward spiral continued. The Maroons ended what turned out to be their final season in Pottsville with a dismal 2-8-0 record. At the end of the season the players were given a small football made of anthracite coal, a memento of the last season played in Pottsville.
Striegel finally sold the club during the off season to a New England based partnership that included Maroons' standout George Kenneally. The new owners relocated the franchise to Boston prior to the 1929 season, where it was renamed the Bulldogs. Six veteran Maroons players made the move with the team. Dick Rauch also returned to the fold, resuming his position as head coach.
The 1929 season's brightest moment came in late October when the team returned to Pottsville for a two game swan song, to defeat the Buffalo Bison and Orange Tornadoes. Unfortunately the franchise relocation and name change had done little to improve the club's on-field record. The team finally folded that year, ending the franchise’s final season with a 4-4-0 record.
Because the Washington Redskins began in 1932 as the Boston Braves, some Pottsville backers, with help from a few writers, have suggested that the Redskins descended from the Maroons by way of the Boston Bulldogs. The 1932 Boston franchise, however, had no relationship to the 1929 Bulldogs.
In 1967, the NFL created a special committee to investigate the 1925 controversy. The committee brought the Maroon’s claim to a team owners meeting that year, where the owners voted 12-2 in favor of keeping the championship with the Cardinals. That same year, the surviving members of the Maroons carved their own championship trophy out of coal and presented it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where it can be seen today.
Today the people of Pottsville still embrace to the legacy of the Maroons. The town contains the headquarters of the Pottsville Maroons Memorial Committee, whose job it is to keep alive the spirit of Pottsville's only big-league sports franchise. In Pottsville, there was a major push led by Mayor John D.W. Reiley to restore the Maroons 1925 title. The owner of a local embroidery shop still makes Maroons T-shirts and distributes them to residents and fans. In 2003 Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell got involved in the Pottsville-NFL debate by lobbying NFL owners and asking city and borough councils across the state to lobby the league to restore the Maroons' title. Despite the long-time backing of Bears founder George Halas, Steelers founder Art Rooney and, more recently, Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the NFL’s other owners, led, not surprisingly, by the Cardinals, still continue to vote it down (30-2). Also in 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush chimed in on the subject. According to an article in ESPN the Magazine, Bush sent a handwritten note to ESPN calling the Maroons' case "illuminating."
After a 2003 vote in favor of keeping the 1925 title with the Cardinals, Rendell wrote an angry letter to Tagliabue calling the NFL owners a group of “cowardly barons.” Rendell berated the National Football League and declared he would have no more communication with league officials until they grant the Pottsville Maroons the 1925 title. The governor ended the letter saying, “I am closing with the wish that every NFL franchise except for the Eagles and the Steelers lose large quantities of money.”
In 2006 David Fleming authored the book Breaker Boys: The NFL’s Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship
In 2008, to determine which was the better team in 1925, USA Today statistician Jeff Sagarin analyzed the two teams' statistics, including considerations for strength of schedule. The results showed the Maroons as the better team to the second-place Cardinals.
Pro Football Hall of Famers
|Pottsville Maroons||1925||10||2||0||2nd*||Dick Rauch|
|Boston Bulldogs||1929||4||4||0||4th||Dick Rauch|
* The Maroons had the best record toward the championship but were suspended from the league after playing a game in Philadelphia against a team of Notre Dame All-Stars. (see above)
- BreakerBoys1925.com - Official site about the history of the team.
- Pottsville Maroons Sports Bar - Maroons history as told by the owner.
- The Lost NFL Championship: 1925 Pottsville Maroons by Daniel Kablack
- Pottsville Maroons, Ghosts of the Gridiron
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- 1925 Pottsville Maroons, Professional Football Reference (URL last accessed September 30, 2006)
- 1925 Chicago Cardinals, Professional Football Reference (URL last accessed September 30, 2006)
- 1925 Football lines, NFL History (URL last accessed September 30, 2006)
- Pottsville Maroons, Professional Football Reference
- "Lost in Time" by David Fleming
- Fleming, David. "Lost in Time". ESPN. http://insider.espn.go.com/insider/magazine/story?id=1991906. Retrieved 2009-01-07.[dead link]
- ESPN article
- Toland, Bill (November 16, 2003). "In Pottsville, Maroons are still champs". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/localnews/20031116maroons1116p5.asp.