Rock Island Independents

Founded 1907
Folded 1926
Based in Rock Island, Illinois, United States
Home field Douglas Park (1920-1926)
Browning Field (1926)
League National Football League (1920-25)
American Football League (1926)
Team History Rock Island Independents (1920-26)
Team Colors Green, White


Head coaches Rube Ursella (1920, 1925)
Frank Coughlin (1921)
Jimmy Conzelman (1921-22)
Herb Sies (1923)
Johnny Armstrong (1924, 1926)
Owner(s) Walter Flanigan (1920-23)
Dale Johnson (1923-26)

The Rock Island Independents was one of the first professional American football teams. They were based in Rock Island, Illinois, and played in the National Football League from 1920 to 1925 and in the American Football League of 1926. They played in Douglas Park and Browning Field. Walter Flanigan was the owner of the team from 1915 to 1923. Then Dale Johnson took over and owned the team until 1926, when the team eventually folded.[1]

Their best finish in the National Football League standings was fifth, which they accomplished three times: in 1921 and 1922 under Jimmy Conzelman, and in 1924 under Johnny Armstrong.[2]



The Independents were first formed in 1907, when a group of men formed an Independent team with no Athletic Club affiliation, no Social Club ties and no Corporate Company backing or sponsorship. As a result the team was named the Independents. The team went undefeated and unscored upon in five games. Many of the same players from that 1910 reunited in 1912, under the leadership of John Roche, they won eight games without giving up a score.

Walter Flanigan eraEdit

In 1913 Walter Flanigan joined the Independents as a backup end. By 1915, Flanigan was the owner of the team. During his tenure, Flanigan promoted the Independents by scheduling two games in 1917 against the Minneapolis Marines, who were considered one of the toughest teams in the midwest. This contest would help the Independents gain national attention. Rock Island lost to the Marines by close score of 7-3. However they were defeated by a wider margin, 33-7, at the second game in Minneapolis.


Rock Island Independents 1919 "Champions of the USA"

Flanigan then brought in players from outside the Rock Island area to build on the team. In 1919, he hired Rube Ursella of the Marines to serve as a player-coach. Rube brought several other Minneapolis players with him. These new players would later help get the team an invitation to join the NFL. The Independents lost only to the Hammond Pros, led by George Halas in 1919. Flanigan then challenged the Canton Bulldogs to a "championship" game, offering a $5,000 guarantee if they would come to Rock Island for the game. But Canton, which had already won the "Ohio League" championship by defeating their arch-rivals, the Massillon Tigers, turned down the offer. It's likely that Canton's Jim Thorpe and Ralph Hay learned that Rock Island's game against the Akron Indians had drawn only 1,700 spectators and felt that Flanigan could not deliver on his $5,000 guarantee, that was money that came primariliy from the gate. However the Independents still had defeated the Columbus Panhandles 49-0 and the Indians 17-0 that season. In 1919, prior to the establishment of the National Football League, they claimed to be "Champions of the USA".[3]


Flanigan eagerly join the new American Professional Football Association (renamed the NFL in 1922). He was present at the September 17, 1920 meeting at Ralph Hay's Hupmobile dealership which established the league. Flanigan made his team a card-carrying charter member of the league and he was named to a committee charged with framing the league's constitution. On September 26, 1920, the first game featuring a team from the APFA was played at Douglas Park. The Independents were victorious as they defeated the St. Paul Ideals 48-0.[4]

Dale Johnson eraEdit

In 1923 Flanigan left the team to concentrate on his real estate and insurance businesses. Dale Johnson, another local businessman, took over as the team's owner, with the team's backup quarterback Vince McCarthy acting as manager. Rock Island went 2-3-3 that season, however they did post winning seasons in 1924 and 1925. Jim Thorpe, considered "the World's Greatest Athlete", joined the Independents in 1924 and the team went 5-2-2 in league play. After the 1925 season they toured nationally to promote pro football, often under the name "Tampa Cardinals".[5]

First AFLEdit

In 1926, Red Grange and his manager, C. C. Pyle, formed the first American Football League after a dispute over granting Pyle ownship of an NFL franchise in New York City. Thinking that having a league centered around Grange would led to higher profits, McCarthy pulled Rock Island out of the NFL and joined the new league. The Independents were the only NFL team to make the jump to the rival league. However the new league did not pay as much as the NFL did a year prior. Several players left the Independents for bigger salaries with other teams. As a result the Independents ended their season with a 2-6-1 record. The AFL folded and the Independents didn't rejoin the NFL. They played as a minor, semi-pro team in 1927, then went out of business.[6]

Pro Football Hall of FamersEdit

League standings Edit

TeamWLTPct.PFPAHead Coach[7]
Philadelphia Quakers 820.8009352 Bob Folwell
New York Yankees 1050.66721282 Ralph Scott
Cleveland Panthers 320.6006246 Roy Watts
Los Angeles Wildcats 662.50010583 Jim Clark
Chicago Bulls 563.4558869 Joey Sternaman
Boston Bulldogs 240.3332081 Herb Treat
Rock Island Independents 261.25021126 Johnny Armstrong
Brooklyn Horsemen 130.2502568 Eddie McNeeley
Newark Bears 032.000726 Hal Hansen



  1. Peterson, Robert W. (1997). Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195119134.
  2. Braunwart, Bob and Bob Carroll (1983). "The Rock Island Independents". Coffin Corner (Professional Football Researchers Association) 5 (3): 1–7.
  3. Braunwart, Bob and Bob Carroll (1983). "The Rock Island Independents". Coffin Corner (Professional Football Researchers Association) 5 (3): 1–7.
  5. Braunwart, Bob and Bob Carroll (1983). "The Rock Island Independents". Coffin Corner (Professional Football Researchers Association) 5 (3): 1–7.
  6. Braunwart, Bob and Bob Carroll (1983). "The Rock Island Independents". Coffin Corner (Professional Football Researchers Association) 5 (3): 1–7.
  7. Davis S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen, and Rick Korch, The Football Encyclopedia: The Complete History of Professional Football, from 1892 to the Present (St. Martin's Press 1994) ISBN 0-312-11435-4
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