Category Archives: 1920s

Early “analytics”

Pro football has always been a bit behind in the Numbers Racket. No joke: Recordkeeping was so slipshod in the late ’30s that the NFL didn’t even know who its all-time leading rusher was. (It just thought it did.)

But that’s a story for another day. Instead, let’s talk about a couple of early attempts to swim against the tide, to look at statistics — and the game — in a different light. The first is from the Dec. 4, 1927, Syracuse Herald. The day after a neutral-site battle between Red Grange’s New York Yankees (the “home” team) and the Providence Steam Roller, the newspaper ran this graphic:Syracuse Herald headline 12-4-27 Grange game

Syracuse Herald subhead 12-4-2712-4-27 Syracuse Herald YAC graphicHow cool is that? It’s 1927 — 1927! — and you’ve got a paper keeping track of the distance passes traveled in the air and how far receivers ran after the catch. Yards After Catch didn’t really enter the football lexicon until the 2000s, but here’s the Herald charting it in the Red Grange era. It’s a shame we don’t know who dreamed up the idea. The guy was way ahead of his time.

(This, by the way, was the year before the Steam Roller won the NFL title. “Conzelman” is Hall of Famer Jimmy Conzelman, their player-coach, who later coached the Chicago Cardinals to the 1947 championship.)

We move ahead to 1941 — and a box score that appeared in the Pittsburgh Press after the Giants whacked the Steelers, 37-10. Many papers back then just ran basic information (who started, who substituted, who scored, who officiated, etc.). But the Press went above and beyond. Take a look, and then we’ll discuss it.10-6-41 Steelers box Pitts Press

A couple of things jump out — the “Ball lost on downs” category, for instance. Even today’s box scores don’t include that. So it’s interesting that, in a period when stats were hard to come by, it was part of the Press’ package. But, hey, why shouldn’t it be, then or now? Fourth-down stops can be some of the biggest plays in a game.

Even more intriguing, though, is “Net yards gained, rushing, passing, intercepted passes, kick returns.” Can’t say I’ve seen that anywhere else. What it looks at, essentially, is how far a team advanced the ball — by any and all means (except fumbles, for whatever reason).

As you can see, the Giants came out ahead here, too — 433-323. But it’s debatable how useful or revealing a statistic it is. After all, a club that’s getting smoked can rack up a lot of yards returning kickoffs.

Still, you can appreciate the Press’ willingness to depart from the norm and give readers a little extra. Especially when the esteemed New York Times was casually reporting (in 1936): “[Tuffy] Leemans gained 117 in 20 tries to bring his yardage for the season to 502. At the rate he is going he bids to surpass Beattie Feathers’ league record of slightly more than 1,000.”

Slightly more than 1,000. That’s where the NFL was in those days — and change was slow in coming. But some folks, at least, were trying.

Beattie Feathers, behind the block of Bronko Nagurski (3), rushing for some of his "slightly more than 1,000 yards" in 1934.

Beattie Feathers, with Bronko Nagurski (3) leading the way, rushed for “slightly more than 1,000” yards in 1934.

Six title games in 14 seasons

What does it mean, historically, to do what the Patriots have done in the 2000s: go to six Super Bowls in 14 seasons? How rare is a run like that?

In the free agency era (1993-), of course, no other team has come close to it. You’d have to go back to the ’70s and earlier to find clubs that had better stretches than New England’s. See for yourself:


Team Coach(es) Title Years Total (W-L)
1950-55 Browns Paul Brown 1950-51-52-53-5455 6 in 6 years (3-3)
1960-67 Packers Vince Lombardi 1960-6162656667 6 in 8 years (5-1)
1956-63 Giants Jim Lee Howell, Allie Sherman 1956-58-59-61-62-63 6 in 8 years (1-5)
1933-41 Giants Steve Owen 1933-34-35-38-39-41 6 in 9 years (2-4)
1936-45 Redskins Ray Flaherty, 2 others 1936-37-40-42-43-45 6 in 10 years (2-4)
1937-46 Bears George Halas, 2 others 1937-4041-42-4346 6 in 10 years (4-2)
1932-41 Bears Ralph Jones, George Halas 193233-34-37-4041 6 in 10 years (4-2)
1929-39 Packers Curly Lambeau 1929303136-38-39 6 in 11 years (5-1)
1966-77 Cowboys Tom Landry 1966-67-70-71-75-77 6 in 12 years (2-4)
2001-14 Patriots Bill Belichick 20010304-07-11-14 6 in 14 years (3-2)

(Note: Championship seasons are boldfaced. Also, the Packers’ 1929, ’30 and ’31 titles were based on their regular-season record. The first championship game wasn’t played until ’32.)

As you can see, the two Bears entries from the ’30s and ’40s overlap. If you combine them, Chicago went to nine title games in 15 years (1932-46). It’s the same with the two Giants entries from that period. Combine them, and the Giants played in eight championship games in 14 years.

As for the Cowboys, they didn’t go to the Super Bowl in 1966 and ’67, but they did reach the NFL championship game both seasons. That’s why I included them – because they the second-best team in pro football (with all due respect to the ’66 Chiefs and ’67 Raiders, champions of the AFL).*

At any rate, the Patriots’ accomplishment is quite a feat given the limitations of the salary cap and the comings and goings of players. Their closest competitors in recent decades are the 1986-98 Broncos (five Super Bowls in 13 years) and the 1981-94 49ers (five in 14 years).

*The 1967-78 Cowboys also went to six title games in 12 seasons.


Bears coach George Halas after winning the 1940 title over the Redskins by the slim margin of 73-0.

Bears coach George Halas after winning the 1940 title game over the Redskins by the slim margin of 73-0.

Duke Slater: Canton’s biggest oversight

The day before the Super Bowl, the tribal elders will gather in Phoenix for the Hall of Fame voting. The senior candidate this year is Mick Tingelhoff, a center for the Vikings for 17 seasons and a fixture on all-pro teams from 1964 to ’70. Tingelhoff is a fine choice; he’s just not, in my mind, the best choice.

For decades, the committee has been overlooking Duke Slater, a star tackle in the early years and one of the NFL’s first black players. Slater wasn’t just dominant, he was durable — at a time when careers tended to be much shorter than they are today. When he retired in 1931 after 10 seasons with the Chicago Cardinals and other clubs, only two players had played longer in the league: the Bears’ George Trafton and Packers’ Jug Earp.

One of these years, I keep telling myself, the selectors will come to their senses. But that’s probably wishful thinking. As time passes, Slater’s chances become more and more remote. It’s just how these things work, unfortunately. Out of sight, out of the mind.

Almost a decade ago, I laid out the case for Duke in The Washington Times. It was the year after another black pioneer, Fritz Pollard, had finally been voted in. Here’s my column — touched up here and there because, well, what writer can resist trying to improve on imperfection?

“Slater . . . is one of the best tackles who ever donned a suit. His phenomenal strength and quickness of charge make it almost impossible for his opponents to put him out of any play directed at his side of the line.”

— Wilfrid Smith (a former NFL player), writing in the Chicago Tribune, 1926

DETROIT — Ushering Fritz Pollard into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer, albeit four decades late, was one of the highlights of the sporting year. But let’s not stop there. In fact, as the selection committee prepares to vote in Reggie White this morning, it would do well to consider why another of the NFL’s early black players, the Reggie White of his day, continues to get the cold shoulder. I’m talking about Fred “Duke” Slater, who wreaked havoc in pro football’s trenches for a decade before going on to a distinguished career as a lawyer and judge.

Slater was actually a finalist for Canton in ’70 and ’71 and was under consideration as early as December 1963, when the Hall’s second class was elected. An Associated Press story that month listed six “strong candidates” — Ken Strong, Steve Owen, Sid Luckman, Bulldog Turner, Art Rooney and Slater. The first five were inducted within four years; only Duke has been denied.

There are a number of reasons for this, none of them particularly acceptable. One is that Slater spent his career with second-tier teams such as the Chicago Cardinals, Rock Island (Ill.) Independents and Milwaukee Badgers, two of which no longer exist. (The Cardinals, of course, are in Arizona now.) To the winners go the Hall of Fame busts. Another is that Duke died in 1966 at the age of 68 and didn’t have any children, so there’s no one to campaign for him, to keep his name alive. Then there’s the problem of playing a position — tackle in the single-platoon days — for which there are no statistics, only the occasional newspaper mention.

Duke Slater, helmetless, looks for somebody to block during his days at Iowa.

Helmetless Duke Slater looks for somebody to block during college days.

But the most obvious reason probably makes the most sense: Slater was a black man in a white man’s world, plenty good enough to play but lacking the “necessities” for canonization (to borrow Al Campanis’ infamous term). Indeed, the scant number of Hall of Famers from the ’20s, coupled with Pollard’s long-delayed election, make you wonder whether the NFL is trying to forget that benighted era — which was followed by an even more reprehensible period (1934-45) in which blacks were excluded entirely.

In Pro Football: Its Ups and Downs, the first book ever written about the pro game, founding father Harry March summed up the prevailing sentiment thusly: “There are many sane arguments against playing colored men in games requiring physical contact. There are so many Southern boys in the league that much feeling is sure to result. Then, too, the management is frequently embarrassed by the refusal of dining cars and restaurants to serve the colored players and of hotels to give them the desired accommodations which the white players receive. . . . The Indians object more to playing against Negroes than do the Southern men for some reason.”

In two of his 10 seasons, 1927 and ’29, Slater was the only black player in the NFL. Another year, 1924, he sat out a game in Kansas City at the insistence of the home team. (His Rock Island club lost that day, killing its title chances.) So it’s no surprise that, in this climate, Duke didn’t make any all-NFL squads — though he was picked for the second eleven five times.

He also was selected to the Chicago Tribune’s unofficial all-pro team in 1926 by sportswriter Wilfrid Smith. Smith, a former NFL lineman, offered this testimonial:

“Slater . . . is one of the best tackles who ever donned a suit. His phenomenal strength and quickness of charge make it almost impossible for his opponents to put him out of any play directed at his side of the line.”

Duke could be just as daunting as a blocker. In his rookie year in 1922, he helped clear the way as Rock Island rushed for nine touchdowns against Evansville (which, despite what the league says, is the all-time record). And toward the end of his career in ’29, he did much of the heavy lifting when Cardinals great Ernie Nevers set a mark, still unbroken, with six TDs against the Bears. Slater’s efforts that day earned him the following praise from the Chicago Herald and Examiner: “Duke Slater, the veteran colored tackle, seemed the dominant figure in that forward wall which had the Bear front wobbly. It was Slater who opened the holes for Nevers when a touchdown was in the making.”

From first year to last, in other words, Duke Slater was a standout. Just as he’d been at Iowa, where he earned All-American honors in 1921. Slater spent his childhood in Chicago, playing football in a vacant lot on Racine Avenue that afterward became the site of the Cardinals’ field. But then his father, a minister, took a job in Clinton, Iowa, which is how Duke wound up playing for the Hawkeyes.

By the time he graduated he was 6-1, 215 pounds — a “colored colossus,” the papers liked to call him. He also was much desired by pro teams, even while still in college. An opponent once reminisced: “All them college guys picked up a few bucks on Sunday playing pro ball. I saw one guy five times under five different names before I got his real name — Duke Slater.”

As highly regarded as he was as a tackle, Slater might have been even more admired for his sense of fair play and get-along disposition. March praises him in his book for “refrain[ing] from ‘heeling’ a Giant player coming through the line, saving the ball carrier from injury. When commended for this sportsmanlike action, he smiled and said, ‘The little fellow was stopped — why should I hurt him?’”

Another time, a rookie — and fellow Iowa alum — had to go up against Slater in his first pro game. The kid feared it would be his last game if the famed tackle overran him, and Duke, naturally, knew this.

“Since his team was already winning,” Paul Minick later recalled, “he took pains to make me look good. When the game was over, people told me how I had played Slater even. But I knew it was just another example of Duke’s kindness of heart.”

Slater got his law degree and began practicing while still an active player. After retiring from the Cardinals he was named an assistant district attorney and grew so popular with the masses — being such a likable guy and so committed to civic causes — that when he ran for municipal court judge in 1948 he received nearly a million votes. At a dinner honoring Duke in 1960, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley called him “the best there is in citizenship, and the best there is in judgeship.”

Slater lost his wife Etta, herself the daughter of a preacher, in 1962. Four years later, stomach cancer claimed Duke. It’s been more than three decades now since Hall of Fame voters gave him so much as a second thought. Hard to believe, especially considering this passage from the Bears’ media guide in 1946, the season Kenny Washington and Woody Strode re-integrated the NFL with the Rams:

It was back in 1920 when George Halas organized the Staleys [now the Bears] at Decatur, Ill. That was in the early days of professional football. It was the day of mighty men of the gridiron, too. Men like Jim Thorpe, Paddy Driscoll, Guy Chamberlin . . . Link Lyman and Duke Slater.

Yes, once upon a time, Duke Slater was one of the “mighty men of the gridiron.” But strangely, sadly, it hasn’t been enough to get him into the Hall. The evidence is overwhelming, but for the judge there has been no justice.

From The Washington Times, Feb. 4, 2006


Oct. 10, 1929 Waterloo Evening Courier

Oct. 10, 1929 Waterloo Evening Courier

Sept. 12, 1930 Southtown Economist

Sept. 12, 1930 Southtown Economist

The NFL’s all-time worst rules

Now it’s the Process Rule that has NFL fans in Mob Mode. Not so long ago it was the Tuck Rule, which was burned at the stake — before a cheering crowd — in 2013.

I won’t attempt to explain the Process Rule, or the league’s rationale for it, because, well, who can understand it? It’s what you’d get if Jibberish had a one-night stand with Claptrap. (I considered Mumbo Jumbo as the second partner, but I thought it would be funnier if “clap” were part of the equation.)

Naturally, the NFL says it correctly enforced this misbegotten rule on the pass to Dez Bryant late in the Packers-Cowboys game. I say: Whatever floats your boat, Roger. I also say — in a futile attempt to calm the masses — there have been far, far worse rules in pro football than the Process Rule (or even the Tuck Rule, which Mike Shanahan called “the worst rule in the history of the game”).

The NFL, after all, has had some real doozies over the decades, especially in the early years. Here, for your entertainment, are 5 Rules That Were Even More Ridiculous Than The Process Rule (for my money, at least):

● If a pass into the end zone — on any down — falls incomplete, it’s a touchback.

There would have been a lot more pressure on Santonio Holmes in the '20s.

If this pass had been incomplete in the ’20s . . .

In the ’20s, before pro football’s founding fathers opened up the game, there were a number of rules that discriminated against passing. This was probably the most egregious. Imagine if Santonio Holmes had dropped that second-and-6 throw in the back-right corner in the last minute of Super Bowl 43. Under the old rule, the Steelers would have lost possession and the Cardinals would have walked away with the Lombardi Trophy.

● The ball carrier can get up after being after being knocked to the ground and try to gain additional yardage as long as his forward progress hasn’t been stopped.

The he-man NFL was trying to distinguish itself from the colleges with this rule, and occasionally a ball carrier would pick himself up and scramble for more yards. But the rule also fostered late hitting, piling on and other forms of carnage. The league finally got rid of it after the Bears brutalized Hugh McElhenny, the 49ers’ Hall of Fame running back, in 1954 and caused him to miss the second half of the season.

● The defense can hit the quarterback until the play is over, even if he’s gotten rid of the ball.

It wasn’t until 1938 that there was a roughing-the-passer penalty. Sammy Baugh: “Coaches told their players, ‘When the passer throws the ball, you put his ass on the ground.’ If you have to

One of the 1939 rule changes.

One of the 1938 rule changes.

chase him for 20 yards, put him on the ground.’ Hell, they’d chase me back 25 yards or so. I’d complete a short pass, and the receiver would be running all the way downfield, 75 yards away from me, and I’d still be fighting [defenders] off. It looked so damn silly.”

● If the ball carrier runs out of bounds — or is deposited there by the defense — the ball will be spotted one yard from the sideline.

Before hashmarks were added in 1933, the ball was spotted where the previous play ended. Needless to say, this could put the offense in a real bind. It usually had to waste a down to move the ball back to the middle of the field so it would have more room to operate.

● A player who leaves the game can’t come back in until the next quarter.

Welcome to single-platoon football. During the war years, though, when manpower was scarce, the NFL began to experiment with unlimited substitution. The league permanently adopted it in 1949, paving the way for the highly specialized game we enjoy today.

● Dishonorable mention: A team taking an intentional safety retains possession of the ball.

Talk about a lousy rule. In 1925 the Giants were leading the Providence Steam Roller 13-10 with time running out when they decided to hand Providence two points rather than punt from their end zone. Who can blame them? According to the rule in those days, they didn’t have to free kick from the 20-yard line and sweat out the final seconds. Instead, they were given a new set of downs at their 30. They proceeded to run three more plays, kill the clock and lock up a 13-12 win.

I could go on, but you get the idea. As Jim Mora (the Elder) would put it: Process Rule? You kiddin’ me? Process Rule? There have been much more terrible rules than that.

This pass to the Cowboys' Dez Bryant was ruled incomplete because . . . oh, forget it.

This pass to the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant was ruled incomplete because . . . oh, forget it.

A world without Gatorade

Gatorade, Stokely-Van Camp’s answer to salt pills, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Indeed, the company jumped the gun in late December with an ad we’re sure to get sick of before it runs its course, just as we’ve tired of Gatorade dunks like this one:

That, by the way, is supposedly the first Gatorade dunk in sports history — the Giants’ Jim Burt showering coach Bill Parcells near the end of a 37-13 wipeout of the Redskins on Oct. 28, 1984. (It just dawned on me. I covered that game.) But, really, who can say for sure? Maybe it’s just the first televised Gatorade dunk in sports history.

Gatorade has become so ubiquitous that it’s hard to remember the world without it. So I thought I’d amuse you with this ad, which ran in newspapers in 1928, for the Super Sports Drink of the Red Grange Era. Postum, it was called (for reasons that have been lost to the ages).

Postum ad in 11-21-28 Post-Crescent

Chick Meehan, the football coach at NYU, supplied this testimonial: “For 15 years Postum has held an important place in the training diet of my teams. And not merely because it is my favorite mealtime drink. Steady nerves are a first requirement in football, and Postum is one hot drink that does not irritate the nerves. It never interferes with sound sleep, either.”

Take that, Gatorade. (I mean, when has Gatorade ever claimed it “does not irritate the nerves”)?

Dartmouth coach Jess Hawley, meanwhile, said, “Any man who wants to keep in trim will have a better chance if he sticks to Postum.” And Tom Thorp, who officiated NFL games, called Postum “the ideal training drink.” Sounds like a winner to me.

At some point, Postum — which was “made of roasted whole wheat and bran” — fell out of fashion. Somebody probably came up with something that was more effective at helping “Safeguard your nerve power as football stars do theirs!” Just as well, I suppose. It doesn’t seem like a Postum dunk would be too pleasant.

In the late ’60s, before Gatorade became Gatorade, a competitor called Quick Kick surfaced. Wish I could find an ad for it, but the best I could do was a couple of newspaper stories. In 1969, San Antonio Express columnist Karl O’Quinn wrote that Houston Oilers founder Bud Adams “owns a sizable portion of the company that makes the stuff and it is available in sporting goods stores now. It will be marketed in a major grocery chain soon.”

According to O’Quinn, Quick Kick “tastes like Gatorade but isn’t as sweet because of the use of saccharine instead sugar. . . . Quick Kick is spotting Gatorade a big head start in sales and advertising, but it has one advantage over the Florida product. It will come in four flavors — grape, orange, strawberry and lemon-lime [the only flavor Gatorade came in for years].”

Here’s my favorite passage, though: “I tried a big cup of the lemon-lime flavor. It won’t make much of a dent in the cola market, but it’s not bad, and they say if you mix it with alcohol you get what the name implies — a quick kick.”

Adams had the Oilers gulping down the stuff in training camp that year. “A man named Blackie Howell in Baton Rouge” concocted Quick Kick, O’Quinn reported. “The LSU Tigers used it for quite a while before Adams got wind of it and bought into the company. Then it was called Bengal Punch.”

So there you have it: a brief, far-from-complete review of early sports drinks.

What might have been.

Beantown embraces pro football

The Patriots are in the midst of a historic run — 13 playoff berths in 14 seasons, eight conference championship games, five Super Bowls, three titles, a .752 winning percentage (188-62, playoffs included). I wrote about it back in August, about how only George Halas’ Bears dynasty in the ’30s and ’40s ranks above Bill Belichick’s bunch. Nothing that happened in 2014 has changed that. The Pats earned the home-field advantage in the AFC could very well win it all again.

Looking at New Englanders now, decked out in their red, white and blue Patriots regalia, it’s hard to believe that 50 years ago, folks were still wondering whether pro football had a future in Boston. It had, after all, always been a baseball town, and three NFL teams had come and gone, leaving barely a trace — I’m talking about the Bulldogs (1929), Braves/Redskins (1932-36) and Yanks (1944-48) — before the AFL’s Patriots took another crack at the market in the ’60s.

It’s an amazing transformation, it truly is. In 1936 the Redskins drew so poorly — despite winning the Eastern Division — that owner George Preston Marshall moved the championship game against the Packers from Fenway Park to New York’s Polo Grounds (then home of the Giants).

The Yanks’ last home game in 1948 attracted a crowd of just 9,652. Late in the season, owner

The Boston Yanks' all-time passing leader.

The Boston Yanks’ all-time passing leader.

Ted Collins told The Associated Press he’d lost “exactly $720,000” in his four years in Boston. That was a lot of money back then. Heck, franchises went for a fraction of that.

“Boston has two good baseball clubs [the Braves, remember, were still in town], a major-league hockey team, horse- and dog-racing tracks and tomorrow three major college football games are scheduled there — Iowa and Boston University, Yale and Harvard and St. Mary’s [of California] and Boston College,” Collins said. “I believe most of our problems would disappear if we came up with a winning team. Somehow, we always seem to play our worst games at home.”

By the time the Patriots came along, of course, the Celtics had been added to the mix. Indeed, they were the best team in basketball, in the process of winning an unfathomable 11 titles in 13 seasons.

Fifty years ago, Boston Globe columnist Harold Kaese wrote a piece for the Sunday Magazine chronicling Beantown’s sorry pro football history. You won’t believe the headline:

Globe Alas headline 1964

(Alas? What’s with the Alas?)

Kaese begins this way:

By finishing the [1964] season, the Patriots will tie the endurance record for a Boston professional football team.

Five seasons!

Holders are George Marshall’s Redskins (1932-36) and Ted Collins’ Yanks (1944-48). The Patriots undoubtedly will set a new record next season, for pro football at last has found a home in our city.

It was not easy. Baseball, hockey, horse racing, dog racing and basketball made it first. Since 1926, seven attempts have been made to put over pro football here [counting non-NFL clubs]. The first six failed.

The Patriots, too, might have failed, except for a financial windfall from television. . . . Starting in 1965, for five years the Patriots and their seven American Football League associates will each average between $900,000 and $1,000,000 from their new TV contact with NBC.

If television is here to stay, so are the Patriots.

Before the $36 million [AFL] deal was clinched, Patriots stock for which the public paid $5 per share had dropped to a bid price of $1.75. . . . They have yet to have a profitable season. . . . The covered stadium they hope to play in eventually is still only a gleam in [owner Billy] Sullivan’s eye.

That was 1964. And here we are, half a century later, and the Patriots are one of the NFL’s flagships, a model franchise. But only after they overtook dog racing.

Last-minute gift ideas

With the holiday season upon us — and Festivus just a week away — I thought I’d throw out a few gift suggestions for That Special Someone (who also happens to be a pro football fanatic). Some of these items might be hard to come by but, trust me, it would be well worth the effort.

A pair of Frenchy Fuqua’s fiberglass clogs with three-inch heels — complete with goldfish in the heels (air pump included).

Fuqua, a running back with the Giants and Steelers and the ’60s and ’70s, is remembered less for his ball carrying than for his cutting-edge fashion. His bright-red “caveman outfit” was a real head-turner. How he described it to the Pittsburgh Press in 1976: “It had a strap over one shoulder, and one leg was a bell bottom and the other had fringes on it. But the greatest thing about it was the purse. It was a white fur purse that was shaped like a club.”

Frenchy’s signature accessory, though, was the aforementioned shoes. They looked something like this:

Fuqua shoe

Problem was, the fish lasted only a couple of hours before suffocating. “I was getting’ so much pub because of the goldfish, I hated to stop wearing the shoes,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, you kick up some dead goldfish at a banquet, and pretty soon you get a real foul odor. You start feeling terrible about it, too. When some people found out they were dyin’, they got on me about bein’ cruel to animals. I thought about running a tube down my leg with an air pump that would supply constant fresh water to the fish.”

The shoes also were potentially hazardous to the wearer’s health. As he once told The New York Times, they “were a little slippery to walk in, being glass, so you’d have to hold on to a rail when you went down stairs.”

The Joe Namath Butter-Up Corn Popper. Namath hawked everything from shaving cream to pantyhose to this, which was popular in college dorms in the ’70s:

Namath popper

A VHS tape of Sammy Baugh’s 12-part serial, “King of the Texas Rangers.” Slingin’ Sam could do more than just throw touchdown passes. Being a Texan, he also could ride horses, shoot guns and beat up bad guys.

Baugh movie 2

Rosey Grier’s “Committed” album (1986).

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.20.55 PMGrier, one of the tackles on the Rams’ legendary Fearsome Foursome defensive front in the ’60s, could sing a little. In 1965 he and the rest of the Foursome appeared on the TV show Shindig! (with the other three, as you’ll see, doing little more calisthenics behind him):

A year earlier, Rosey had sung solo on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Here’s that clip:

(I ask you: How did we get from that great musical moment to Redskins owner Dan Snyder buying Dick Clark Productions?)

A Bronko Nagurski, Jr. football. (You’ve gotta like the 1937 price.)

Nagurski Jr. football

● And finally, if you’re looking a stocking stuffer, there’s always the Red Grange candy bar.

Red Grange candy bar

The NFL’s All-Time Drinking Team

With the holiday season upon us, it might be a good time to roll out an idea that’s been rattling around in my head: the NFL’s All-Time Drinking Team. Let’s face it, the connection between pro football and alcohol — in stadiums, at tailgate parties, in sports bars and living rooms — has always been stronger than 100-proof whiskey. It’s in this spirit, if you’ll pardon the expression, that I present the following squad:

● Bob Margarita, B, Bears, 1944-46 — Was a big help to Chicago during the war years, when manpower was scarce. Best reason to raise a glass to him: In ’45 he finished third in the NFL in rushing yards (463), 10th in receiving yards (394) and, on the other side of the ball, tied for second in interceptions (6).

● Tom Beer, TE, Broncos/Patriots, 1967-72 — The 32nd player picked in the ’67 draft. (In other words, when Denver made what today would be the last selection in the first round, it said, Tom Beer football card“Beer, please, bartender.”) Best reason to raise a glass to him: In a ’68 game against the Pats he caught five passes for 98 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown, in a 35-14 Broncos win.

● Rich Martini, WR, Raiders/Saints, 1979-81 — Scored TDs in his second and third pro games. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He played special teams for the Raiders in their run to the title in 1980.

● Ed Champagne, T, Rams, 1947-50 — Appeared as a backup in the NFL championship game his last two seasons. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He was fined $300 by the league in 1950 — which was a lot of money back then — after he pushed an official while protesting a call. The Long Beach Press-Telegram said Champagne, who was ejected, “blew his cork.”

● Herb Stein (T-E, Buffalo/Toledo/Frankford/Pottsville, 1921-22, ’24-26, ’28) and Russ Stein (T-E, Toledo/Frankford/Pottsville/Canton, 1922, ’24-26) — Hey, you can’t drink beer without a couple of Steins, right? These rugged brothers were all-stars in the NFL’s early years. (The first five teams Herb played on posted a combined record of 44-9-7.) Best reason to raise a glass to them: They starred on the ’25 Pottsville Maroons club that got gypped out of the title because of a dubious league ruling.

● Terry Barr, WR, Lions, 1957-65 — OK, so there’s an extra “r.” It was either him or Garvin Mugg (T, Lions, 1945), and Mugg played only three NFL games. Barr, on the other hand, was a fine all-Terry Barr football cardaround talent who, in addition to his offensive exploits, intercepted three passes and returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 1958. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 1963 and ’64 and went to the Pro Bowl both years.

● Bourbon Bondurant, T-K, Evansville/Bears, 1921-22 — Believe it or not, Bourbon was his given name. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He kicked six extra points for the Crimson Giants in 1921.

● Napoleon “Let’s Roll Out The” Barrel, C, Oorang Indians, 1923 — If that wasn’t his nickname, it should have been. At 5-foot-8, 200 pounds, Barrel was even shaped a little like a barrel. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He played for the Oorang Indians, a team made up of Native Americans (the most famous of which was Jim Thorpe). Oorang, by the way, wasn’t a tribe, it was the name of a kennel near Marion, Ohio, that specialized in Airedales and sponsored the franchise for two seasons. Some of Barrel’s other teammates were Joe Little Twig, Ted Lone Wolf and Long Time Sleep (otherwise known as Nick Lassa).

● Jack Daniels, TB, Milwaukee, 1925 — His NFL career lasted just one game, but there’s no way you can leave him off the squad. Best reason to raise a glass to him: That Badgers juggernaut he played on finished 0-6 and was outscored 191-7. If anybody needed a drink, it was Jack Daniels.

● Darryl Tapp, DE, Seahawks/Eagles/Redskins/Lions, 2006-present — Our All-Time All-Drinking roster wouldn’t be complete without one current player. Best reason to raise a glass to him: He

Darryl Tapp celebrates a sack with the Seahawks.

Darryl Tapp celebrates a sack with the Seahawks.

had four sacks and a forced fumble in Seattle’s 33-6 victory over the Rams in 2007.

● Joe Brandy, coach, Minneapolis, 1924 — Brandy’s Marines were another of the pre-draft, pre-revenue sharing Have Nots, going 0-6 and putting up just 14 points. Best reason to raise a glass to him: At Notre Dame he played under Knute Rockne and in the same backfield with George Gipp.


● Jarvis Redwine, RB-KR, Vikings, 1981-83

● Chris Port, G-T, Saints, 1991-95

● Ken Vinyard, K, Falcons, 1970

● Michael Jameson, DB, Browns, 2002-04

● Gerry Sherry, FB, Louisville, 1926

● Arnold Ale, LB, Chiefs/Chargers, 1994, ’96

● Sam Adams, father (G-T, Patriots/Saints, 1972-81) and son (DT-DE, Seahawks/Ravens/Raiders/Bills/Bengals/Broncos, 1994-2007) (You could pour a Sam Adams into each of the Steins.)

● Scott Case, DB, Falcons/Cowboys, 1984-95

● Ted Ginn, WR/KR, Dolphins/49ers, 2007-12 (Sorry, it’s the closest I could come to gin.)

Home field: Where else but Tampa Stadium (a.k.a. The Big Sombrero before it was demolished)?

The Big Sombrero photo


Snow in Buffalo

The NFL has moved the Bills-Jets game to Detroit this week because the show, of course, must go on. Even when the president of the United States gets assassinated, the show must go on in pro football. In the current case, it’s due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Mother Nature, who dumped six feet of snow on Orchard Park and forced the Bills to find another venue. So the game will be played Monday night, not Sunday afternoon, and the site will be Ford Field, not Ralph Wilson Stadium.

It wasn’t always thus. In the days before TV mega-contracts, postponements and even cancellations were hardly unheard of. Sometimes all it took was slow sales ticket sales or the threat of bad weather to get owners to reschedule — or to bag the game entirely. Why don’t we revisit some of these episodes so you can get a better feel for The Way Things Were?

We begin with a couple of games in New York that were snowed out Dec. 5, 1926 — one between the Giants and Bears at the Polo Grounds, the other between the Brooklyn Horsemen and Duluth Eskimos at Ebbets Field. (And yes, I’m as surprised as anybody that a game involving the Eskimos could be snowed out.) Here’s how The New York Times reported it:

Giants-Bears snowstorm 12-6-26 NYT

12-6-26 NYT Horsemen-Eskimos canceled

What’s interesting about the first game is that it was the second of back-to-backers for the Bears. They’d lost the day before to the Frankford Yellow Jackets in Philadelphia — their only loss of the season, it would turn out, and one that would leave them second behind the Yellow Jackets in the final standings. (This was before the league staged a title game to determine its champion.)

I’m kind of amazed George Halas, their owner/coach/end, didn’t insist that the game be played at a later date — for the New York payday as much as for the potential W. But as you can see from the Bears’ 1926 results, it was just canceled (though they did play twice more before calling it a season).

Then there was the time in 1936 the Eagles and Pirates (as the Steelers were called then) got the brilliant idea to move one of their games to Johnstown, Pa. Naturally, there was a flood that caused a postponement. Well, almost a flood. The Pittsburgh Press put it this way:

Johnstown flood game 11-4-36 Pittsburgh Press

Two years later, Pittsburgh owner Art Rooney caused a stir by putting off a game against the Cleveland Rams because — brace yourself — he had too many players banged up. The Rams were none to pleased about it, as you can see in this Press story:

Rooney-Rams 10-12-38 Pittsburgh Press

Rooney-Rams Part 2

What’s interesting about this tempest in a leather helmet is that the teams wound up playing the game in December in New Orleans. It was the first NFL game ever played in the Big Easy. (Why New Orleans, you ask? Answer: During the Depression, clubs that didn’t draw well at home would play anywhere they could get a decent guarantee. The next year, the Rams played their season finale against the Eagles in Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs game 1039

Moving along, in 1954 the Browns pushed their Oct. 3 home game against the Lions back to Dec. 19 because they weren’t sure if the Indians would need Cleveland Stadium for a World Series game against the New York Giants. (The Indians didn’t. The Giants completed their shocking sweep the day before.)

This created a bizarre situation. When the Browns and Lions finally did meet, all the other teams had completed their schedules — and Browns and Lions had already wrapped up their conference titles. So they played on consecutive Sundays in Cleveland . . . with the whole pro football world watching. The Lions won the first game 14-10, and the Browns won the one that really mattered 56-10. What’s that, a 50-point swing in the space of a week?

I could go on, but I’ll finish with the infamous Bills-Patriots postponement in 1961. The game was supposed to be played on a Friday night in Boston but, with Hurricane Gerda looming, was held over to Sunday. Almost predictably, Gerda ended up being the Brian Bosworth of storms — dozens of area high school contests went on as planned that night — and Buffalo coach Buster Ramsay was convinced the delay was “a deliberate attempt to upset my team. . . . A bush-league trick.”

The Patriots actually had to get the city council approval to reschedule to Sunday. They were using Boston University’s Field, you see, and BU didn’t have a permit for games on the Sabbath, according to The Boston Globe.

10-22-61 Globe head10-22-61 Globe City Council story

When the Bills and Pats finally did play, the weather — 35 degrees with 25-to-30 mph winds — was far worse than it had been Friday night. A mere 9,398 showed up to shiver, and Ramsey’s worst fears were realized: His club came out flat and fell behind 45-0 in a 52-21 loss.

At least we know Buffalo’s postponement this weekend wasn’t “a deliberate attempt to upset” the Jets. There’s real snow on the ground — alps of it. And it’s nice nobody had to go to the Detroit city council to get them to OK a Sunday game. Now Rex Ryan’s bunch just has to keep the Bills from running off to a 45-0 lead.


Sept. 28, 1942 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sept. 28, 1942 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Bears exhume the Rochester Jeffersons

Any day’s a good day when the Rochester Jeffersons get resurrected. The Bears did that Sunday when they lost to the Packers, 55-14 — after getting pasted in their previous outing by the Patriots, 51-23. This made them the first team since the 1923 Jeffersons to give up 50 points in consecutive games. How’s that for an accomplishment?

There isn’t much to remember about the NFL’s Rochester franchise. Though a charter member of the league in 1920, it lasted only six seasons and didn’t win a game in its last four, going 0-21-2. The low point was those back-to-back shellackings in the first two games of ’23 – 60-0 to the Chicago Cardinals and 56-0 to the Rock Island (Ill.) Independents. The man who managed (and sometimes coached) the Jeffersons, a paint manufacturer named Leo Lyons, simply didn’t have the money or material to compete with most clubs.

There’s an interesting connection between the Bears and Jeffs, as they were called. Before George Halas hooked up with the Staley Starch Co. in Decatur, Ill., and launched the Bears (originally the Decatur Staleys), he inquired about playing for the Rochester team. As Lyons told The Associated Press in 1960: “He asked for $75 a game. I didn’t know anything about him, and besides, I had two good ends. The league rule was that no club could have more than 18 players.”

So George made history someplace else.

“It was rough going,” Lyons said. “I hung on until 1925, but I lost everything and had to go back to my business. In 1921 I wrote to John McGraw of the New York [baseball] Giants and Ed Barrow of the Yankees – both teams were using the Polo Grounds then – trying to interest them in transferring the Jeffs to New York. They replied that professional football would never be a success there, and they were going to stop college teams from using the Polo Grounds as the cleats tore up the turf.”

The Football Giants, of course, called the Polo Grounds home for years (1925-55) before moving to Yankee Stadium and later the Meadowlands.

Here’s the headline from The Davenport Democrat and Leader after Rock Island ran over Rochester:

56-0 headline

56-0 subheads, etc.

From the sound of things, the game was a lot like the one between the Bears and Packers. The Independents unleashed a dazzling passing attack and threw “the wind-filled bag” all over the lot (which was hardly the norm in those conservative days). Indeed, if they hadn’t eased up a bit and run the ball in the third quarter — which was scoreless — their point total might have been in the 70s. According to the newspaper story, “The Independents didn’t have to boot [punt] the ball during the entire game.”

56-0 first 3 graphs

Lyons never lost his love for pro football, even if he did lose his house at one point trying to keep the Jeffersons afloat. In later years, the New York license plate on his car read: “NFL 1.” “Never in my wildest dreams did I think the game would grow to what it is today,” he said in 1972.

He probably wouldn’t have believed, either, that one Sunday in 2014, the club founded by an end who once asked him for a job would bring the Rochester Jeffersons back to life.