Tag Archives: Dodgers

Players behaving badly

It’s a natural question to ask, given the antics of some NFL players in recent years — Prince Shembo’s drop-kicking of a dog, Ray Rice’s slugging of his Significant Other, etc.: Have players always been this out of control? What kinds of things did they get arrested for in the alleged Good Old Days?

Rest assured footballers have always been footballers, though their crimes of choice decades ago tended to be different from today — more typical than terrible. I’ve gathered a bunch of them so you’ll get a feel for the scope of their misbehavior. Remember: This is just a sampling. There’s plenty more where these came from.

● 1926: Jim Thorpe gets drunk in the midst of Prohibition.

This happened during Red Grange’s postseason barnstorming tour with the Bears. As you may have heard, ol’ Bright Path had a weakness for the bottle. His drinking buddy, according to the story below, was C.C. Wiederquist — a great football name. But I’m pretty sure it’s misspelled and that The Associated Press was referring to Chester Carl “Chet” Widerquist, who played six seasons in the NFL (and didn’t, near as I can tell, attend the University of Minnesota).Jim Thorpe intoxication 1-5-26

● 1938: Shipwreck Kelly breaks up a marriage.

Kelly, the toast (literally) of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was a legendary Man About Town. Three years later he married heiress Brenda Frazier, who once graced the cover of Life magazine. What I wouldn’t give to follow Shipwreck around for a night and see where it took him. Nowadays, of course, he’d get killed by the social media. The whole world would take a selfie with him and post it on Facebook. But back then you could disappear in the haze of cigarette and cigar smoke.Shipwreck Kelly 1-18-38 Eagle● 1946: Double disaster.

I’m not sure the you-know-what ever hit the fan in pro football like it did in December 1946. Before the NFL title game, a fix attempt was uncovered that involved two Giants, Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes. Both were banned indefinitely from the league. Before the championship game in the rival All-America Conference, meanwhile, three Browns got a little rowdy and one of them, team captain Jim Daniell, lost his job because of it. How does this compare with, say, the Falcons’ Eugene Robinson getting charged with solicitation the night before the Super Bowl?'46 fix attempt and Danielle head side by side 12-16-46

FYI: Daniell and his two running mates were later acquitted. But then, so were the Black Sox.Daniell and 2 others acquitted 12-23-46● 1959: Another DUI charge for Bobby Layne.

I say “another” because the Hall of Fame quarterback had one two years earlier when he was with the Lions. He managed to escape conviction on both occasions, as I posted about a while back. It’s pretty comical. The first time, his lawyer argued that police had mistaken his Texas drawl for slurred speech, and in this second instance, his lawyer said Bobby’s “extreme hoarseness, which may have led the police to suspect intoxication, was the result of a severe case of laryngitis.” (Then again, maybe he just had a shot glass stuck in his throat.)Layne DUI 8-25-59● 1960: John Henry Johnson falls behind on his child-support payments.

Fortunately for Johnson, who’s also in Canton, the term Deadbeat Dad hadn’t been invented yet. Five kids. Can you imagine how that would play in 2015?JH Johnson alimony 3-10-60● 1972: Karl Sweetan tries to sell his Rams playbook to the Saints, one of his former teams.

Sweetan wasn’t much of a quarterback, but he gained eternal infamy for this pathetic move. Like most of his passes — 54.4 percent, to be exact — it was incomplete.Sweetan 7-8-72

So there you have it, a sampling of off-field trouble from pro football’s first 50-odd years. Moral: These guys have always acted up. In the 2000s, it isn’t necessarily the magnitude of their misconduct that’s bigger; sometimes it’s just the microscope they’re under.

Postscript: NFL players haven’t always been on the wrong side of the law. I leave you with this story about John Kreamcheck, a Bears defensive tackle in the ’50s, who became a detective:Kreamcheck arrests suspect 7-6-67Sources: Google newspapers, Brooklyn Eagle archives, Chicago Tribune archives, pro-football-reference.com.

Johnny Siegal, 97

There’s macro NFL history — George Halas, television, expansion, The Big Stuff — and then there’s micro NFL history . . . as personified by guys like Johnny Siegal. Siegal, a two-way end from 1939 to ’43, was the oldest living former Chicago Bear when died earlier this week at 97. That made him older than the league, and how many ex-players fall into that category anymore?

Though he was part of three title teams, Siegal had, by any other measure, a modest pro career. He was mostly a backup behind George Wilson, who later coached the Lions to a championship, and in five seasons had 31 receptions, six of which went for touchdowns. His obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times was downright perfunctory.

But Siegal had another role with the Bears — involving Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman — that probably left a bigger mark on pro football. Why don’t I tell you about it?

In 1939, Johnny’s first season, Halas and his assistants were trying to reinvent the wheel. That is, they were developing the first modern offense: the T formation with man-in-motion. But they desperately needed a quarterback to run it, one who could really throw. With this in mind, Papa Bear traded end Eggs Manske for Pittsburgh’s first-round choice in the ’39 draft, and used the pick to select Luckman, the Columbia star.

But there was no guarantee in those days that a college player would move on to pro ball. It just wasn’t that glamorous a profession – or the greatest paying necessarily. Luckman’s first inclination was to go into the family trucking business, which had been suffering because of unusual circumstances: his father, who had mob ties, had been hauled off to prison for murder.

El Sid

El Sid

After the draft, Sid said, “I discussed the possibilities of professional football offers with [Columbia coach Lou] Little several times, and he advised me against it. I don’t know exactly what Mr. Little has in mind for me, but if he says it’s good that’s good enough for me. It wouldn’t have made any difference if the Giants or [Brooklyn] Dodgers had drafted me. I still would turn down any offer to play professional football.”

But Halas was a persistent man, and the following July, just before camp opened, he talked Luckman into signing for $5,000. The decision came as a surprise even to Sid’s family, who were kept out of the loop until the deal was finalized.

Hoping to ease Luckman’s transition, Halas made a little-noticed trade three weeks later. He sent guard Gust Zarnas to Brooklyn for its 17th-round pick in the  ’39 draft. The 17th-rounder was Siegal, who just so happened to be Sid’s favorite receiver at Columbia.

Halas knew the pressure his young quarterback would be under. Luckman would be joining a veteran team, one of the most successful franchises in sports, and – to complicate matters further – would have to make the difficult switch from single-wing tailback to T-formation QB. George just wanted to make Sid more comfortable, give him somebody familiar to throw to and, just as importantly, to talk to. Veterans in that era could be merciless on rookies, especially rookies who were making more money than they were.

How much Siegal helped Luckman survive the bumps and potholes can be debated, of course. What’s clear, though, is that — at the beginning, at least — Sid had few friends on the roster. Indeed, when he struggled at his new position, some vets went to Halas and told him he should trade the kid to his hometown Dodgers, who wanted him as a drawing card and could play him at tailback in coach Potsy Clark’s single wing.

Luckman was so overwhelmed those first few months that Halas lined him up at running back — just to get him on the field. Bears back Joe Maniaci told me that during camp, “I went over to Sid and told him, ‘Sid, I don’t know. I don’t think you’re going to hang around. It doesn’t look too good. There’s too many good runners and stuff.’ And he got mad at me, and we broke up as roommates.”

(Luckman and Maniaci, a Fordham grad, had been lifeguards together at Manhattan Beach. Joe had even gone to his wedding earlier that summer.)

Luckman (in my 1995 interview with him): “Dan Topping owned the Dodgers at that time — he eventually owned the New York Yankees — and he offered Halas $50,000 for me. But Halas absolutely refused to do it. The players [who tried to talk George into it] probably figured he could use that money to give them all a raise.

“At that point Halas had me at left halfback, because obviously I didn’t know anything about the T formation. But he brought in a coach named Carl Brumbaugh [one of the Bears’ early T quarterbacks], and every day after practice Carl and I would get together with one of the centers and work on the taking the snap and setting up on pass plays. It was very hard for me to get used to doing that. Over time, though, I won the respect of the players. They knew how hard I was working. They knew I was studying the plays every night. I’d take the playbook home and review everybody’s position.”

10-14-39 Luckman head in Eagle

At late as Week 6, there was still speculation Luckman might get shipped to the Dodgers. On Tuesday of that week came this report in the Brooklyn Eagle: “Topping hasn’t abandoned his quest of luring Sid Luckman away from the Chicago Bears. He intends to wait until Sunday for an answer from the Bears, believing that after the Giants-Bears clash on Sunday, George Halas, Chicago boss, may part with the Chicago star.”

As it turned out, that Giants-Bears clash at the Polo Grounds was Luckman’s coming-out party as a T-formation quarterback. When Chicago fell behind 16-0, Halas put him at QB — and the rest is history. Sid led the Bears to two touchdowns in the final seven minutes, tossing a 68-yard scoring pass to helmetless end Dick Plasman and setting up another TD with completions of 53 and 30 yards. This was no ordinary Giants team, either. It finished 9-1-1 and went to the title game.

Afterward, Halas said, “Not a chance in a million of us letting Sid go. He’s a great player, and he fits in very well with our scheme of things. Besides, he seems to like the city of Chicago very much.”

To which the Eagle added: “Whether Halas was just as intent on keeping Luckman before yesterday’s game with the Giant[s] is something to conjure with. Everyone in football circles knew that Dan Topping, Dodger[s] owner, wanted Sid and wanted him badly. They knew that Dan had the bait out for him and that Halas had taken a little nibble.”

Luckman again: “I was probably more emotional and stressful in that particular game than in any other game I’d ever been in. My adrenal glands were really working. Of course, it was my first opportunity to play quarterback, and my family was there. [Herbert] Hawkes, the dean of Columbia, was there. Lou Little, the [Columbia] players and the coaching staff were there. And Paul Sullivan, my high school coach, was there. The [P.A.] announcer who announced I was coming into the game was a fella named Lou Wilson, who had become sort of a real good friend of mine. He’d come over to the house [in Brooklyn] to visit, and we’d go out to dinner once in a while.

“Anyway, I went in, and one of the halfbacks [Bob MacLeod] told me he could get behind the defender. I would have taken anybody’s play, I was so . . . in another world, you know? So I called his play – the stop and go – and sent him in motion, and he faked out the Giants[s] defender. I was so nervous, though, that I threw the pass end-over-end, and the Giants fella was waiting to intercept it. But [MacLeod] came in from behind and took the ball [away from him]. It was probably the worst . . . pass in the history of sports.”

For Sid Luckman, that’s where it all began. That was his first shaky step on the road to Canton. Two Sundays later he flipped a touchdown pass in the Bears’ 30-27 win over the Packers — who would go on to win the championship — and the next season he quarterbacked Chicago to the title . . . in 73-0 fashion. It was the first of four rings for Luckman in a seven-year stretch.

And it might never have happened if Halas, not always the most patient guy, hadn’t turned down a pile of money for him — in the midst of the Depression, no less. Would Luckman have had the kind of career with the Dodgers that he did with the star-studded Bears? Not likely. He also wouldn’t have transitioned to the T formation, which was made for him, so soon, and he might not have lasted 12 seasons. Tailback, let’s not forget, was a much more physically demanding position than quarterback. You were expected to be a running threat (and occasionally to block).

No, Chicago was the better place for Luckman — the ideal place, really — and Siegal’s presence was a small part of that. Somehow, Johnny found time to go to Northwestern Dental School in his off hours (as did fullback Bill Osmanski). That was Halas for you. He liked players who could win with their minds as well as their muscles.

(When Siegal went into the military during World War II, Hugh Fullerton Jr. of The Associated Press ran this funny item in his column: “Lieut. [jg] Johnny Siegal, former Columbia and Bears end, has left the Bainbridge [Md.] Naval Training Station to take up his new duties as dentist at Annapolis. Maybe Johnny isn’t going to help Navy put in the ‘T,’ but he’ll sure put in the teeth.”)

During the ’42 season, when the Bears came to Brooklyn, Luckman and Siegal spent their Saturday afternoon watching their alma mater beat Colgate. The star of the game was Columbia’s latest tailback sensation, Paul Governali, who hit 17 of 25 passes and threw for three touchdowns.

“He was better than Luckman ever was,” Little told the attending scribes, “and I never thought that would be possible to see. Of course, you must remember that Sid worked wonders with Paul during the summer and showed him how to move and throw. He ‘made’ Governali. Now Paul shuffles and cocks his arm just as Sid does. In fact, I think they are identical passers, or as close as any performers can be.”

While the Baker Field crowd cheered one of Governali’s TD tosses, Siegal leaned over to Luckman. “See?” he said, as only a longtime teammate can. “I told you Governali is a better passer than you are, and now I am sure of it.”

Sources: Brooklyn Eagle archives, pro-football-reference.com.

Before anonymous sources

NFL teams are so secretive now it’s a wonder they don’t use an Enigma machine to communicate with one another. We were reminded of this again in the run-up to the draft, when all sorts of trade scenarios were bandied about — many involving quarterback Marcus Mariota — and none came to pass. Only two of the first 32 picks changed hands, the fewest in the modern era.

Mike Mayock, the NFL Network’s main Draft Guy, is so spooked by Bill Belichick’s talent for disinformation that he was reluctant to guess Thursday night which player the Patriots would take at the bottom of the first round. (Host Rich Eisen shamed him into it, though, and Mayock, to his great surprise, correctly predicted Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown.)

I raise this subject because, in the old days, the NFL was much more of an open book. And really, how much more fun would the offseason be if coaches and general managers didn’t dodge most questions as if they infringed on national security? Anyway, I came across a Pittsburgh Press story from 1940 that illustrates perfectly what I’m talking about. It ran just before the league meetings that year in April, and the candor of Steelers owner Art Rooney is stunning by today’s standards. Rooney names 10 players on six different clubs he’d be interested in trading for. Had he done that before this year’s league meetings, he might have been accused of tampering.

Here’s the (brief) story:Rooney talking trades 1940

The Steelers got only two of the 10 players Rooney mentioned — Giants tackle Ox Parry (for halfback Kay Eakin) and Rams halfback Merl Condit (for tailback Hugh McCullough). Condit was probably envisioned as a drawing card because he’d starred in college at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Tech.

Who doesn’t wish owners — and other decision makers — were as forthcoming nowadays as they were in the ’40s? Then we wouldn’t have as much Reporting By Rumor, as much Smoke Blowing passed off as reliable information. Better still, we wouldn’t have to watch a coach or GM’s nose grow almost every time he opens his mouth.

The lily-white years (1934-45)

After the 1933 season, black players disappeared from the NFL for 12 years — until the Second World War was over. The league’s founding fathers were never very anxious to talk about this shameful episode. When the subject was broached with the Bears’ George Halas in the early ’60s, he replied: “Probably it was due to the fact that no great [black] players were in the colleges then. That could be the reason. But I’ve never given this a thought until you mentioned it. At no time has it ever been brought up. Isn’t that strange?”

In Pro Football: Its Ups and Downs, the first book ever written about the pro game, another pioneer, Dr. Harry March, gave two rationales for the ban: (1) “There are so many Southern boys in the league that much feeling is sure to result”; and (2) “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.”

(For good measure: March threw this in: “The Indians object more to playing against Negroes than do the Southern men for some reason.”)

At any rate, the issue was seldom raised in the early decades. Major-league baseball didn’t have any blacks then, either, so the NFL hardly felt like it owed anyone an explanation — never mind an apology. That’s why a couple of stories that ran in the Brooklyn Eagle in November 1935 are so remarkable. They discussed, in depth, what was never discussed: Why blacks had been excluded from the league.

“The way of the black man,” Harold Parrott wrote, “is beset with flying tackles and blocks of a more than flesh-and-blood sort in football, be it the college brand or among the paid platoons.

It may be news, for instance, that colored men, no matter if they be as brilliant as some of the dozen Negroes who have starred since the pro league’s beginning in [1920], have now been barred by unwritten law — for their own good.

Bears Hall of Famer Red Grange (77) tries to catch the Cardinals' Joe Lillard (19).

The Bears’ Red Grange (77) tries to catch the Cardinals’ Joe Lillard (19).

Parrott then turned to Brooklyn Dodgers coach Paul Schissler, who had coached black star Joe Lillard when the two were with the Chicago Cardinals. “I feel sorry for Lillard,” Schissler said. “He was a fine fellow, not as rugged as most in the pro game, but very clever. But he was a marked man, and I don’t mean that just the Southern boys took it out on him, either; after a while whole teams, Northern and Southern alike, would give Joe the works, and I’d have to take him out. Somebody started it, it seemed, and everybody would join in.

“But that wasn’t the worst. It got so my Cardinals were a marked team because we had Lillard with us, and how the rest of the league took it out on us! We had to let him go, for our own sake and for his, too! Playing in the line wouldn’t have been so bad, but how Lillard took punishment at halfback!”

Schissler was no bigot. In fact, he was one of the era’s more enlightened coaches. Several years later, when he was running the Hollywood Bears of the Pacific Coast League, he had another black legend, tailback Kenny Washington, on his team. (It was Washington — along with end Woody Strode — who re-integrated the NFL in 1946 with the Los Angeles Rams.)

Parratt’s follow-up to this story is every bit as fascinating. Lillard and Fritz Pollard, yet another black great, were playing at the time for the Harlem Brown Bombers, a barnstorming black team, and “confronted the writer,” Parratt wrote, when they found out about Schissler’s comments. The idea that blacks were being kept out of the NFL for self-preservation’s sake was ludicrous, they told him.

Pollard: “I played for 20 years, with white teams and against ’em, and I was never hurt so bad I had to quit a game. I took Jim Thorpe’s $1,000 dare that I’d never go near Canton, Ohio, in 1920. Not only did the Akron team and myself go there, but we beat ’em 10 to 0. I coached the Gilberton, Pa., team in 1923, on which were [white stars] Walter French, Lou Little, Heinie Miller and Lud Wray, and I played with ’em. I weighed 160 or so, and they never made me or the other colored boys — Paul Robeson, Inky Williams, Duke Slater and the rest — who followed in the pro league quit, either. So they needn’t say that’s the reason they’re keeping us out of the league. Joe, here, is as good as any back in that league right now, and he always took it when he played there.”

Lillard: “The pro league and the way they are supposed to hand out the bumps is a joke. Why, I never got hurt among the pros like I did when I was in college. It’s a business in the [National Football] league, and they let you be. But I can remember when I was playin’ for Doc Spears at the University of Oregon in 1931 – the year we beat Washington . . . with a sophomore team — why, fellows on the other team used to be told to gang [up on] me even when I wasn’t in a play, to try to get me off the field.”

According to Parratt, Art Rooney’s Pittsburgh club “offered $15,000” for Lillard “and was turned down.” After the ’33 season, Joe “was mysteriously released. Every club he contacted told him politely its ‘roster was full.’

“How strange in a league where Pollard, the all-America[n] Robeson, . . . Inky Williams, Sol Butler, John Shelburne of Dartmouth and Duke Slater of Iowa had helped build early foundations! All colored greats!”

That said, the Racial Animosity Thing was overblown, Pollard insisted. He’d “played with and against Alabamans and Georgians,” Parratt wrote, “and some of them are his greatest friends. He played on the borderline of Texas itself once.” As for Thorpe’s $1,000 challenge, it was just a publicity stunt, Fritz said. Jim was “one of the best friends I ever had.

“It’s the odd ideas of a few men who bring about this condition,” Pollard went on. He singled out Halas as one of those men. In 1925, Fritz’s next-to-last NFL season, he played for the Providence Steam Roller against the Bears — or rather, he tried to. “I got $3,000 for that game,” he told Parratt, “but because Halas brought pressure to bear, I was not allowed into the game until the last two minutes. Fifty-eight minutes on the bench for $3,000.”

(Papa Bear was probably worried that Pollard might show up Red Grange, who joined Chicago late in the season after finishing his college career at Illinois.)

Again, you just didn’t see stories like this in the 1930s . . . or the 1940s . . . or even the 1950s. Harold Parratt, wherever you are, we salute you. Had more mainstream sportswriters followed your lead, the NFL’s racial history might read much differently.

The bootlegger who bought an NFL team

NFL owners live in a fishbowl these days, just as their players and coaches do. When the Colts’ Jim Irsay runs into addiction problems or the Browns’ Jimmy Haslam has the FBI descend on his company, they’re major stories, endlessly discussed by fans and media alike.

Big Bill Dwyer

Big Bill Dwyer

It wasn’t always thus. In the early days, when the league and its owners were more below the radar, a team could be sold to somebody who’d spent 13 months in federal prison for bootlegging . . . and nobody would say a word.

William V. Dwyer was the somebody’s name. In 1930 he brought a dormant franchise that he turned into the Brooklyn Dodgers (who played their games at Ebbets Field, home of the baseball Dodgers). This is the same Big Bill Dwyer who’d been dubbed the “King of the Bootleggers” during Prohibition and presided over a huge illegal empire. How huge? Time magazine summed up his operation this way:

William V. Dwyer manufactured liquor in the U.S. He imported liquor from Canada, Cuba, Europe. He owned trucks, speedboats, 20 ships of foreign registry. He employed 800 men, a few women. He bribed Prohibition agents, put some of his own men into the Coast Guard service. In two-and-a-half years preceding January 1926, he had done a liquor business of some $50 million. Manhattan was the center of his activities.

From July 1927 to August 1928, Dwyer’s home was the U.S. penitentiary in Atlanta. By this time he was already involved in pro sports as the owner of the NHL’s New York Americans. When he was paroled, he added the Dodgers to his portfolio and also got more heavily involved in horse racing, building Tropical Park Race Track outside Miami.

“Big Bill was a promoter on a vast scale,” the Brooklyn Eagle reported in 1949. . . .

He also owned limitless quantities of alcohol and if, during the turbulent ’20s, you imbibed whisky that didn’t burn a hole in your esophagus, chances are it was Dwyer’s. At any rate, he obtained control of the idle borough franchise and brought in John Depler, a former Illinois captain, as coach.

He also brought in a vast array of talent — Father Lumpkin, Stumpy Thomason, Ollie Samson, Jack McBride from the Giants, Tex Thomas, Indian Yablock, and later [Hall of Fame quarterback] Benny Friedman and Jack Grossman. . . .

[The Dodgers’] average attendance was 17,000, but they drew as many as 28,000 one day. But Big Bill began to feel the Depression in 1933 and sold out to Chris Cagle and Shipwreck Kelly [for a reported price of “more than $25,000”].

(Cagle and Kelly were still active players — the last, in fact, to own an NFL team.)

After that, it only got worse for Dwyer. His financial difficulties forced the NHL to take over his Americans franchise in 1936, and three years later the U.S. government won a $3.7 million judgment against him for unpaid taxes. When he died in 1946, though, he was still living in an exclusive neighborhood in Rockaway Beach, so the tax suit couldn’t have totally cleaned him out.

Nowadays, of course, Dwyer wouldn’t survive the NFL’s vetting process. But in 1930, when the league was desperate for owners with deep pockets — deep enough to bankroll a team in a big market — Big Bill’s bootlegging past could be winked at.

Besides, public opinion toward such activities was a little different in those years. As actor George Raft, who walked in Dwyer’s world for a time, reminisced in his autobiography:

I knew that Owney Madden, Larry Fay, Big Bill Dwyer, Waxey Gordon and others were powerful in New York. They all wore expensive clothes, drove custom-built cars and lived in kingly suits.

To me, a Hell’s Kitchen kid with no education and no special talent, the Prohibition gangsters were no criminals. They were big men, the only heroes available in my crowded, violent little sidewalk world. When they patted me on the back and said, “Georgie, you’re an O.K. guy,” it was like an orphan getting the nod from John D. Rockefeller.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Football in Cuba

The normalizing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba should be a boon to major-league baseball. That’s the sport that immediately comes to mind, of course, when thinking about That Island 90 Miles South of Florida — baseball, then track and field, then maybe boxing.

Believe it or not, though, Cuba also has a football history — a distant one, perhaps, but fascinating nonetheless. In fact, in 1944, when the NFL was suffering from an acute manpower shortage, the Redskins had a Cuban player in training camp. Here’s the story that ran in newspapers across the country:

Redskins sign Monoz 7-26-44

A later story corrected the spelling of Monoz’s name — it was Munoz, apparently — and claimed that, according to the Redskins, he was “the first Cuban-born athlete to play professional football in the United States.” There’s no record, after all, of Rivero ever playing for the Bears, though he was a star back at Columbia. That’s him in the photo below carrying the ball against Union College in 1930:

Rivero photo NYT 10-5-30

Wish I had a photo of Munoz to show you, but he disappeared from the Washington training camp without a trace. (He couldn’t have been too terrific. NFL clubs were so desperate in that war year — the Redskins included — that they suited up kids fresh out of high school.)

The University of Havana did indeed field a football team in those days, though, and continued to until the late ’50s. Havana also was the occasional site of a college bowl game, called at various times the Bacardi Bowl, the Cigar Bowl or the Rhumba Bowl. Some of these games pitted the University of Havana against a visiting American team. Check out the college scoreboard from Dec. 9, 1939:

Dec. 9, 1939 college scoreboard(Georgia Teachers College, by the way, is now Georgia Southern.)

A few years earlier, on New Year’s Day 1937, Auburn and Villanova battled to a 7-7 tie in the Bacardi Bowl, held at Tropical Stadium. This is from The New York Times:

NYT head on Bacardi Bowl story

Auburn-Villanova box Bacardi Bowl

Half-a-dozen players in this box score — at least — went on to play in the NFL. I’m talking about tackles Herb Roton, Jim Sivell and Bo Russell for Auburn and left tackle John Mellus, left guard Bill Rogers and center Stan Galazin for Villanova.

I wouldn’t count on the University of Havana restoring its football program any time soon, but it’s always a possibility down the road. Alberto Juantorena, I always thought, would have made a heckuva wideout.


Even if you’re not an NFL history buff, you’re probably familiar with the score of the 1940 title game: 73-0 (the Bears nipping the Redskins). Well, I’ve got a blowout that’s even bigger than that. It just didn’t happen in a league game. It happened during a postseason barnstorming tour in December 1936, when the Brooklyn Dodgers “shellacked” the semipro St. Louis Terriers, 100-0.

Such tours were fairly common in those Depression times. Before teams broke up for the season, they’d squeeze in a few more games — and paydays — against non-league clubs in warmer parts of the country. They didn’t always win them, either. The same afternoon the Dodgers trounced the Terriers in Wichita, the Chicago Cardinals lost to the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Bulldogs in L.A., 13-10.

You know what else was played that day? The NFL championship game between the Packers and Redskins. Here’s your scoreboard for Dec. 13, 1936:

Results in 12-14-36 Eagle

The ’36 Dodgers weren’t very good at all. They finished 3-8-1 and scored a grand total of 92 points. In other words, they scored more points in 60 minutes against the St. Louis Terriers than in 12 regular-season games.

Fortunately for them, their competition in Wichita was a scraggly bunch. In fact, it came out afterward that their opponents bore only a slight resemblance to the real St. Louis Terriers. One of the Terriers’ promoters, Jack Lally, told The Associated Press, “The scheduling of a National [Football] League team was ‘football suicide’ and a financially unsound idea this late in the season. And reports a St. Louis team was beaten so badly may hurt the sport here next year. Our objection is that we were not considered when plans for the game at Wichita were being drawn up — and Yates [James Yates, the promoter] represents only one-third of the team.”

According to the AP, “only three regular Terrier players were in the lineup.” Yates did supplement the St. Louis roster, though, with All-American back Ozzie Simmons, who had just finished his college career at Iowa. Simmons never played in the NFL because the league wasn’t hiring blacks then, but he managed to make his presence felt even in a 100-0 loss. He “turned in one run of 50 yards and completed one pass before leaving the game in the third period,” the wire service reported.

A sampling of the headlines that appeared over The 100-0 Story (in case you’re curious):

The New York Times:

NYT 100-0 head The Boston Globe:

Globe 100-0 head

The Milwaukee Journal:

Milwaukee headline

And finally, The San Antonio Light:

San Antonio Light headline

Now that’s the spirit. At least the Light grasped the utter ridiculousness of the game — one that was certainly worth an exclamation point or two. It’s also the only paper I’ve come across that provided much detail (courtesy of the wires):

Running wild, the Dodgers rang up 21 points in the first quarter, 12 in the second, 34 in the third and 33 in the fourth. The St. Louisans, led by the dark flash, Oze Simmons of the University of Iowa, were completely helpless, cowed and pulverized.

The 15 Brooklyn touchdowns were made by [Jeff] Barrett (5), [Joe] Maniaci (4), [Tony] Kaska (2), [John] Yezerski (1) and [Paul] Riblett (1). The Dodgers gained 274 yards by rushing and 300 on passes. In the last period, they bewildered the fans – and the Terriers more so – with seven laterals on one play.

Seven laterals on one play. Clearly, the Dodgers were enjoying themselves after the long slog of the NFL season. Yezerski, after all, was a tackle. (Wonder if he was the recipient of The Seventh Lateral — or if they threw him a touchdown pass on a tackle-eligible play.) Barrett and Riblett, for that matter, were ends. Which raises the question: Did Barrett actually have five TD receptions? Because that would match the NFL record shared by Jerry Rice, Kellen Winslow Sr. and Bob Shaw.

The game, by the way, attracted a crowd of 4,000. It figures out to 40 people per point, for those of you scoring at home.

Dec. 7, 1941

If you’re looking for some black humor on this Pearl Harbor Day, check out this story I unearthed a while back — specifically the lead. It showed up on commentary pages in 1991, the 50th anniversary of Japan’s attack.Fort Lauderdale guy's lead

I call attention to it because, yes, the NFL did wrap up the 1941 regular season on Dec. 7. There were three games that day — in New York, Washington and Chicago. But the Packers didn’t play in any of them. They had completed their schedule the week before and were waiting to see if there would be a playoff with the Bears to decide the West Division title. (There would, indeed. George Halas’ team beat the crosstown Cardinals on Dec. 7 to finish tied with Green Bay at 10-1.)

Let that be a cautionary tale, all you J-schoolers out there. It’s always a bad idea to reminisce about things that never happened, especially when it’s so easy to verify whether they did. Even if you don’t get caught right away, you might get exposed 23 years down the road by some curmudgeon like me. (Assuming, that is, I’m the first curmudgeon to arrive at the scene.)

OK, where was I? Right, Dec. 7, 1941. For the record, this is what the NFL scoreboard looked like at the end of the day:

Dodgers 21, Giants 7 (at the Polo Grounds)

Redskins 20, Eagles 14 (at Griffith Stadium)

Bears 34, Cardinals 24 (at Comiskey Park)

To give you a feel for what it was like at one of the games, here’s the Brooklyn Eagle’s coverage of the inter-borough Giants-Dodgers battle:Eagle Dec. 7 game 1

Eagle Dec. 7 game 2Eagle Dec. 7 game 3Eagle Dec. 7 game 4Eagle Dec. 7 game 5

Sportswriting in that period was just fabulous, wasn’t it? Now that I’ve read this, I can hardly wait to describe a player as “a dark-brown warrior from the Iowa corn belt.”

Tuffy Leemans programIt was Tuffy Leemans Day, by the way, at the Polo Grounds. The Giants’ Hall of Fame back was given a silver tray inscribed by his teammates and $1,500 in defense bonds. Two years later, the Steelers and Eagles merged into the “Steagles” — just to keep going. The Rams, meanwhile, shut down for the season and dispersed their players — the few, that is, that weren’t in the military — among the other clubs in the league.

Dec. 7, 1941. The Packers, as I recall, were off that day.

Sources: Brooklyn Eagle, pro-football-reference.com.