Popalis Family History
1925 Pottsville Maroons
THE DISCARDED CHAMPIONSHIP - PART II
By Joe Horrigan, Bob Braunwart, & Bob Carroll
O'BRIEN TRIES FOR RED
On Saturday, December 5, the day before the Cardinals-Maroons
game, Red Grange drew 36,000 to Shibe Park in Philadelphia to watch the
Bears defeat Frankford. The next day, more than 60,000 came to New
York's Polo Grounds as the Bears topped the Giants.
After his Cardinals lost to the Maroons by a solid 21-7, club owner
Chris O'Brien still believed he had a good possibility of landing Grange for
a season-closing, December 20, game with his Cardinals. But he also knew
he could enhance his chances by reclaiming first place in the league
standing. Therefore, he tried an end run.
On Tuesday, December 8, he announced the Cards would play the
Hammond Pros on the following Saturday. The next day, he revealed
another game would be played first on Thursday, December 10, against the
O'Brien's intent was obvious. Two victories over weak opponents
would give his team a better percentage than Pottsville, thus -- according to
the Chicago Tribune -- "forcing another contest with the Bears." That a
rematch with Grange was O'Brien's real object is shown by the fact he met
with C.C. Pyle, Grange's personal manager, BEFORE announcing the
Although both Hammond and Milwaukee had disbanded for the
season, the Pros were able to call in most of their regulars and put up a
good struggle before falling, 13-0. The Milwaukee game two days before
was a different matter. The Badgers' lineup was so patched together with
unfamiliar players that O'Brien decided to throw open the gates and forego
any admission charge. Paddy Driscoll didn't even play as the Cards romped,
The dates of these two games are significant. Pottsville has always
contended that Joe Carr ordered the Cardinals to play them AFTER the
Pottsville-Notre Dame All-Star game. Instead, the Milwaukee affair took
place two days BEFORE (Dec. 10) and the Hammond game was on the
SAME DATE (Dec. 12) as the Notre Dame game. Moreover, Chicago
Tribune stories make it clear that the idea of outflanking Pottsville with two
extra games originated not with Carr but with Chris O'Brien.
Ironically, the purpose of all O'Brien's maneuvering went down the
drain during the same week. Red Grange suffered an injured arm in a non-league exhibition game
at Pittsburgh. Doctors ordered him out of action.
Whether the Cardinals were in first place or not, there would be no rich
payoff against Grange on December 20.
O'Brien didn't even try to schedule another team for the season's final
day. That would have only cost him more money. As far as any claim to the
championship, that would turn on the resolution of the curious events taking
place in Pennsylvania.
THE WRONG PLACE FOR THE IRISH
Until the Maroons went to Chicago, there was a distinct odor of fish
emanating from their record. On no fewer than seven different occasions
during 1925, Pottsville played teams the day after the same clubs had fought
a Saturday game at Frankford. Not surprisingly, Pottsville won six of the
encounters. Some critics wondered what the Maroons' record might have
been had all their opponents been fresh. Indeed, their humiliating, 49-0,
victory over Frankford -- the win that put them in line to play the Notre Dame
All-Stars -- came the day after a tough Yellow Jacket game with Green Bay.
However, the 21-7 victory over the Cardinals quieted criticism to the extent
that most fans were willing to accept Pottsville as the top team in the league.
Certainly, many fans in Pottsville had already decided the Maroons
were the champs. However, those who looked at the schedule realized the
season had not yet been completed. A game at Providence was slated for
Sunday, December 13.
But Pottsville was much more intent on the day before -- Saturday,
December 12 -- when they would play the Notre Dame All- Stars at Shibe
Park. The game figured to be a big moneymaker; next to Grange, Notre
Dame was the biggest name in football. To Pottsville's way of thinking, the
Maroons had already won the NFL championship. A victory over the Irish
would mean the "world" title -- and a lot of money.
In later years, Pottsville supporters tried to pass the contest off as the
first pro-college all-star game, a forerunner of the Chicago extravaganza
which for so many years kicked off the grid season. This it certainly was not.
Nearly all of the Notre Dame men had already appeared in one professional
uniform or another, some of them for several seasons. And all-star teams
were a fairly common occurrence. On Thursday, December 10 -- two days
before the Notre Dame game -- an all-star team that included Russ and Herb
Stein of the Maroons defeated the Bears at Pittsburgh in the game that saw
All this flummery aside, Dr. Striegel had badly overplayed his hand.
Shibe Park was clearly inside the protected territory of the Frankford Yellow
Jackets -- the Jackets had just played there on December 5 against Grange
and Co. -- and security of a home territory was one of the main reasons any
team purchased a franchise in the NFL. A Pottsville trespass might not have
seemed so awful had the Yellow Jackets disbanded for the season, but, as
a matter of fact, they were scheduled to go against Cleveland across town
at Frankford Stadium on December 12 -- the same day! In other words, Dr.
Striegel had signed a contract to go head-to-head against a fellow member
of the league!
As ludicrous as it may seem, Striegel always told reporters that he
had received verbal permission over the telephone from the league before
signing the contract. On close questioning, he admitted that the verbal go-ahead hadn't come
from Carr, the only person who could grant it, but instead
from the league secretary. On at least one occasion, Striegel even named
the secretary -- Jerry Corcoran. The only problem with that scenario was
that the NFL secretary was Carl Storck! Jerry Corcoran was manager of the
Columbus Tigers and had no more power to set league policy than Striegel
Frankford's protest has a "spoil sport" side to it. When the contract
was signed to bring the Notre Damers to Philadelphia, the Jackets fully
expected to play host. The contract has been lost, but certainly Frankford
president Shep Royle never believed for a moment that the Maroons could
be the "home team" in Philadelphia. The scheduling of a Frankford-
Cleveland game at little Frankford Stadium opposite the "big one" at Shibe
Park was a last-minute idea, probably just to strengthen Royle's protest to
But no matter what might be said for (or against) Frankford
sportsmanship, the fact is they were on firm legal (at least, "NFL legal")
As soon as President Carr heard about the Notre Dame game,
messages began descending on Dr. Striegel, all of the "thou shalt not"
variety. Carr was very clear that Pottsville faced suspension if it played the
game. The Pottsville people later accused Carr of delivering his verdict only
after the game had been played, but that just isn't so. Pre-game newspaper
stories show that Carr warned Strigel a biblical three times and detailed what
he would do to Pottsville and its "championship" if they went ahead with the
Striegel hesitated. He asked Carr if the league would cover the loss
(and probable law suit) if he backed out of his contract with Schumann. Carr
offered all reasonable protection but the NFL wasn't going to pick up the tab
for Striegel. For home publication, Striegel was all bluster. He'd never
backed out of a contract before, he postured, and wasn't going to do it now,
conveniently forgetting his obligation to the National Football League.
Striegel insisted he was honor-bound to take his team to Philadelphia
(where he expected to be honor-bound to accept a large check).
THE AXE FALLS
On Saturday, December 12, four things happened.
The Pottsville Maroons defeated the Notre Dame All-Stars, 9- 7, on
the strength of a Charlie Berry field goal before a disappointing crowd of only
8,000, not many more than might have been jammed into Pottsville's
Minersville Park. Ironically, the big game was a big financial flop.
The Cleveland Bulldogs defeated the Yellow Jackets, 3-0, at
Frankford Stadium before another 8,000 -- about half what the popular team
normally drew at home.
Dr. J.G. Striegel received a telegram from Joe Carr stating that the
Pottsville Maroons had been fined $500, suspended from all rights and
privileges (including the right to compete for the championship, of course),
and had their franchise forfeited to the league.
The Providence Steam Roller received word that they were not
permitted to play Pottsville the next day. It took $44 worth of long-distance
telephone calls for Providence to hurriedly fix up a substitute visitation from
By Sunday, all of these things were public knowledge.
Also on Sunday, without Red Grange and after returning a good deal
of money to disappointed fans, the Bears lost to the New York Giants at
One week later, the Yellow Jackets defeated the Bulldogs at
Cleveland. They were the only two NFL teams who found any reason to play
a game on the official last day of the 1925 season.
WHAT'S ALL THE FUSS?
At this point, one might well wonder where all the controversy came
from. It should be obvious that a team that is not in a league -- and Pottsville
was officially out eight days before the end of the season -- cannot win the
championship of that league.
We may not like the Cardinals' scheduling those extra games, but
Chris O'Brien had every right to do it.
We may not admire Frankford's churlish protest, but Shep Royle was
within his rights, too.
We may sympathize with Dr. Striegel, but he was wrong.
And he was well warned. Instead, he chose to ignore his league
obligations in hope of a fast Philadelphia dollar. He traded a championship
nearly-won for gate receipts never-to-be.
However, memory is selective. Over many years the details of the
story faded and only the memory of an outstanding team that did NOT get
its title remained.
Then, too, as soon as the 1925 season ended, events began to unfold
in a way that completely muddied the waters.
First, the Cardinals found themselves in trouble when the truth about
the hastily-arranged Thursday morning game broke in Chicago. In order to
get eleven men on the field, the Milwaukee team had put four high school
boys in uniform.
Joe Carr investigated immediately and his punishment was swift. The
Milwaukee team was not suspended, but the owner, Ambrose McGurk, was
given 90 days to sell his club. Art Folz, a Cardinal player who admitted
procuring the high school boys for McGurk, was banned from the NFL for
life. And, although everyone agreed that Chris O'Brien hadn't known about
the arrangement, the Cardinals were still fined $1,000 and put on probation.
Carr said he would have the Milwaukee game stricken from the
standings, but the league never got around to doing that. It is still carried in
the official 1925 standings appearing in the NFL Record Manual. Pottsville
fans want that game and the Cardinal-Hammond game played two days later
removed on the false hope that their Maroons would then win the title on
percentage. But Pottsville had been suspended; their percentage didn't
At about the same time the truth came out in Chicago, Dr. Striegel
went to Columbus and begged Carr to reconsider his actions against
Pottsville. Carr relented to the extent that he agreed to submit the whole
mess to the owners for review at the February league meeting. In the
interim, Pottsville's suspension held.
The league met on February 6, 1926, at the Hotel Statler in Detroit.
With Dr. Striegel in the room, President Carr detailed the events of the
Pottsville case. Perhaps his most damning statement was: "Three different
notices forbidding the Pottsville club to play were given and the management
elected to play regardless".
After Carr finished his summary, the owners took ten minutes to
discuss the situation and to hear anything Dr. Striegel had to say. Then they
voted to accept Carr's report. Pottsville was still out of the NFL.
However, when it came to awarding the 1925 championship, a new
snag developed. Even without the Milwaukee game, the Cardinals clearly
had the best record of those teams eligible for the title. But, when it was
moved and seconded that the Redbirds be awarded the championship, word
arrived from Chris O'Brien that the Cardinals would not "accept" the
championship. The decision, of course, was the league's to make, not
O'Brien's, but the vote was tabled and apparently not picked up again. The
NFL never actually went through the formality of awarding the 1925
championship to anyone!
The distinction is, of course, purely technical. The Cardinals were
indisputably the league champs, and later Redbird owners (the franchise
was moved to St. Louis in 1960 and is now in Arizona) have had no scruples
about claiming the 1925 title as part of the Cardinal heritage. But O'Brien's
refusal gave Pottsville supporters fuel for their fire.
And, finally, the Pottsville team in 1926 and for several seasons
thereafter wore jackets with "World Champions 1925" emblazoned on the
back. Apparently no protest was ever made by the league, and, indeed,
none should have been. The Maroons -- with their wins over the Cardinals
and over the ex-Notre Damers -- quite probably were the best team in the
world that year. Had they chosen to remain in the league until the end of the
season, they might also have been NFL Champions.
There's something in us all that loves an underdog. Certainly, in
taking on the big bad NFL, little Pottsville qualifies and then some. All they
ask is that one ancient championship be removed from the record of the
(now Phoenix) Cardinals and chalked up in the Pottsville column. After all,
the Cards have one to spare; they won again in 1947. By then, the Maroons
had been a memory for 19 years.
After finishing third in 1926 (yes, they got back in the league), the
Maroons plunged to the bottom of the NFL standings for two years when
their stars aged, retired, or moved on to other teams. Finally, in 1929, Dr.
Striegel took his franchise to Boston, renamed it "Bulldogs," and spent a
season contending with Depression economics and Beantown apathy. Then
he folded for good.
As a footnote, a new Boston franchise, granted in 1932, moved on to
Washington, D.C., in '37. There is a line of thought that argues today's
Redskins are an incarnation of the old Maroons, but that's mere romanticism.
The Maroons are gone forever.
But that only makes their "lost cause" more appealing. A great many
people both in and outside Pottsville would grow warm and mushy if the little
town could set up an official "NFL Champions 1925" monument next to their
60-foot Henry Clay.
Aside from the Phoenix Cardinals, the only folks who might object are
those who know what REALLY happened back then.
Alas! the "Pottsville's version" is just the opposite of that Henry Clay
statue. If you actually go to the statue instead of reading the Pottsville
brochure, you'll discover 15 feet of Henry Clay and 45 feet of base. If you
actually check into the infamous "stolen championship," you'll learn the
Pottsville version has no base at all.
It's a myth.
But a myth, that's been nurtured for more than 60 years.
Had Pottsville remained out of the league, there might have been a
chance for clearing up the mess. Their absence in 1926 might have tipped
researchers that the team had not completed the 1925 season. But Red
Grange got the Maroons back into the NFL.
At the same February meeting in Detroit that confirmed Pottsville's
suspension, Grange and Pyle announced they had secured a lease to
Yankee Stadium and intended to put a pro football team in New York.
Understandably, this was distressing news to Tim Mara, who held exclusive
territorial rights to the Big Apple for his Giants. Just how important it had
been for Joe Carr to take a stand on the issue of territorial rights in 1925 now
became clear. If the NFL gave into Grange and Pyle this time, it would soon
find itself at the mercy of every new star who happened along.
Standing behind Mara, the league turned down Grange and Pyle in
their application for a franchise. The dynamic duo announced they would
form their own league for 1926. By mid-summer the NFL was involved in a
war with Grange's American Football League.
Discretion became the better part of justice. Chris O'Brien was in
deep trouble in Chicago, facing the new AFL Bulls as well as the Bears. His
$1,000 fine was rescinded to help him operate. Even Art Folz was reinstated
to keep him from playing for the AFL.
One NFL team, Rock Island, jumped to the new league, but the others
held firm. And that left Pottsville. The Maroons had a strong team in being
but no league to play in. If they joined Grange, the AFL would gain a great
deal of credibility. To avoid that, the National Football League reinstated the
Maroons at the League's summer meeting. No consideration was given to
awarding the prodigals the previous year's championship.
Although Pottsville's reinstatement helped the league survive
Grange's challenge, it forever obscured the 1925 situation. For the 1925
and 1926 standings did not reflect the fact that from December 12, 1925 until
July 10, 1926, the Pottsville Maroons were not members of the NFL.
To summarize, in 1925 the Pottsville Maroons by their own choice and
despite repeated warnings, disobeyed a crucial NFL rule. As a
consequence, they forfeited their franchise, did not complete their scheduled
league season, and gave up any rights to a championship they were on the
verge of winning. All of this occurred before December 20, the scheduled
end of the 1925 season.
The last two games scheduled by the Chicago Cardinals at the end
of the 1925 season were initiated by Chris O'Brien, not to secure the
championship itself, but to set up a potentially profitable game with Red
Grange and the Chicago Bears. The games were not ordered by Joe Carr
as claimed by Pottsville. And, although the Milwaukee team used ineligible
players in one of the games, the Cardinal owner was found to be in no way
The nice people of Pottsville are not barefaced liars. Like Don
Quixote, they're simply unaware of the true situation. It's time they stopped
tilting at the NFL windmill. The Maroons were a heck of a good team in
1925, but the NFL did not ripoff their championship.
Although the Maroons handed it to them, the Cardinals at first refused
to accept the championship and, in fact, the NFL never officially awarded
one for 1925. However, as the team with the best record of those eligible for
the title, the Cardinals must be regarded as the 1925 champs.
The attempt by "Red" Grange and C.C. Pyle to form a rival pro league
in 1926 caused Pottsville to be reinstated to the NFL, but certainly did not
make the Maroons eligible for the championship of the previous season.
Instead of glory, they chose to go for the "quick buck" in Philadelphia.
By doing so they did not have a championship "stolen" as they have so long
claimed. On the contrary, they discarded it themselves.
Copyright © 2000 - 2014 by Andrew J. Popalis
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