Red Grange was such a big star as a rookie in 1925 that his manager, C. C. Pyle, demanded a $10,000-a-year salary and one-third ownership of the Chicago Bears as compensation for Grange playing in 1926. The Bears refused these demands, so Pyle leased Yankee Stadium and petitioned the NFL for a new team. When the NFL turned him down, Pyle formed the American Football League, featuring Grange as the star of the New York Yankees. Eight other teams also joined the league.
The Philadelphia Quakers won the AFL in 1926 but an inter-league game with the NFL's New York Giants proved disastrous. The Giants finished seventh in the NFL but routed the Quakers, 31-0. At the end of the season the AFL folded.
The 22-team NFL of 1926 became the 12-team NFL of 1927, seeking greater financial strength. Grange's New York Yankees joined the NFL, but the New York Giants took home the championship.
Crushed by the Steam Roller.
In 1928 Red Grange retired from football and the Yankees and Duluth quit the league, so the NFL was reduced to ten teams. The NFL champion was the Providence Steam Roller, a team that played in the Cycledrome, a stadium built for bicycle races.
In 1929 Grange returned to the game, once again playing for the Chicago Bears. Ernie Nevers of the Chicago Cardinals scored 40 points in a win over the Bears, a record that still stands today. The NFL champs? It was the first for the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers won the title again in 1930. The Dayton franchise moved to Brooklyn and became the Brooklyn Dodgers. Bronko Nagurski joined the league and became an instant star for the Bears.
The Pack is Back in '31.
The Green Bay Packers won the title for a third consecutive season in 1931. The following year the Portsmouth Spartans and the Chicago Bears tied for the title, so the first NFL playoff game was born. There was a major problem, though, as the weather was deemed too cold for football (how is that possible?). The solution? The game was moved indoors! On an 80-yard field with sidelines that ran into the walls, the Bears prevailed, 9-0.
In 1933 Art Rooney's Pittsburgh squad joined the league, but they were known as the Pirates at first, not the Steelers. Also joining were the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Eagles. The league was divided into two divisions for the first time, and the NFL championship game saw the Bears beat the Giants, 23-21.
Remember the College All-Star game? The first one was played in 1934, with the 1933-champion Bears meeting the best of the college ranks. Nothing was decided in the initial meeting, as neither team could score. On Thanksgiving Day the first radio broadcast of an NFL game took place. On December 9th the Giants beat the Bears for the title in the famed "Sneaker Game." Down 13-3 in the third quarter, the Giants took off their cleats and put on basketball sneakers for better footing. They won, 30-13.
The Portsmouth Spartans became the Detroit Lions in 1934 and they won the NFL title in 1935. In 1936 the NFL draft began, and the first player selected was Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger. How big a star was Berwanger? He never played in an NFL game! Green Bay won the 1936 NFL title.
The Boston Redskins moved to Washington, D. C., in 1937 and won the title. In 1938, Byron "Whizzer" White, the future Supreme Court Justice, led the NFL in rushing. The Giants took home the title in 1938 while Green Bay won it all in 1939.
Darn it! I had the Redskins and 72½!
The 1940 NFL championship game was a blowout of unprecedented proportions. With Red Barber broadcasting to 120 stations, it was the first national radio hook-up for an NFL title game. The Chicago Bears pounded the Washington Redskins, 73-0!
Art Rooney sold the Pittsburgh Pirates, bought the Philadelphia Eagles, traded the Eagles for the Pirates and renamed the Pirates the Steelers! Whew! There had to be a simpler way to change the name! The Bears won the title in 1941 and the Redskins took it in 1942.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh merged in 1943 and became Phil-Pitt. To their fans they were known as the Steagles! Believe it or not, the league (for the first time) made it mandatory that the players wear helmets. The Bears won the title in '43 while the Packers won it all in 1944.
The rosters that were severely depleted by World War II returned to near normal for the 1945 season. Tragically, 21 former NFL players lost their lives in the 1941-45 conflict. Cleveland defeated Washington for the NFL title.
Next time: Part III of the NFL's exciting history. Click here to read it!
Click here to read Part I of this article.