The A.P.F.A. and the Early NFL

 In 1920, the A.E. Staley company of Decatur, Illinois approached George Halas about playing for the company baseball team and running the company football team.  Halas was able to bring top-notch players to the team because Staley provided his 25-year old coach with fine package deals to offer prospective players. 

     Halas played one end and Guy Chamberlain left the Canton Bulldogs to play the other end, while former Notre Damer George Trafton signed on as center.  Former Great Lakes players rejoining Halas in Decatur were half-back Jimmy Conzelman, tackle Hugh Blacklock and guard Jerry Jones.  One of Halas’ teammates at Illiinois, Dutch Sternaman, came to play halfback, and more strong players also signed up.

     Halas began contacting existing pro teams to schedule games for the 1920 season.  When Halas contacted Ralph Hay, manager of the Canton Bulldogs, Hay told him of plans to organize a league that autumn.  A formal organizational conference was held in Canton on September 17th.  The lead-ers of 10 clubs–the Staleys, the Bulldogs, the Akron Pros, the Dayton Triangles, the Cleveland Tigers, the Rock Island Independents, the Chicago Cardinals, the Hammond Pros, the Muncie Flyers, and the Rochester Jeffersons–gathered to create the American Professional Football Associa-tion (APFA).

     Jim Thorpe was named APFA president–he continued to coach and play for the Canton Bulldogs.  The APFA did not resemble a league as we know it today–the league office had no influence on anybody.  They did not set any schedules, leaving each team to to arrange its own slate of games.  Some of the teams arranged a good portion of their games against teams that were traditional local rivals instead of APFA members. 

     Four other teams that year had popular reputations as major teams and played enough games against the official APFA members that they were considered a part of the 1920 league season, even though no official stand-ings were kept–the Buffalo All-Americans, the Chicago Tigers, the Columbus Panhandles, and the Detroit Heralds

     Several of the official league teams were a step below the others in play-ing strength and organizational ability.  The Rochester Jeffersons lost one game to Buffalo and did not play any other games against official APFA members.  The Muncie Flyers were destroyed 45-0 by Rock Island in their first game and then disbanded.  The Hammond Pros had lost most of their players from the strong 1919 squad and could not compete with the best teams.  The unofficial Columbus and Detroit teams had weak teams stocked with over-age players.

     Rock Island, Decatur and the two Chicago teams played most of their games among themselves.  Similarly, Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Dayton furnished the opposition for each other most of the time.  Buffalo played host to several Ohio teams during 1920.  The Ohio circuit was pro football’s most famous, due to the battles between the Canton Bulldogs and the Massillon Tigers over the past several seasons.  But Massillon no longer had a team and the Bulldogs team was not up to its’ previous standard.

     Thorpe was 33-years old and planned to devote more time to coaching the Bulldogs from the sidelines.  For most of the season, he held himself out of contests unless he was needed in the second half.  The Bulldogs had other stars in backs Pete Calac and Joe Guyon, veteran tackle Cub Buck, and rookie tackle Wilbur “Pete” Henry Buck and Henry were two of the biggest and best lineman in pro ball. 

     The Akron Pros were more than a match for Canton, having a breakaway wingback in black star Fritz Pollard and a passing and plunging tailback in Rip King.  The Pros held daily practices (a routine many teams did not have), had only two regular linemen–Alf Cobb and Bob Nash–weighing over 200 pounds, and they allowed only seven points all year.  They went into Canton on October 31st and whipped the Bulldogs 10-0.  Then on Thanksgiving Day in Akron, they repeated the feat on a muddy field, winning 7-0.  The Pros had an undisputed claim to the championship in Ohio.

To be continued…

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