Finding contracts from the early years of the NFL is not an everyday occurrence, but when they turn up they often yield both great autographs and interesting information. For example, the contract for the last game the Duluth Eskimos played in the NFL, shown below. In the first detail view you can see that the Bears made a $4,000 guarantee to the Eskimos for the game. NFL records show that 2,500 people attended. I don’t know what the ticket prices were at Wrigley field, but I do have a photocopy of a statement of receipts from a December 1928 game the Giants played at Yankee Stadium. At that game the attendance was 6,836 and the receipts were $5,820.70. I think it would be safe to say that an attendance of 2,500 at Wrigley Field did not generate $4,000 in receipts, so the Bears must have been backed into a corner – financially speaking. No doubt it was part of the reason the Bears ended the 1927 season $3,488.35 in the red.
The autographs are a great group. For the Bears you have Dutch Sternaman and George Halas, co-owners of the Bears until Halas bought out Sternaman in 1933. For the Eskimos you have Ole Haugsrud, the man who brought Ernie Nevers into professional football and who supposedly paid $1 to purchase the team from the players who had been running it as a cooperative venture. When Haugsrud sold the Duluth franchise to a team in Orange, New Jersey, in 1929, it was with an agreement that he would receive a percentage of the next NFL franchise in Minnesota – thirty years later he became a part owner of the Minnesota Vikings.
Haugsrud may not be a household name today, but to the players of that era he was a founding father. According to an article by Ralph Hickok in Sports Illustrated in 1987, at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Football Hall of Fame in 1973, both Johnny Blood and Ernie Nevers recommended that if owners were going to be enshrined in the Hall, Ole Haugsrud should be among those honored: “He did more for the NFL than Dan Reeves, Charlie Bidwill and Larmar Hunt combined,” said Blood. “Amen,” said Ernie Nevers.