Training Camp

Bill Pennington wrote an interesting article in the New York Times on August 8 about Joe Skiba, the NY Giants equipment manager, and all the supplies he had on stock for the Giants training camp –  3,500 pairs of shoes, 600 pairs of socks, 500 gloves, 300 helmets, etc. In contrast to 2013, here is an interesting 1929 letter from Ole Haugsrud, newly hired manager of the Chicago Cardinals, to Howard Maple, former QB of Oregon State. Haugsrud was hired by Cardinals new owner David Jones and he brought Coach Dewey Scanlon, Ernie Nevers, Cobb Rooney, and Walt Kiesling with him from the defunct Duluth Eskimos. Maple was injured in a pre-season loss to the Canton Bulldogs and would not play again until the 1930 season. In the letter Maple is instructed to bring a “complete football outfit” with him to camp, “as our uniforms will not be available until the first game.”

maple letter

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Early NFL Contracts

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.

1927 Bears Eskimos contract

1927 Bears Eskimos contract detail

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.

1927 Bears Eskimos contract signatures

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.

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An Interesting Contract

A number of items from the files of Charlie Conerly have recently come up for auction. I thought this contract was a real time capsule – can you imagine what such a contract would look like today?

Conerly Giants contract 1961

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Update to Mystery Man in photos

Several people suggested that it was not the same player in the 1935 photo as appeared in the 1930 photo. If that’s the case then it seems to me the most likely identification of the 1930 mystery man remains Hilpert, and the 1935 mystery man is most likely Tony Sarausky. The best photo I have of Sarausky is from the 1935 team picture – it’s printed so it’s not as clear – but for comparison I put it in place of the Wellington Mara photo on the right.   Plus, if you look at the original picture, Sarausky is standing behind Newman – Sarausky is listed as 5′ 11″ at 192 lbs and Newman as 5′ 10″ at 182 pounds.  To the right of Sarausky is Mel Hein listed as 6’2″ at 225, so the height and weight look right for Sarausky.

mystery man 21935 Giants Welcome Newman back

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Mystery Man

On April 10, I posted a photo of the Giants welcoming Chris Cagle in 1930.  There was one player I identified as Hal Hilpert (behind Friedman). Now I’ve found a 1935 photo of the Giants welcoming back Harry Newman after a year out due to injury. I can identify every player in this photo except one mystery man – 15 Walt Singer, 3 Len Grant, then Danowski behind Steve Owen, 14 Tod Goodwin, 12 Newman, then a mystery man partially obscured by Newman and 7 Mel Hein.

1935 Giants Welcome Newman back

To me the mystery man looks like the same player I identified as Hal Hilpert in the 1930 photo. The problem is, Hilpert was not on the Giants in 1935.  Only 4 players were on both the 1930 and 1935 rosters – Red Badgro, Bill Owen, Dale Burnett, and Len Grant. Of those, Burnett and Grant are already identified in a photo.  The mystery man does not look like Red Badgro or Bill Owen.  So who could it be?  Could it be Wellington Mara?  I’ve put a photo lineup together – Hal Hilpert, Mystery Man 1930, Mystery Man 1935, young Wellington Mara.  Maybe someone could help solve this mystery!

mystery man

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Grace Thorpe

Recently on eBay I found this 1931 wire photo of Jim Thorpe and his daughter Grace.  Years ago I was doing research on the World Famous Indians basketball team and I called Grace Thorpe and had a nice conversation about her dad and people who might know about the WFI basketball team. She put me in touch with the Marion, Ohio Historical Society which had a couple of clippings about games the team played. This was about five years before someone discovered a ticket stub from a WFI basketball game that got coverage in the New York Times and a segment on History Detectives on PBS.

1931 Jim and Grace Thorpe

Grace led quite a life in her own right – below is her obituary from the Boston Globe in April 2008.

Grace Thorpe, a tribal judge, anti-nuclear activist, and the daughter of Olympic great Jim Thorpe, died Tuesday of heart failure at the Claremore Veterans Center. She was 86. Ms. Thorpe was a direct descendent of Sac and Fox chief Black Hawk and was of Potawatomi, Kickapoo, and Menominee heritage, according to Park Brothers Funeral Service. She was a World War II veteran, having served as a Women’s Army Corps corporal in the Philippines and Japan. She was awarded a Bronze Star for her actions at the battle of New Guinea. She was a personnel interviewer for General Douglas MacArthur at his headquarters in Tokyo during the occupation of Japan.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and a paralegal degree from the Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C. She also was an Urban Fellow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and completed MBA course work at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. She was a tribal district court judge.

Ms. Thorpe served as a congressional liaison to the US House of Representatives American Indian Policy Review Commission. She was also known as a champion of the environment, serving as director for the National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans.

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Earl Potteiger

Earl PotteigerEarl Potteiger was the coach for the New York Giants in their first championship season, 1927 (team photo detail above) – yet it is doubtful that many Giants fans would be familiar with his name. He was a rough and tumble guy from the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania, and his sports career before and after the New York Giants is a mix of professional and semi-professional football and baseball.  Although his contract was bought by the New York Yankees from Worcester (Eastern League) in 1919, there is no record he ever appeared in a MLB game.  His greater success came in the NFL.

The Professional Football Researchers Association says: His NFL career is rather odd in that he played in eight different seasons from 1920 to 1928 yet appeared in only 21 games. The reason may be that he was a coach or assistant in those seasons. One source says he became a pro in 1920 when he played two games for Buffalo, but it is likely he was being paid as early as 1913. In 1920, he was either 27 or 29 (sources vary). Either way, he was rather advanced in age for a pro at that time.

Apparently Potteiger was also involved in a basketball team the New York Giants put together as part of a 1925 post-season tour to Florida.  A January, 1926 newspaper article promotes an upcoming game:

Giants bb team

Potteiger’s career after football brought him in front of a judge on more than one occasion for violations of the prohibition laws – he was facing three years in prison when the laws were repealed.

Potteiger on bail

Earl Potteiger died on April 7, 1959 – not one obituary mentioned his distinction of being the coach of the New York Giants for their first championship season.

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Chris Cagle

Chris Cagle had a long college football career – 8 years worth. He first played 4 years at Southwestern Louisiana where he scored 235 points. He then played 4 years at West Point where he was All American the last three years. A huge scandal erupted in 1930 when it was revealed he had gotten married in 1928 and, by the rules of West Point, was not eligible to be a cadet, let alone play football. He resigned from the Academy in May 1930, stating his intention to head south and coach college football. However, in November 1930 he signed with the Giants and arrived in New York to join them for their game against the Packers at the Polo Ground; here is a picture of his welcome to the team. Cagle is wearing #10 and that’s Benny Friedman shaking his hand. Others in the picture from left to right are Coach LeRoy Andrew, Tiny Feather, Len Sedbrooke, #9 Rudy Comstock, Les Caywood, Cagle and behind him Steve Owen, Hal Hilpert, Friedman, Len Grant, Hap Moran, Jack Hagerty, Dale Burnett –

1930 Giants Welcome Cagle

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Although the forward pass had been used earlier, it was only legalized by rule changes in 1906. The idea was to encourage a more wide open game which, hopefully, would be a safer game.

The 1906 Spalding’s Guide set forth new Rule 14:

(a) A player may throw, pass, or bat the ball in any direction except toward his opponents’ goal. penalty – Loss of 5 yards.
EXCEPTION- (1) One forward pass shall be allowed to each scrimmage, provided each such pass be made by a player who was behind the line of scrimmage when the ball was put in play, and provided the ball, after being passed foward, does not touch the ground before being touched by a player of either side.
PENALTY—(1) If a forward pass be made by a player who was not behind the line of scrimmage when the ball was put in play, the ball shall go to the opponents on the spot where the pass was made. If the ball, after being passed forward, touches the ground before being touched by a player of either side, it shall go to the opponents on the spot where the pass was made.
EXCEPTION—(2) The pass may not be touched by a player who was on the line of scrimmage when the ball was put in play except by either of the two men playing on the ends of the line.
PENALTY—(2) If a forward pass is unlawfully touched by a player who was on the line of scrimmage when the ball was put in play, it shall go to the opponents on the spot where the pass was made.
EXCEPTION—(3) A forward pass over the line of scrimmage within the space of 5 yards on each side of the center shall Be unlawful.
PENALTY—(3) If the ball is passed over the line of scrimmage within the space of 5 yards on each side of the center, it shall go to the opponents on the spot where the pass was made.
EXCEPTION—{If) A forward pass by the side which does not put the ball in play in a
scrimmage shall be unlawful.
PENALTY—(4) If a forward pass is made by the side which did not put the ball in play in a scrimmage, the ball shall go to the opponents on the spot where the pass was made.
EXCEPTION—(5) A forward pass which crosses the goal line on the fly or bound without touching a player of either side, shall be declared a touchback for the defenders of the goal.

To properly enforce this rule required a true gridiron with lines both parallel and perpendicular to the Goal lines. This post card of Yale’s football field illustrates how the field was laid-out back in 1907.

Yale Gridiron 1907

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Of all famous football coaches, my favorite is Jim Lee Howell, the coach of the New York Giants from 1954 to 1960. His particular genius was hiring the right people to assist him and not getting in their way – a great management lesson. Here he is pictured with his two most famous assistants, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, along with Ken Kavanaugh and Ed Colman, the coaching staff that led the Giants to the 1956 NFL ChampionshipLandry

Of course, for coaching icons, no one surpasses the great Knute Rockne, head coach of Notre Dame from 1918 to 1930. His life and career have been chronicled in many books, but none better than Ray Robinson’s Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making of a Football Legend (1999)

Rockne Sport Kings b

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