The Pottsville Maroons and the Cardinals Curse continue to get a lot of attention. Last week there were inquiries from Philly sports radio, the YES Network and newspapers in Tampa, Fla., and Allentown and Easton, Pa. I'm sure there will be even more attention during the buildup to the Super Bowl, so as a service to curious NFL fans, here's a quick primer on the facts of the Cards Curse and the Maroons' stolen championship.
1. The 1925 Pottsville Maroons, a team of both coal miners and college All-Americans, dominated the NFL in their first year in the league, beating their first seven opponents by a combined score of 179-6.
2. Near the end of the season, the 9-2 Maroons traveled to play the 9-1-1 Chicago Cardinals. The NFL did not have a championship game for several more years, but because the contest featured the league's top two teams it was sanctioned by fans and the national press as the title game.
3. Even without their best player and top running back, Tony Latone, a former coal miner, the Maroons crushed the Cardinals 21-7 in Comiskey Park. "As far as the Chicago Cardinals are concerned," wrote the Chicago Tribune, "Pottsville, Pa., is the hub of the National Professional Football League."
4. At a time when college football was king and the fledgling NFL was dismissed as disorganized and barbaric, it was said that the pro players who could beat an iconic team like the Notre Dame Four Horsemen had not yet been born.
5. Yet the following week, on a last-second field goal, the Maroons upset the Notre Dame All-Stars featuring the Four Horsemen and Seven Mules 9-7 in an exhibition game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. It was a watershed moment in the history of American sports, a moment that helped set the NFL on a path to where it is today, our national pastime.
6. The NFL repaid the Maroons by destroying the team and the town that made it all possible. Although they had been granted permission to play the game by a league representative, the league suspended Pottsville for playing Notre Dame in another team's "territory," making the Maroons ineligible to claim the championship they had earned on the field.
7. Games between outside opponents in another team's "territory" were a common occurrence in the barnstorming 1920s. In fact, because of their proximity, seven of the league's teams would have been in permanent violation of this so-called boundary rule. Furthermore, this summer an NFL historian from the Pro Football Hall of Fame confirmed there was no written proof that a "territory" rule ever existed. Because of this, maybe the most despicable behavior in this whole sordid mess belongs to the amateur band of biased "researchers" and "historians" who have continued to blindly support the league's head-in-the-sand stance on the controversy, despite the overwhelming evidence in favor of Pottsville.
|David Fleming chronicles the rise and fall of the Pottsville Maroons in his book "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship".|
8. When the league tried to give the 1925 title to the Chicago Cardinals, the owner of the team refused the "bogus" title. (The Cardinals had been found guilty of recruiting high school players to pose as opponents in order to boost their record, but unlike the Maroons they were merely fined and not suspended from the league.)
9. It was only when the Bidwill family purchased the team in 1933 that the Cardinals began to claim the 1925 title as their own. In the 1960s, when Pottsville began petitioning the NFL to restore its championship, team president Charles "Stormy" Bidwill Jr. told Red Smith that the Cardinals had no intention of sharing the title with a town like Pottsville. This is when most people believe the Cardinals Curse truly kicked in. And between a title run in 1947 and the current team's success, the Bidwills' franchise managed exactly one playoff win in six decades.
10. Over the years the Maroons have been supported by Red Grange, George Halas, the Rooney family, Jeff Lurie and Paul Tagliabue. Former President George W. Bush called the team's story "illuminating" after reading "Breaker Boys." Steelers owner Dan Rooney said, "What's been done to this town and this team -- it's not right and it needs to be fixed."
11. In 2003 the Maroons petitioned the league once again, but according to those with knowledge of the meeting, Bill Bidwill used his influence to squash Pottsville's hopes. Since then Bidwill has turned down dozens of interview requests.
12. It's very important to note that despite what is often reported, the owners DID NOT vote 30-2 against the Maroons but, at Bidwill's behest, voted 30-2 against even hearing the team's case. Until Bidwill intervened, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was so certain Pottsville would get its title back he had already spoken to the town's mayor about delivering the team's 1925 trophy in person.
13. This is why Maroons supporter and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell called NFL owners "cowardly barons" who lacked "cojones." Since the "vote," NFL owners have been bombarded with information about the team and the controversy, yet none has stepped forward to champion the cause.
14. Still, there remains a small chance that if the Bidwills promise to support the Maroons' cause and -- at the very least -- agree to share the 1925 championship sometime before kickoff in Tampa on Feb. 1, the people of Pottsville might lift the Cardinals Curse before the game.
15. If not? Maroons fans say the Cardinals and their fans can settle in and enjoy another 61 years without a title.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and the author of the memoir "Noah's Rainbow" and "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship," which has been optioned as a movie. The Flem File will run each Wednesday during the NFL season.
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