American Football League (1936)

Last updated

American Football League (1936)
Sport American Professional Football
First Season1936
Last Season1937
Claim to Fame2nd competitor of National Football League
No. of teams8
Last champions Boston Shamrocks (1936)
Los Angeles Bulldogs (1937)

The American Football League (AFL) was a professional American football league that operated in 1936 and 1937. The AFL operated in direct competition with the more established National Football League (NFL) throughout its existence. [1] While the American media generally ignored its operation (often relegating game coverage to "page filler" status), this second AFL was the first "home" of the Cleveland Rams, which joined the National Football League after one year in the AFL. [1]


In 1937, the Los Angeles Bulldogs, the first professional football team to play its home games on the West Coast, also became the first professional football team to win a league championship with a perfect record (no losses, no ties) – 11 years before the Cleveland Browns (AAFC) and 35 years before the Miami Dolphins (NFL) accomplished the same feat. [1]


The brainchild of former New York Giants personnel director Harry March, plans for the formation of the second American Football League were announced on November 12, 1935. [2] Fifteen cities bid for charter franchises for the new league, and on April 11, 1936, eight (Boston, Cleveland, Jersey City, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, and Syracuse) were awarded. [1]

Within a few months, Jersey City, Providence, and Philadelphia pulled out and Rochester was granted a franchise. Two weeks later, the newest franchise was transferred to Brooklyn even though there was no stadium available at the time. [1]

The league was envisioned to be a "players league", with veteran players involved in the management of the participating teams. March served as the AFL's president until his resignation in October. He was succeeded by James Bush, president of the New York Yankees AFL franchise.

Most of the new AFL franchises were built on the raiding of nearby NFL franchises in the league's first season. While first-season AFL champion Boston did not plunder the roster of the struggling Redskins team, the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Americans had no such qualms with their crosstown rivals, the Giants and the Pirates. Similarly the Cleveland Rams signed their head coach, Damon Wetzel, from the backfield of the Chicago Bears. [3]


Boston Shamrocks . The offensive powerhouse of the AFL in the 1936 season, the George Kenneally [4] -led Shamrocks were in a three-way battle with Cleveland and New York for the league championship when Boston beat the other two on consecutive weeks at the end of the season. The following year, the Shamrocks were beset with player defections and struggled to a 2–7 record. Playing its home games at Fenway Park and Braves Field, the team folded along with the league at the end of the 1937 season.

Usa edcp location map.svg
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Blue pog.svg
Primary locations of the 1936-37 American Football League

Brooklyn Tigers . Awarded a franchise in 1936 although no home field was available in Brooklyn, the Tigers had a short, troubled existence. In mid-November, the team moved to Rochester (changing its name to the Rochester Tigers) and played in Red Wing Stadium despite the failure of another AFL team based in that city mere weeks before. [5] The team limped to the end of the 1937 season before fading into oblivion. The Tigers were coached by Mike Palm, who owned the team along with Harry Newman.

Cleveland Rams . Owned by Homer Marshman and playing its home games in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the Rams competed in the AFL for only one season (finishing second with a 5–2–2 record) with the league's stingiest defense and one of the league's two most potent offenses (along with Boston). When the NFL announced that it was willing to expand, Marshman applied for a franchise in the more-established league (along with representatives from Houston and Los Angeles). As a result, the Rams left the AFL for 1937 season, to be replaced by the people from Los Angeles whose NFL application was turned down. The 1936 Rams had Sid Gillman as a rookie end in his only season as an active professional player. [6]

New York Yankees . The second New York Yankees football team for an American Football League was coached by Jack McBride and featured the talents of star back Ken Strong. [6] Team president James Bush doubled as league president in the latter half of the 1936 season. Like the defending league champion Boston Shamrocks, the 1937 Yankees team was plagued by player defections to the NFL. Unlike the other New York Yankees football teams, the Yankees of AFL II had two home stadia: Yankee Stadium and Triborough Stadium on Randall's Island.

Pittsburgh Americans . While the Americans were holding their own on the football field in 1936, they lagged the rest of the league in attendance (2500 average attendance for home games in Forbes Field); although the Americans survived the first season as a middle-of-the-pack AFL team, the team was folded after the third game in 1937. The Americans were not without stars: they signed former Pirates Ben Smith and Loran Ribble.

Syracuse Braves . The existence of the Braves was doomed from lack of fan support while losing every game at Municipal Stadium (Don Irwin and end Red Badgro were the head coaches). The team moved to Rochester at midseason and called itself the Rochester Braves for a few weeks before calling it quits. At the lone home game in Red Wing Stadium (November 1, 1936) the second half was delayed 40 minutes by Braves players demanding back pay. The game was finished; the franchise folded immediately afterward. [5] Soon afterwards, another AFL team (Brooklyn) followed the Braves to Rochester in an effort to survive the 1936 season.

Cincinnati Bengals . Not related to the current NFL franchise, the Bengals joined the AFL for the 1937 season. Playing at Crosley Field, the team was a steady draw despite the team having a losing record. When the league folded at the end of the year, the Bengals continued as an independent team for 1938, joined the short-lived minor American Professional Football Association for 1939, and became a charter member of the third AFL in 1940. Hal Pennington was the team's originator; he was also the first head coach and general manager of the Bengals. [7]

Los Angeles Bulldogs . While an independent team, the Bulldogs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in 1936. [8] After being turned down for the NFL for the 1937 season, the Bulldogs joined the AFL and became the first professional football team to play its home games on the West Coast. Averaging 14,000 in attendance for its home games in Gilmore Stadium, the Bulldogs were drawing twice as many fans per game as the rest of the league. Los Angeles did not lose or tie a game in its one season with the AFL, the first professional football team to win its league title with a perfect record. When the league folded at the end of the season, the Gus Henderson-led Bulldogs [4] continued on as an independent team before joining the minor league American Professional Football Association in 1939 and becoming a charter member of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League the following year.

League standings

Final 1936 standings

Boston Shamrocks 830.72713397
Cleveland Rams 522.71412377
New York Yankees 532.6257574
Pittsburgh Americans 321.6007865
Syracuse/Rochester Braves 160.14751113
Brooklyn/Rochester Tigers 061.0005882

Final 1937 standings

Los Angeles Bulldogs 8001.00021969
Rochester Tigers 331.50094115
New York Yankees 231.40057115
Cincinnati Bengals 232.40010289
Boston Shamrocks 250.2867698
Pittsburgh Americans 030.000769

All-League selections

There was no All-League team named for the 1936 season. [9]


Bill Moore, Los Angeles (end)
Bill Steinkemper, Cincinnati (tackle)
Pete Mehringer, Los Angeles (guard)
Lee Mulleneaux, Cincinnati (center)
Alex Drobnitch, New York (guard)
Harry Field, Los Angeles (tackle)
Red Fleming, Boston (end)
Harry Newman, Los Angeles (quarterback)
Don Geyer, Cincinnati (halfback)
Al Nichelini, Los Angeles (halfback)
Gordon Gore, Los Angeles (fullback)

Demise of the second AFL

While league champion contenders Boston, Cleveland, and the Yankees were consistent draws in 1936 (Boston nearly outdrawing the NFL rival Redskins, which moved to Washington the following year), the other four franchises presented problems for the AFL. Pittsburgh drew only 2500 customers per home game, Syracuse drew less than 5000 before moving to Rochester (and folding after one game), and Brooklyn didn't have a home until the team followed the Braves to Rochester. With the departure of two franchises (the Braves and the Rams), it was clear that change was in order for the AFL.

In the beginning of 1937, the league inaugurated its third president in less than 14 months, J. J. Schafer, added Jack Dempsey and Bing Crosby to its board, and proceeded to restock its franchise line-up with a franchise in a city in which an NFL franchise failed a mere three years earlier (Cincinnati) and a touring team based in Los Angeles whose application to join the more established league was turned down in favor of the Rams. [1]

Unlike the NFL, AFL teams tended to have local interest only. Out-of-town newspapers rarely covered the league's activities, and when they did, the coverage was usually a bare-bones mention of the scores inserted as page filler.

Three weeks into the 1937 season, the poorly-drawing Pittsburgh Americans gave up the ghost while the other eastern teams were suffering the results of player raids by NFL teams (defending champion Boston was virtually gutted, leaving it in no shape to repeat its success).

The entry of the Los Angeles Bulldogs into the league also helped lead to the league's demise. The new team simply overwhelmed the rest of the AFL as the only team with a winning record. The Bulldogs played all of its away games in the first half of the season and then finished the demolition as they stayed home for the second half. While the Bulldogs had attendance figures comparable to that of the 1936 Shamrocks and Yankees (about 14,000 per home game), the former eastern powers lost their draw. Shamrocks owner Bill Scully noted that the team lost $37,000 in 1937; the rest of the league (excluding Los Angeles) fared worse. [6]

With the optimism that began the 1937 season gone, the second American Football League closed up shop at the end of the season.

After the second AFL

While the existence of the second American Football League was relatively brief, its influence in American sports was actually more than realized at that time. It introduced "major league" football to the West Coast, which had a team based in Los Angeles and played its games there (in contrast to the Los Angeles Buccaneers, an NFL team that was actually based in Chicago). The success of the Boston Shamrocks was a prod for George Preston Marshall to move his Boston Redskins south to Washington.

The AFL was the first "home league" of the Cleveland Rams, which continue to exist as the Los Angeles Rams. The Los Angeles Bulldogs returned to the independent circuit in 1938, as did the Cincinnati Bengals, which joined the fledgling minor league, the American Professional Football Association, in 1939 and became a charter member of the third AFL in 1940. The Bulldogs also joined the APFA for 1939, before becoming a charter member of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League in 1940. More than a quarter-century after the demise of the third AFL, the Bengals name would be revived by Paul Brown for his Cincinnati expansion franchise in the fourth AFL, a team that continues to play in the NFL.

Related Research Articles

All-America Football Conference Professional American football league operating from 1946–1949

The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) was a professional American football league that challenged the established National Football League (NFL) from 1946 to 1949. One of the NFL's most formidable challengers, the AAFC attracted many of the nation's best players, and introduced many lasting innovations to the game. However, the AAFC was ultimately unable to sustain itself in competition with the NFL. After its folding, three of its teams were admitted to the NFL: the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and the original Baltimore Colts.

There are 13 U.S. cities with teams from four major sports, where "city" is defined as the entire metropolitan area, and "major professional sports leagues" as:

Throughout the years, a number of teams in the National Football League (NFL) have either moved or merged.

The first American Football League (AFL), sometimes called AFL I, AFLG, or the Grange League, was a professional American football league that operated in 1926. It was the first major competitor to the National Football League (NFL). Founded by Charles "C.C." Pyle, (1882–1939), and General Charles X. Zimmerman, (1865–1926), as vice president and starring Hall of Fame halfback Harold Edward "Red" Grange, (1903–1991), the short-lived league with nine teams competed against the more established – then six-year-old – NFL, both for players and for fans. While Pyle's and Grange's New York Yankees team and the already established Philadelphia Quakers became reliable draws, the lack of star power and the uncertain financial conditions of the other seven teams led to the league's dissolution after one season.

The Boston Bulldogs were a professional American football team that competed in the first American Football League in 1926. Owned by Robert McKirby, the Bulldogs lasted only six games into the AFL season, playing one home game in Braves Field and one in Fenway Park. Coached by player-coach Herb Treat, the majority of the team played their college football in New England, Pennsylvania, and New York. The offense led by Joe McGlone was inconsistent, scoring a total of 20 points in its existence… 17 of which were tallied in one game. Erwin Gehrke and Carl Etelman shared the kicking duties. Bill Cronin, a tailback, scored the team's only offensive touchdown.

Harry Newman American football quarterback

Harry Lawrence Newman was an All-Pro American football quarterback. He played for the University of Michigan Wolverines (1930–32), for whom in 1932 he was a unanimous first-team All-American, and the recipient of the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy as Outstanding College Player of the Year, and the Helms Athletic Foundation Player of the Year Award, he was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He then played professionally for the New York Giants (1933–35), and the Brooklyn/Rochester Tigers (1936–37).

The American Football League, also known retrospectively as the AFL III to distinguish it from earlier organizations of that name, was a major professional American football league that operated from 1940–1941. It was created when three teams, the original Cincinnati Bengals, the Columbus Bullies, and the Milwaukee Chiefs, were lured away from the minor-league American Professional Football Association and joined three new franchises in Boston, Buffalo, and New York City in a new league. It competed against the National Football League (NFL), the oldest existing professional football league, established 1920 and reorganized 1922.

The Midwest Football League (MFL) was a minor professional American football league that existed from 1935 to 1940. Originally comprising teams from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, the league eventually expanded its reach to include teams from Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and California to become a national league with major league aspirations by 1939. In 1938, the league became the American Professional Football League after the collapse of the second major league of the same name, but changed its name once again the following year to American Professional Football Association (APFA). Some sources refer to it as the American Professional Football League.

The 1936 American Football League season is the first season of the second American Football League, the formation of which was announced by Harry March, former personnel director of the NFL's New York Giants, on December 15, 1935. Fifteen cities bid for charter franchises; on April 11, 1936, franchises were awarded to eight cities: Boston, Cleveland, Jersey City, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, and Syracuse. By mid-summer, Jersey City, Philadelphia, and Providence withdrew; soon afterwards, Rochester was given a franchise, only to have it relocated to Brooklyn, despite the lack of availability of a home stadium at the time.

The 1937 American Football League season is the second season of the second edition of the AFL. After the folding of the Syracuse/Rochester Braves in the 1936 season and the departure of the Cleveland Rams for the National Football League, the league added the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Bulldogs, the latter being the first professional football team to play its home games on the American West Coast.

The Pacific Coast Professional Football League (PCPFL), also known as the Pacific Coast Football League (PCFL) and Pacific Coast League (PCL) was a professional American football league based in California. It operated from 1940 through 1948. One of the few minor American professional sports leagues that competed in the years of World War II, the PCPFL was regarded as a minor league of the highest level, particularly from 1940 to 1945, at a time in which the major National Football League did not extend further west than Chicago and Green Bay. It was also the first professional football league to have a team based in Hawaii.

Los Angeles Bulldogs

The Los Angeles Bulldogs were a professional American football team that competed from 1936 to 1948. Formed with the intention of joining the National Football League in 1937, the Bulldogs were the first team on the major league level to play its home games on the American West Coast.

Rochester Tigers

The Rochester Tigers were a professional American football team that competed in the second American Football League in 1936 and 1937. Owned by Mike Palm and Harry Newman, the Tigers were originally awarded to Rochester as a charter member of the AFL, but were shifted to Brooklyn two weeks afterward despite the lack of availability of a home stadium in its new home town, then moved back to Rochester midway through the 1936 season.

The Syracuse Braves were a professional American football team that competed in the second American Football League in 1936 and 1937. Coached by Don Irwin and Red Badgro, the Braves played in Municipal Stadium, which had a capacity of only about 10,000 people. The team was not a strong draw as it lost its first five games, prompting a search for a new home, including Providence, Rhode Island, before settling upon a move to Rochester.

The Pittsburgh Americans or Pittsburgh Amerks were a professional American football team based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1936 until 1937. The team was a member of the major-league American Football League and participated in the league's 1936 and 1937 seasons.

The New York Yankees of the second American Football League was the second professional American football team competing under that name. It is unrelated to the Yankees of the first AFL, the Yankees of the third AFL, the Yankees of the American Association and the (later) Yankees of the All-America Football Conference. The Yankees played their home games in Yankee Stadium and Triborough Stadium in New York, New York. Jack McBride was the team’s head coach throughout its existence; Yankees' president James Bush served as president of the second American Football League in 1936.

This article is a timeline of the National Football League (NFL). It tracks the history of each of the league's 32 current franchises from the early days of the league, through its merger with the American Football League (AFL). The history of franchises that began as independent teams, or as members of the Ohio League, New York Pro Football League, and other defunct leagues are shown as well.

History of the Cleveland Rams

The professional American football team now known as the Los Angeles Rams was established in Cleveland as the Cleveland Rams, and played there from 1936 to 1945. The Rams competed in the second American Football League (AFL) for the 1936 season and the National Football League (NFL) from 1937–1945, winning the NFL championship in 1945, before moving to Los Angeles in 1946 to become the only NFL champion ever to play the following season in another city. The move of the team to Los Angeles helped to jump-start the reintegration of pro football by African-American players and opened up the West Coast to professional sports. After being based in Los Angeles for 49 years, the Rams franchise moved again after the 1994 NFL season to St. Louis where the franchise stayed for 21 seasons before moving back to Los Angeles after the 2015 NFL season.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bob Carroll, Michael Gershman, David Neft, and John Thorn, Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (HarperCollins 1999) ISBN   0-06-039232-0
  2. "Plan New 'Pro' Football League for New Season". The Morning Call . Allentown, PA. Associated Press. November 13, 1935. p. 19.
  3. George Gipe, The Great American Sports Book (Doubleday 1978) ISBN   0-385-13091-0
  4. 1 2 1999 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac (ESPN Books, 1998), ISBN   0-7868-8366-9
  5. 1 2 History of Football in Western New York Archived September 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  6. 1 2 3 George Gipe, The Great American Sport Book (Doubleday 1978) ISBN   0-385-13091-0
  7. Hal Pennington Biography - Xavier University Basketball Hall of Fame
  8. Pay Dirt: The Business of Professional Team Sports
  9. The Best of the Rest, Part One Archived January 31, 2012, at WebCite – Pro Football Research Association (1983)