|Based in||Rock Island, Illinois, United States|
National Football League (1920–1925)
American Football League (1926)
|Team history||Rock Island Independents (1907–26)|
|Team colors||Green and white|
|Head coaches||Dick Liitt (1912–1913)|
Joseph Smith (1914)
Walter Flanigan (1915-1916, 1918)
Ted Guyer (1917)
Rube Ursella (1919–1920, 1925)
John Roche (1919)
Frank Coughlin (1921)
Jimmy Conzelman (1921–22)
Herb Sies (1923)
Johnny Armstrong (1924, 1926)
|General managers||Demetrius Clements (1907–1914)|
Walter Flanigan (1915–1923)
Vince McCarthy (1924–1926)
|Owner(s)||Demetrius Clenents (1907–1914)|
Walter Flanigan (1915–1923)
Dale Johnson (1923–1926)
|AFL Championship wins||none|
|Other League Championship wins||(1) 1919 (self-proclaimed)|
|Undefeated seasons||(5) 1908, 1910, 1912, 1913, 1918|
|Home field(s)|| Douglas Park (1907–1925)|
Browning Field (1926)
The Rock Island Independents were a professional American football team, based in Rock Island, Illinois, from 1907–1926. The Independents were a founding National Football League franchise. They hosted what has been retrospectively designated the First National Football League Game on September 26, 1920 at Douglas Park. The Independents were founded in 1907 by Demetrius Clements as an independent football club. Hence, the team was named the "Independents."
In 1926, the Independents left the NFL to become a charter member of the first American Football League, the only NFL team to do so. The Independents then folded along with the entire league in 1927.
Pro Football Hall of Fame alumni Jimmy Conzelman (1920–1921), Joe Guyon (1924), Ed Healey (1920–1922), Duke Slater (1922-1926), and Jim Thorpe (1924–1925) played for the Independents.
The National Football League was formed over the course of two meetings in 1920. On August 20, 1920 an initial meeting was held by representatives of the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Tigers, and Dayton Triangles. The meeting was held at the Jordan and Hupmobile auto showroom in Canton, Ohio and resulted in the formation of the American Professional Football Conference (APFC).
A second and considerably larger meeting was held on September 17, 1920. The meeting was again at Canton owner Ralph Hay's Hupmobile dealership in Canton and Independents owner Walter Flanigan was present to represent the Independents. Representatives of eleven teams were present at the second meeting: the four teams from the first meeting, plus the Decatur Staleys, Chicago Cardinals, Massillon Tigers, Hammond Pros, Muncie Flyers, Rock Island Independents and Rochester Jeffersons. The minutes of this meeting are in Pro Football Hall of Fame archives.The league was renamed to the American Professional Football Association (APFA), and the number of teams was expanded, with league play to begin in 1920.
The newly formed league elected Jim Thorpe as its first President and consisted of 14 teams. The Buffalo All-Americans, Chicago Tigers, Columbus Panhandles, and Detroit Heralds joined the league during the year. The Massillon Tigers from Massillon, Ohio was also at the September 17 meeting, but did not field a team in 1920. After the formation of the league, Flanigan was named to the committee that created the league's constitution. Today, only two of these franchises, the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) and the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), remain as NFL franchises.
On September 26, 1920, the Independents hosted the first official game featuring a team from the APFA.Thus, the Independents' Douglas Park became the site of the first ever National Football League contest. Just nine days after the league had formed, on September 26, 1920, the Independents defeated the St. Paul Ideals 48–0 in the first contest involving a member team of the APFA.
A week later, on October 3, 1920, the Independents defeated the Muncie Flyers 45–0 at Douglas Park in the first full week of APFA league play.3,100 fans were in attendance as Arnie Wyman, former Minnesota great, made his debut for the Islanders, scoring three touchdowns. This might have been the first NFL game ever played between two NFL teams, however, NFL historical records don't indicate the kickoff time for this game or the other APFA game played that day between the Dayton Triangles and the Columbus Panhandles in Dayton, Ohio.
The Independents posted 4–2–1 records in the league's first year. They had the same record the next two seasons, with five of their six losses in three years coming to George Halas and the Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears.On June 24, 1922, the APFA changed its name to the National Football League (NFL).
The Independents' overall NFL record was 26–14–9, with five winning seasons in six years. After finishing fourth in 1920, their best overall finish in the National Football League standings was fifth, which they accomplished three times: in 1921 and 1922 under Jimmy Conzelman, and in 1924 under Johnny Armstrong.
One of the first professional football teams, the Independents were founded in 1907 by Demetrius Clements as an independent football club. The independent team had no athletic club affiliation, no social club ties and no corporate company backing or sponsorship. As a result, the team was named the "Independents."
The Independents played in Douglas Park (1907–1925) and Browning Field (1926). After its founding, the 1910 team went undefeated and were not scored on in five games. Many of the players from the 1910 team reunited in 1912 and, under Coach John Roche, the Independents won eight games without giving up a score.
Walter Flanigan was the owner of the Independents 1915 to 1923. Dale Johnson then owned the team from 1924 until it folded, along with the rest of the American Football League in 1926.
Walter Flanigan had joined the Independents as a backup end in 1912. For the following two seasons, he served as the team's assistant manager, under then-manager Jack Roche.In 1915, Flanigan became the owner of the team and later promoted the Independents by scheduling two home games in 1917 against the Minneapolis Marines. This contest helped the Independents gain legitimacy. Rock Island lost to the Marines by a score of 7–3 in front of over 6,400 fans at Douglas Park in the first game on November 4. The two teams played again on November 18 and Rock Island lost again, 33–7, in the second game in front of 4,500 fans. However, World War I and the military draft put a temporary halt to Flanigan's plans of expanding the team into new markets.
In 1919, Flanigan hired Rube Ursella of the Minneapolis Marines to serve as a player-coach. Ursella brought several other Minneapolis players with him. These new players would help improve play and help secure the team an invitation to join the NFL. The Independents lost only to the Hammond Pros, led by George Halas in 1919. Flanigan then challenged the Canton Bulldogs to a "championship" game, offering a $5,000 guarantee if they would come to Rock Island for the game.
But Canton, which had already won the "Ohio League" championship by defeating the Massillon Tigers, turned down the offer. It is likely that Canton's player/coach Jim Thorpe and owner Ralph Hay felt that Flanigan could not deliver on his $5,000 guarantee. However, the Independents still had defeated the Columbus Panhandles 49–0 and the Indians 17–0 that season. In 1919, the season prior to the establishment of the National Football League, they claimed to be "Champions of the USA". The invitation to Canton led to the Independents being invited to the September 17, 1920 historic meeting.
On October 16, 1921, the Independents battled back from a 7–0 deficit against the Chicago Cardinals to lead 14–7 in the second quarter. The comeback was sparked by two touchdowns, scored by player-coach Frank Coughlin. Flanigan then ordered the team's tackle, Ed Healey relieve Coughlin. Once Coughlin was safely on his way toward the sideline, Healey delivered a message to Jimmy Conzelman from Flanigan, it read: "Coughlin was fired! The new coach was Conzelman!" This act marked the first and only time an owner hired a new coach in the middle of a game. In 1922, Flanigan sold the contract of Ed Healey, to Halas and the Chicago Bears for $200. However, Healey soon became a star for the Bears and would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964. In 1923, Flanigan left the Independents to concentrate on his real estate and insurance businesses.
In 1923, Flanigan sold the Independents to Dale Johnson, a local businessman. Johnson hired Vince McCarthy, the Independents' back-up quarterback as the new general manager. The Independents then signed Hall of Fame player Jim Thorpe in 1924. With Rock Island High School alumni and Olympian Sol Butler joining the squad, Rock Island went 2–3–3 in 1923, and rebounded to post winning seasons in 1924 and 1925.
In what proved to be a fatal move, after the 1925 season Johnson moved the team to the fledgling rival American Football League. Johnson felt that the American Football League, which featured Red Grange, would out-perform the NFL. The Independents then signed Elmer Layden, one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame for 1926.
However, after the 1926 season, the Independents folded along with the entire American Football League in 1927.
In 1926, football star Red Grange and his agent, C. C. Pyle, formed the American Football League (AFL) after Pyle was denied ownership of an NFL franchise in New York City.
Talks took hold and the league was formed. Founding American Football League teams for 1926 were the Boston Bulldogs, Brooklyn Horsemen, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Panthers, Los Angeles Wildcats, Newark Bears, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Quakers and the Rock Island Independents. Rock Island left the NFL to join the new league. The Independents also moved from Douglas Park in Rock Island to Browning Field in neighboring Moline, Illinois for the 1926 season. The Independents were the only NFL team to make the jump to the rival league.
However, the AFL did not pay as much as the NFL did a year prior and Independents players left the team for bigger salaries with other NFL teams. As a result, the Independents ended their season with a 2–6–1 record. Coached by Johnny Armstrong, the Independents played their first three games at Browning Field and then played the rest of their 1926 games as a traveling team. The AFL folded after the season and the Independents were rejected in their attempt to rejoin the NFL. They played as a semi-pro team in 1927, then went out of business.
From their inception until their last season, the Independents played at Douglas Park in Rock Island, Illinois, from 1907–1925. In 1926, in what became their final year of existence, the Independents moved to Browning Field in neighboring Moline, Illinois. Both locations are still in use today.
Douglas Park is located at the corner of 18th Avenue and 9th Street in Rock Island, Illinois. Douglas Park was also the home of the minor league baseball Rock Island Islanders during the Independents era. Today, the site has baseball field and a playground and hosts some lower level Rock Island High School events. Douglas Park hosts an annual tribute football game to the Independents, played in retro uniforms and using early football rules.
Browning Field, the Independents' home in 1926, is located at 16th Street and 23rd Avenue in Moline, Illinois. The Independents shared the stadium with the minor league baseball Moline Plowboys. Today, Browning Field is home to Moline High School sports teams and the adjacent Wharton Field House is the former home of the National Basketball Association's Tri-Cities Blackhawks, today's Atlanta Hawks.
Jim Thorpe, considered "the World's Greatest Athlete", joined the Independents in 1924 and the team went 5–2–2 in league play. After the 1925 season they toured nationally to promote pro football, often under the name "Tampa Cardinals".
After the 1925 season, Thorpe formed a team composed primarily of his teammates from the Rock Island Independents, that would play several games throughout Florida. In a 1926 New Year's Day football exhibition, the Cardinals played against the Chicago Bears led by Red Grange. The game itself was billed as a clash of old vs. new, with Grange, the rising star, taking on Thorpe, the aging legend. During the game Grange rushed for a 70-yard touchdown as the Bears notched a 17–3 victory at Plant Field in Tampa, Florida.
|Rock Island Independents Hall of Famers|
|—||Ed Healey||T, G, End||1920–1922||1964|
|1911||Did Not Play|
|1919||9||1||1||Rube Ursella, John Roche|
|Joined the American Professional Football Association|
|1921||4||2||1||5th||Frank Coughlin, Jimmy Conzelman|
|AFPA is renamed the National Football League|
|Moved to American Football League (1926)|
A second, unrelated, "Rock Island Independents" played at the Northwest Football League in 1936.
Buffalo, New York had a turbulent, early-era National Football League team that operated under multiple names and several different owners between the 1910s and 1920s. The early NFL-era franchise was variously called the Buffalo All-Stars from 1915 to 1917, Buffalo Niagaras in 1918, the Buffalo Prospects in 1919, Buffalo All-Americans from 1920 to 1923, Buffalo Bisons from 1924 to 1925 and in 1927 and 1929, and the Buffalo Rangers in 1926. The franchise, which was experiencing financial problems in 1928, did not participate in league play that season.
The Chicago Tigers of the American Professional Football Association (APFA) played their first and only season in 1920, the first year of the league (1920), and have the distinction of being the first NFL team to fold. They had a record of 2 wins, 5 losses and 1 tie. The team played its home games at Chicago's Wrigley Field and was the first NFL team to do so. The Tigers were never formally members of the APFA. However, since the team played seven games against APFA teams in 1920, resulting in a 1–5–1 league record, they are generally included in the league standings.
The Hammond Pros from Hammond, Indiana played in the National Football League from 1920 to 1926 as a traveling team.
The 1920 APFA season was the inaugural season of the American Professional Football Association, renamed the National Football League in 1922. An agreement to form a league was made by four independent teams from Ohio on August 20, 1920, at Ralph Hay's office in Canton, Ohio, with plans to invite owners of more teams for a second meeting on September 17. The "American Professional Football Conference" (APFC) was made up of Hay's Canton Bulldogs, Akron Pros, the Cleveland Tigers and the Dayton Triangles, who decided on a six-game scheduled to play each other at home-and-away, an agreement to respect each other's player contracts, and to take a stand against signing college students whose class had not yet graduated.
Berlin Guy "Champ" Chamberlin, sometimes misspelled Guy Chamberlain, was an American football player and coach. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1962 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. He was also named in 1969 to the NFL 1920s All-Decade Team.
John Leo "Paddy" Driscoll was an American football and baseball player and football coach. A triple-threat man in football, he was regarded as the best drop kicker and one of the best overall players in the early years of the National Football League (NFL). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
The 1920 season was the Decatur Staleys 2nd season of existence, the first professional season of the franchise that would go on to be known as the Chicago Bears and their first under head coach George Halas, competing in the newly formed American Professional Football Association.
The 1920 Akron Pros season was the franchise's inaugural season with the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and twelfth total season as a team. The Pros entered the season coming off a 5–5 record in 1919 as the Akron Indians in the Ohio League. The Indians were sold to Art Ranney and Frank Nied, two businessmen, to help achieve a better record and crowd. Several representatives from the Ohio League wanted to form a new professional league; thus, the APFA was created.
Browning Park is a park in Moline, Illinois, United States, located at 16th Street and 23rd Avenue. Browning Field has been the home of high school and professional athletic events since 1910. It has hosted athletes such as Babe Ruth and Red Grange.
The 1920 Chicago Tigers season was their sole season in the National Football League. The team finished 2–5–1, tying them for eleventh in the league.
The 1920 Cleveland Tigers season was the franchise's inaugural season in the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and fifth total as an American football team. The Tigers entered the season coming off a 5-win, 2-loss, 2-tie (5–2–2) record in 1919. After the 1919 season, several representatives from the Ohio League, a loose organization of professional football teams, wanted to form a new professional league; thus, the APFA was created.
The 1920 Columbus Panhandles season was the franchise's inaugural season in the American Professional Football Association (APFA)—later named the National Football League. The season concluded with the team going 2–7–2 and finishing 13th place in the APFA standings. The Panhandles entered the season after a 3–6–1 record in 1919. The team opened the 1920 season with a loss to the Dayton Triangles, and the Panhandles lost five straight until a victory over the Zanesville Mark Grays. Not a single player was on the All-Pro list.
The 1920 Dayton Triangles season was the franchise's inaugural season in the American Professional Football Association (AFPA)—later named the National Football League. The Triangles entered the season coming off a 5–2–1 record in 1919 in the Ohio League. After the 1919 season, several representatives from the Ohio League wanted to form a new professional league; thus, the APFA was created. A majority of the team stayed from the 1919 team, including the coaching staff, while two players left the team.
The 1920 Hammond Pros season was the franchise's inaugural season in the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and second as an American football team. The Pros entered 1920 coming off a 4-win, 2-loss, 3-tie (4–2–3) record in 1919 as an independent team. Several representatives from another professional football league, the Ohio League, wanted to form a new national league, and thus the APFA was created.
The 1920 Muncie Flyers season was the franchise's inaugural season in the American Professional Football League (APFA)—later named the National Football League. The Flyers entered the season coming off a 4–1–1 record in 1919. Several representatives from the Ohio League wanted to form a new professional league; thus, the APFA was created. The 1920 team only played in one game that counted in the standings: a 45–0 loss against the Rock Island Independents. This game and the Columbus Panhandles–Dayton Triangles on the same date is considered to be the first league game featuring two APFA teams. The Flyers tried to schedule other games, but the opponents canceled to play better teams. As a result, the Flyers had to play the rest of the season's game versus local teams. In week 10, the Flyers won a game against the Muncie Offers More AC for the Muncie City Championship. No players from the 1920 Muncie Flyers were listed on the 1920 All-Pro Team, and no player has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 1920 Rock Island Independents season was the American football franchise's thirteenth season and inaugural season in the American Professional Football Association (APFA). The Independents hosted first ever APFA/National Football League contest on September 26, 1920. After the AFPA had been formed on September 17, 1920, Douglas Park was the venue as the Independents hosted the St. Paul Ideals, winning 48-0 in the new league's first contest.
Walter Harrison Flanigan was an American football player and owner of the Rock Island Independents. He was also one of the co-founders of the National Football League (NFL).
Christopher O'Brien was a Chicago, Illinois house painter and plumber who became a pro football franchise owner. He is mostly known as the owner of the Chicago Cardinals, and has been called the "Father of Professional Football in Chicago". O'Brien was also a co-founder of the American Professional Football Association by representing the Cardinals at the September 17, 1920, league meeting at Ralph Hay's Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio.
Douglas Park is located at 18th Avenue and 10th Street in Rock Island, Illinois. A former National Football League venue, it was the site of the first National Football League game on September 26, 1920. The Rock Island neighborhood that is today called Douglas Park dates back to the 1830s, with the athletic park being constructed in 1904-1905 and utilized for football beginning in 1907.
The professional American football team now known as the Arizona Cardinals previously played in Chicago, Illinois, as the Chicago Cardinals from 1920 to 1959 before relocating to St. Louis, Missouri, for the 1960 through 1987 seasons.