The other AFLs

The other AFLs

Postby RyanChristiansen » Sat Oct 17, 2020 7:42 pm

Do you feel these leagues were truly “major outdoor leagues” and, if so, in what sense?

1. AFL 1936–1937
2. AFL 1940–1941

In my opinion, the 1926 AFL was the only real threat to the NFL until the AAFC came along after World War II.
"Five seconds to go... A field goal could win it. Up in the air! Going deep! Tipped! Caught! Touchdown! The Vikings! They win it! Time has run out!" - Vikings 28, Browns 23, December 14, 1980, Metropolitan Stadium
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby TanksAndSpartans » Sat Oct 17, 2020 7:52 pm

Interesting topic. Why did you find the Grange AFL a threat? Wasn't it pretty much a bust that barely finished a single season?
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby RyanChristiansen » Sat Oct 17, 2020 8:51 pm

TanksAndSpartans wrote:Interesting topic. Why did you find the Grange AFL a threat? Wasn't it pretty much a bust that barely finished a single season?


It was a threat, but not a success. Red Grange had huge star power, and Grange and Cash-and-Carry Pyle made a ton of money off Grange's name during Grange's year in the NFL. When Pyle was denied a share of the Bears, he essentially used Grange for revenge by starting up the AFL, and the Yankees were enough of a success they found their way into the NFL in 1927. It appears the NFL deemed Grange's AFL a threat in the way they expanded to an unmanageable level, with 22 teams, then after the AFL's demise, they cut way back. The NFL won the battle, but they took the threat seriously. I don't see the NFL reacting in the same way to either of the later two iterations of the "AFL." The NFL shrugged them off, probably because the NFL had gained a sure footing by 1935, after the Cincinnati Reds fiasco. All of the teams in 1935 were solid organizations. Even the Brooklyn Dodgers were in the middle of a 15-year stint. Lots of people point to the Grange incident and say it's what made the NFL legitimate in the eyes of the public, and that might be true, but I think the confluence of good ownership in 1935 that really made the difference.
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby TanksAndSpartans » Sat Oct 17, 2020 10:52 pm

I agree with that - the NFL needed to take it seriously. Grange brought in a few paydays like they had never seen before. I think the timing of the AFL both helped and hurt Pottsville as well.

On the related note you mentioned, no one ever convinced me the big Grange paydays were that historically significant. I would agree it was a positive economic shock for the teams that enjoyed those paydays, but I'm not convinced there was a lasting impact. I guess one could argue, it showed the owners it was at least possible for pro football to make big money, but all those type of arguments seem like speculation to me. I'd be more interested if there's data to back it up. Was there a measurable jump in attendance? In the number of college All-Americans entering the league? If I'd been alive, it would have made the NFL look less legitimate to me, more traveling circus than sports league.
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby rhickok1109 » Mon Oct 19, 2020 9:21 am

TanksAndSpartans wrote:I agree with that - the NFL needed to take it seriously. Grange brought in a few paydays like they had never seen before. I think the timing of the AFL both helped and hurt Pottsville as well.

On the related note you mentioned, no one ever convinced me the big Grange paydays were that historically significant. I would agree it was a positive economic shock for the teams that enjoyed those paydays, but I'm not convinced there was a lasting impact. I guess one could argue, it showed the owners it was at least possible for pro football to make big money, but all those type of arguments seem like speculation to me. I'd be more interested if there's data to back it up. Was there a measurable jump in attendance? In the number of college All-Americans entering the league? If I'd been alive, it would have made the NFL look less legitimate to me, more traveling circus than sports league.

You might find this Coffin Corner article interesting:

http://www.profootballresearchers.org/archives/Website_Files/Coffin_Corner/20-02-742.pdf
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby TanksAndSpartans » Mon Oct 19, 2020 3:49 pm

Thanks Ralph. I didn’t know there was a CC article. I read the book, but a really long time ago.

I think the article was fair and shows its a complex subject. He says “We can safely say that Grange did not save a faltering NFL in 1925.”, but also makes points about expanded newspaper coverage, the “star system” and that even after the crowds tailed off, Grange was still a drawing card. I think the typical narrative about Grange is too superficial. Bob Carroll (not John) mentioned Harry Turner's death was a metaphor for the death of the sandlot player and that was in 1914 which means there were increasing numbers of college stars playing pro football for 10 seasons or so before Grange. I'd argue there were always college stars moving into the pros even if often for short careers, but I agree the quantity matters. It would be interesting if someone did a study on attendance and number of all-americans turning pro, say from 1910 - 1935. I suspect you'd see a positive uptick after Thorpe and another after Grange and a negative attendance trend after the depression.
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby Bob Gill » Mon Oct 19, 2020 6:54 pm

Back to the original question, I agree that the 1926 AFL was the only real threat to the NFL until the AAFC. Besides the fact that the AFL had Grange, it also managed to sign several other prominent college players, like Wildcat Wilson, Eddie Tryon and Harry Stuhldreher. And since college football was much more popular than pro football in those days, that really mattered.

As for the other two leagues, I think the 1936-37 AFL compares pretty well to the 1974-75 WFL -- especially 1974, before the arrival of Csonka, Warfield and a few other NFl stars. In its first year, WFL teams filled their rosters mainly with the best players they could find from the CFL and the best of the minor leagues that were still operating in the U.S. The 1936 AFL put its teams together the same way, signing players from the best independent teams in the Northeast. And when the league folded, many of them returned to the American Association, which had also formed in 1936.

The 1940-41 league was more of the same; three of the teams were poached from the 1939 AFL, which nobody has ever suggested as a major league. The 1940 AFL also raided the American Association (which was well established by now) for players. It picked up only a handful of guys with NFL experience, and basically no college stars, aside from Tom Harmon and John Kimbrough, who signed with New York in 1941. Harmon, of course, was a huge star, comparable to Grange, but since he played just a single AFL game he had no real impact.

Anyway, I'd rate the 1940-41 AFL as the equal of the 1940-41 American Association, but probably no better -- at least not enough to matter. That's not an insult, because the AA was a fine league; but it wasn't a major league, either.
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby rhickok1109 » Tue Oct 20, 2020 9:36 am

TanksAndSpartans wrote:Thanks Ralph. I didn’t know there was a CC article. I read the book, but a really long time ago.

I think the article was fair and shows its a complex subject. He says “We can safely say that Grange did not save a faltering NFL in 1925.”, but also makes points about expanded newspaper coverage, the “star system” and that even after the crowds tailed off, Grange was still a drawing card. I think the typical narrative about Grange is too superficial. Bob Carroll (not John) mentioned Harry Turner's death was a metaphor for the death of the sandlot player and that was in 1914 which means there were increasing numbers of college stars playing pro football for 10 seasons or so before Grange. I'd argue there were always college stars moving into the pros even if often for short careers, but I agree the quantity matters. It would be interesting if someone did a study on attendance and number of all-americans turning pro, say from 1910 - 1935. I suspect you'd see a positive uptick after Thorpe and another after Grange and a negative attendance trend after the depression.

I agree that that the typical narrative is superficial. Daly and O"Donnell, in their Pro Football Chronicle, did a pretty good job of debunking it.
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby RyanChristiansen » Tue Oct 20, 2020 9:47 am

Would you agree with the following assessment about professional football in the United States during the period 1920-1949?...

During this period, two major leagues challenged the dominance of the National Football League: The American Football League of 1926 and the All-America Football Conference of 1946-1949. Both of these leagues attracted prominent college talent, but nither of these leagues managed to usurp the NFL, and in the end teams from the leagues merged into the NFL.

Meanwhile, other sub-major leagues emerged during this period, including the Anthracite League of 1924, the American Football League of 1936-1937, and the American Football League of 1940-1941. These leagues attracted good talent from other professional teams and leagues, but these sub-major leagues were never a real threat to the NFL.

Minor independent professional leagues also persisted during this period, including the Eastern League of Professional Football of 1926, the American Football League of 1934, the Midwest Football League of 1935-1939, the Dixie League of 1936-1946, the Pacific Coast Professional Football League of 1940–1948, the American Football League of 1944, and the Virginia Negro Football League of 1946. The names of some of these leagues changed over time.

One minor affilated professional league emerged, the American Association of 1936–1941, which changed to become the American Football League of 1946–1950. In 1946, both the Dixie League and the Pacific Coast Professional Football League became affiliated leagues, but all three leagues soon crumbled, an event that coincided with the emergence of the All-America Football Conference.

And throughout this period, many independent professional and semi-professional teams teams competed in leagues that were sometimes no more than loose confederations, including the remnants of the Ohio League (from which the NFL emerged) and the New York Pro Football League, and the Western Pennyslvania Professional Football Circuit.
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Re: The other AFLs

Postby TanksAndSpartans » Wed Oct 21, 2020 2:08 pm

Have you seen Bob and Tod's book? I just stumbled on it: https://www.amazon.com/Outsiders-League-Independent-Football-1923-1950/dp/187828245X

I would guess the Tanks might be in the Ohio Valley section, maybe Bob will confirm. Not sure what you are working on, but thought it may be helpful.

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