Five hours before the Super Bowl NBC will be televising Arena games. I get to watch my LA Avengers vs. the Philadelphia Soul and Tony Graziani. Should be a good game!
There is more than one football game tomorrow!
There is more than one football game tomorrow!
Mon, February 6, 2006 - 7:20 AMWhat are your thoughts on the alternative leagues?
They weren't indoor, but I remember the WFL and of course, the USFL and XFL.
I found several others, including a league from the 60's which preceeded the WFL.
Mon, February 6, 2006 - 10:17 AM>I found several others, including a league from the 60's which preceeded the WFL.
You mean the American Football League? There's a few of us that remember that one. :P
Or maybe you mean the old AAFC from which the Cleveland Browns & the SF 49ers came into the NFL. :)
Tue, February 7, 2006 - 7:41 AMTodd and Keller,
I tried in limited time to find out and post some research unedited.
I read that there is a women's NFL. The New York franchise was recently bought for $3000.
I hope that endures, as the players and people involved are very dedicated and professional:
The All-American Football Conference of the 1940s spawned the existence of the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts in the NFL.
The American Football League gave the National Football League serious competition throughout the 1960s before forcing a merger between the two leagues.
The United States Football League operated from 1982 to 1985, ultimately losing a bitter battle with the NFL.
The World Football League competed directly with the NFL for two years in the mid 1970s before folding under enormous debt thirteen weeks into its second season.
Vince McMahon tried to bring a professional wrestling flavor to professional football, but television ratings were dismal and the league folded after just one season.
Are You Ready For Some Football?
by Chris Forde
March 26, 1998
Imagine sitting in your living room and you turn on the TV. Channel 2 has a football game on. So does channel 5. Channels 7 and 8 have games on too. Now picture this being any month of the year, not just September through December, the traditional football season. No, this isn't a football fan's fantasy. Instead, it could soon be a reality.
As many as six new football leagues are attempting to start up by 1999 and one of those leagues plans to start this summer. This is in additions to the National Football League, NFL Europe (formerly the World League of American Football), the Canadian Football League, the Arena Football League, and its new rival the Professional Indoor Football League.
Fans could have the choice of 11 different leagues, and with this much football, competition for fans among the leagues will be fierce. Some of the leagues welcome the competition with not only each other, but the NFL as well. "If we present to similar communities a similar product, an equal product, maybe a superior product in some respects, at a lower cost what will the fans do? Our predictions are they will come to the lower cost equal or better quality product and they'll support it. That's our gamble, that's our bet, that's our prediction," said Eric Parton of All Star Football, a league looking to start in the fall of 1999.
Despite a hopefull outlook by the new leagues, there are critics of the new leagues. Jeff Knapple is the managing director of ProServe, an Arlington, Virginia based company and was a former quarterback for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. "I think that the NFL with the television impact that they have and the audiences that they reach, galvinate the football fan marketplace, if you will, and if the leagues decide to go head to head in that same time period its going to be very difficult even on an alternative network. I don't think they will make it. I think it's pretty difficult to have a minor league version of a major league sport compete even if it's an off time."
This is not the first time other leagues have attempted to capture the football audience. New leagues have started up about every ten years. One of the most successful leagues was the American Football League that began in 1960. In 1970, the AFL merged with the NFL.
Other leagues since have tried and failed. The World Football League started in 1974 and it folded during the 1975 season. "When the WFL came in to being, its timing was horrendous," said Shea Dixon, chief operating officer of the FanOwnership Football League, a league looking to start this July. "The NFL had already locked up all three networks, and there were only three broadcast networks. Syndication was in its infancy at that point, there was little to no cable television and the WFL had no distribution. Without television you're dead. You cannot survive."
In the spring of 1983, the United States Football League kicked off its inaugural season. The USFL had interest from both fans and networks. An average of about 25,000 fans attended league games, and the league had broadcast agreements with ABC and ESPN.
Part of the reason the USFL was so successful was the caliber of players it attracted. The league had superstars like Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Herschel Walker, and Reggie White, but these players also helped contribute to the league's downfall. High contracts forced the league to attempt to move to the fall. "The league basically priced itself out of the spring and summer," said Paul Reeths, a football historian who is writing a book on the USFL's legacy.
In 1985 the USFL made two very important decisions. The USFL filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL and announced that it would be playing in the fall. The league would play its season in the spring that year, but it would be its last. In July of 1986, the USFL won its lawsuit against the NFL and was awarded $1 by the jury. The league, already over $160 million in debt, would fold before it played in the fall.
"The problem with the USFL wasn't the concept, it wasn't the timing, it was the execution," said Dixon whose father David was one of the USFL's founders and is also a co-founder of the FFL. "I don't consider the USFL a failure, I consider it a missed opportunity."
The NFL introduced its own spring league in 1991 with the World League of American Football. The WLAF started with ten teams, seven in North America. After the 1992 season, the WLAF suspended operations. In 1995, the WLAF made a comeback after major changes. In 1998, the league changed its name to NFL Europe.
The WLAF was successful in Europe, but not nearly as successful in the US. Attendance was small, and many people did not take the league seriously. "The problem with the WLAF is the concept," said Dixon. "They intend to be a minor league. They intended it when they started, they intended it when they transformed themselves, and they intend it for tomorrow. How can you be a major league if your intent is to be a minor league?"
During the 1992 season, there were very few indications that the league would go on hiatus for two years. During the 1992 World Bowl, there was a commercial during the third quarter that talked briefly about the league's future. It never mentioned that the league would leave North America. Many wondered about the league's abrupt end, but others think there may have been more to the league's intent that meets the eye. "I think the NFL's plan for WLAF was it was intended to, I believe, to block any other pro football from coming into being," said Dixon.
Dixon is not the only person that supports the theory. "The WLAF was going to be around as long as the NFL wanted it around. I think it served its purpose in crushing competition in the early 90s in the US and that's why they eventually pulled the teams out of the US. They just didn't have a reason to have them here anymore," said Reeths.
Officials from the NFL and NFLE deny those claims.
Fueling the WLAF conspiracy theory is the demise of the Professional Spring Football League. The PSFL was slated to kick off in the spring of 1992, but never did. The league folded during training camp. The cause of the league's demise was it did not have the money it thought it did.
Another league, the International Football League never got out of the planning phase. It was originally scheduled to kick off in the late 1970s, but was postponed due to the recession. The league later announced it would start in 1984, but again the league would be postponed. The league never did get off the ground.
In the wake of the failure of the other leagues, Dixon believes there are three key factors in starting a new league. "First, the concept is critical. If you don't have the right concept, then you're in trouble. Second, if your timing is not right, then you stand no chance at all. And third, you have to execute your plan."
One of the most important components in a new league is a television contract. Television not only generates money for league operating expenses, it also gives leagues much needed exposure. "That's the key ingredient in any new league. It's just a concept until you have television, and once you have television, you have a league," Dixon said.
Some people feel that the television needs to be defined as more than just broadcast networks. Cable networks and syndication could also play a part in television negotiations for the new leagues. "Without TV, there is not going to be another league, and we're talking about a substantial contract. Not only a network, but a good cable contract," Reeths said.
As Dixon said, concept is one of the keys to a new league. One common concept among several leagues is the idea of being fan friendly. Two leagues, the FanOwnership Football League and the United States Fan Ownership League, plan to have fans own parts of teams to help generate money for operations.
the FFL, there will be an initial group of owners who will then have an initial public offering of stock in their teams. Fans could purchase stock for their favorite teams. "Our goal would be to have the stock reasonably priced so that people could buy it. The average fan could buy it, and to me that means somewhere between 25 and 75 dollars," Dixon said.
The USFOL has a similar concept. The league has a goal to sell 20,000 shares of stock per team at $4,000 per share. This would generate $80 million for each of the proposed ten teams. Each fan will get two free tickets with the stock, but there are other benefits according to league founder Tony Capozzola. "The fans have a vested interest in the outcome of the game. A vested interest meaning the team goes to the playoffs, they get more money because each franchise will generate different amounts of money just like different McDonald's franchise generates different amounts of profit for the owners."
Capozzola's idea comes from fans being taken advantage of by owners that look for public funding to keep their team in town. He said that the league will not rely on public funds to do their business. He also thinks his plan will keep fans loyal. "I think if you share the wealth among 20,000 people instead of one, you're going to find fan loyalty rewarded instead of being absolutely scorned like it is all over the NFL at the present time."
Other leagues have their own ways to attract fans. The RFL plans to use its regional concept to keep the fans' interest. Their plan is to stock their teams with local talent. "The theory is that they [local talent] develop some fan identification and they bring fans to the stadium. Everybody wants to see the local kid playing," said Ron Floridia, assistant commissioner of the RFL.
The idea behind All Star Football is to give fans a cheaper alternative to the NFL. The league will recruit the best available talent and play Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons in the fall. The league has no plans to sign high-priced talent at first in an effort to keep ticket prices down. "Fans will choose. They will choose economically," said Eric Parton president and chief executive officer of Team Dynamics Inc., the firm that developed the All Star Football League.
A concept behind three of the leagues trying to start is to play in either the spring or summer, the traditional off-season of the NFL. This does not mean that there is no other football during this time. The Arena Football League runs its season in the spring and summer. The Canadian Football League has a summer schedule. NFLE plays a spring season.
The RFL plans to run the season from March through June and plans to kick off in 1999. Originally the league was scheduled to start this year, but postponed a year when some of the franchises were not as strong as they should have been according to Floridia. The league plans to have eight to ten teams when it starts. The goal of the league will be to have two cities in eight regions in the country. Cities that the RFL is targeting are: Houston, Shreveport, Mobile, Raleigh, Tucson and Akron. Shreveport has given the league a solid commitment. That team will be called the Southern Knights and has already hired a head coach.
The RFL wants to use the best talent available. One of the players that had committed to league for the 1998 season was former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware. Part of the RFL's business plan is to adhere to a strict salary cap of $1.5 million per team. The average RFL player will make between $35,000 and $60,000. The league also allows for a cornerstone player that will make $200,000. "It's just a chance for a lot of the players, a lot of the kids to pursue their dream of playing pro football and being able to make a living at it," Floridia said.
Low salary caps will keep ticket prices low, another goal of the league. Ticket prices for the league will range from $8 to $20. The goal of the league is for the average family to be able to attend a game.
The RFL realizes that it will not be able to compete with the NFL, but they have no plans to do so. "We want to be the major league of spring football," said Floridia.
The FFL originally planned to start this June, but recently announced that it would wait until 1999. The league may not play at all if NBC and Turner follow though with their proposed league. The season will end in November during Thanksgiving. The league plans on having teams in ten to 16 cities and already has teams in the top 11 television markets in the country. Those include cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The FFL would like to go after the best talent it can get out of college, but Dixon realizes that they cannot compete for players with the NFL. "I think it's too expensive to go after some of the pros that are out there, so were not really interested in competing for Dana Stubblefield for instance." Stubblefield recently signed a six-year contract with the Washington Redskins for reportedly $36 million.
Dixon said that his league has been in negotiations with television networks, but he could not give any details. He believes that there is a marketplace for spring football, and he remains confident that his league will succeed despite three other spring leagues trying to start up. "It means were certainly in the right area. If you're afraid of competition, you should stay home every day. We welcome it, it's part of life, you might as well get used to it. We believe we have the best concept, the best owners, and we think we have the best chance of making it."
The All American Football League is the third league that plans on operating in the spring. Like the RFL, the AAFL had plans to start in the spring of this year, but was forced to postpone until 1999. The league is headed by Bernard Glieberman who has been involved with CFL teams in Ottawa and Shreveport and Randy Vataha who was involved with Boston of the USFL.
The AAFL plans to have 12 teams in major cities. Those cities are: Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Tampa. The Detroit team has named Forrest Gregg as head coach. AAFL teams will not have a single owner. Instead, different investors will own the teams and have a president in charge of the business operations. Eventually, Vataha hopes to sell stock for the league.
AAFL players will sign with the league instead of with individual teams. Contracts are expected to range from $35,000 to $50,000. After a player signs with the league, teams will draft those players. Vataha said the players will be the best available players, and that could include NFL talent stuck in backup roles. "If you looked at the quality of football, and you looked at college football as a five and NFL football as a ten, we would be a nine," Vataha said.
Spring is not the only season with new leagues starting. Three of the six leagues plan on playing in the fall which has been traditionally dominated by the NFL and college football.
After NBC and TNT lost the rights to broadcast NFL games, they began researching the possibility of starting a new league to go head to head with the NFL. Currently both NBC and Time Warner, TNT's parent company, are researching the feasibility of the league. Their findings are due in April, but could come later according to NBC spokesperson Ed Markey. "We're going to take our time and investigate the feasibility of the league. That entails doing developmental analysis and extensive research to determine whether or not it is something we want to go forward."
Markey said that the league would play Sunday afternoons in the fall starting in 1999, and there would be no chance that the league would shift to a spring league. "We have a heavy commitment to this year plus four to the NBA. The NBA playoff and finals dominate the second quarter." The second quarter runs from April through June.
Early print and broadcast reports said the league planned on having teams in the following cities: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Columbus, Raleigh, San Diego, Birmingham and Providence. Markey denied this rumor saying that the only thing these cities have in common is they have NBC owned and operated stations. Markey also denied that the Fan Appreciation League would be the name of the league. He said there is no working title. He also denied that they were in negotiations with Joe Kapp and All Star Football.
The NBC-Turner venture would also go after the best available players. "There are a lot of players whether they are players who are cut by NFL teams or college players coming out who are undrafted or unsigned, wherever you might think of where the leftover players are," Markey said.
Two other leagues, All Star Football and the United States Fan Ownership Football League also plan to start in the fall of 1999.
All Star Football has been in the idea phase since CBS lost the rights to broadcast NFC games to Fox four and a half years ago. Former NFL players Joe Kapp, Craig Morton, and Jim Marshall are the brain trust behind the league. All Star Football is also working with Team Dynamics, Inc.
All Star Football plans to use a business plan similar to that of Major League Soccer, the Women's National Basketball Association, and the American Basketball League. The league will own all the teams and those 16 teams will report operating expenses and revenue back to the league. "This is really the wave of how new league structures will be structured because of the economic environment we're in and the opportunity these leagues have to compete singularly rather than as a group of individuals," Parton said.
All Star Football will use syndication as a part of their television strategy. The league would be able to essentially create their own network of TV stations throughout the country to show off their product.
All Star Football wants the best players they can get for the league. Parton is confident that the league can get very good players. "There's only 1,590 jobs in the NFL, that's all. There are 3,000 plus NCAA graduates, or eligibility expiring athletes each year. So for the past five years, 21 to 26 year old, college trained, high level Division I football players have not been employed in their profession that they were trained to do because there's only about 140 rookies that are hired each year," Parton said.
The USFOL will have ten teams in the top television markets in the country. The league plans to use the best players it can get as well. The USFOL was designed with the fan in mind. "The philosophy is a fan revolution 20,000 owners are stronger than any one NFL owner," Capozzola said. "Its time for fan ownership of professional sports. Instead of getting ripped off every time you buy a ticket, you get a percentage back, your stock goes up, you make money while you're attending the game."
The USFOL is scheduled to begin its season in August of 1999 and the season will end by Christmas. Capozzola said there will be no exhibition games because he feels that they are a rip off.
The fan ownership approach of the USFOL doesn't allow for an owner to get rich off the fans. Fans that purchase stock will have the opportunity to have a say in the operation of the team. This is the goal of the league. This concept, according to Capozzola, will keep "rich man, poor fan" out of his league.
The NFL has no official comment on the new leagues, however spokesperson Leslie Hammond did give this statement: "We are anxious to see football succeed at all levels. We support high school football. We support the NCAA. We have a partnership with the CFL. I think it's important for the NFL and any fan of football to make sure that the game is healthy and that there's growth of the game itself on all levels."
There are critics of the new leagues. Jeff Knapple is the managing director of ProServe, an Arlington, Virginia based company and was a former quarterback for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. "I think that the NFL with the television impact that they have and the audiences that they reach, galvinate the football fan marketplace, if you will, and if the leagues decide to go head to head in that same time period its going to be very difficult even on an alternative network. I don't think they will make it. I think it's pretty difficult to have a minor league version of a major league sport compete even if it's an off time."
Reeths thinks that a league could have a chance, especially a spring league. "I believe spring football can succeed, but it's a tough market out there." Reeths added that any new league should expect to take a financial beating for the first few years and will need to have strong ownership as well as a good TV contract for the exposure. He doesn't think all six of the leagues will make it. "There is going to be one, if any. There is not room for more than one."
KENOSHA CARDINALS: Life on the Fringe
By Bob Gill
The Coffin Corner Volume IV, 1983
As most people know, pro football in the years before the Second World War was quite different from the modern game, not only in style of play, but also in organizational structure. Most importantly, with only ten teams (and 25-man rosters) in the NFL, there were still enough good football players left over to stock other (in most cases, minor) leagues. In the 1930's (thru 1941) these included the American Association, the Dixie League, the Pacific Coast League, and four different AFL's. All played good football, and a couple claimed, with some justification, to be major leagues in their own right.
But if those were the days of the strong minor leagues, they were also the days of a stranger (by today's standards) phenomenon: the existence of several major independent teams capable of competing on equal footing with NFL clubs. From 1927, when the NFL reduced its membership to twelve teams, thru 1941, after which the war changed everything, it was almost never the case that the ten (or twelve, or eight, depending on the size of the league) best teams in the country were all in the NFL. Teams like the Ironton Tanks, the Memphis Tigers, the St. Louis Gunners, and the Los Angeles Bulldogs were all, at one time or another, better than at least a couple of NFL teams.
And there were other independent clubs that, while probably not quite up to major league level, were at least good enough to play several games per season with NFL teams and put up good fights. After the war, the birth of the AAFC and a more tightly-structured system of minor leagues spelled the end of the line for the top independents, and even by 1940 the field had been narrowed to one major team, probably the last of a now extinct breed: the Kenosha Cardinals.
Quick question for football historians: What do Johnny Blood, Beattie Feathers, Jim Gillette and Paul Christman have in common? Answer: All played for Kenosha during the Cardinals' peak seasons, 1940-41. They were far from the only attractions, though, because for those two years, Kenosha, Wisconsin, had made the big time - or at least, they were on the fringe.
For several years, the Cooper Underwear Manufacturing Company had sponsored a semi-pro team in Kenosha - a team for the most part undistinguished. But in 1937, in the words of the Kenosha Evening News, the Cardinals (or Coopers, as they were sometimes known) made the big jump from "just another sandlot team to the most feared independent eleven in the state." Their only competition for state semi-pro honors came from the LaCrosse Lagers, defending champions of the minor Northwest League. But LaCrosse refused to schedule the Kenosha club, thus leaving the dispute unresolved for 1937.
So for 1938, Cooper's Cardinals (another popular appellation for the team) set their sights on the undisputed championship of Wisconsin - and then had it handed to them when (out of fear, as the popular explanation in Kenosha had it) LaCrosse failed to field a team.
Brimming with confidence, Gilbert S. Lance, chief representative of Cooper's, Inc., announced that the Cardinals would attempt to schedule a number of "big-time" teams to fill the gap left by LaCrosse's absence. He contacted several clubs in the American Football League, which had been known as the Midwest League in 1937, but had changed its name and expanded its territory in the offseason. Two AFL teams accepted Lance's offer: the Calumet (or East Chicago) Indians, booked to invade Kenosha on Thanksgiving Day, November 24; and the Nashville Rebels. At first the Cardinals were scheduled to travel to Nashville on November 6, until Lance decided that the team's budget couldn't cover the trip. Instead, the Rebels agreed to come to Kenosha on November 27; but the AFL playoff schedule, released at the last minute, put Nashville in St. Louis on the same day, and the Kenosha game was canceled.
The Cardinals did agree to one long trip, a journey to Des Moines November 20 to play the Comets, who had succeeded LaCrosse as Northwest League champs in 1937. As the date approached, Comets' management requested the game be shifted to Kenosha. Lance agreed; but when Des Moines demanded too large a guarantee, that game too was called off.
Shortly afterward, the Calumet team canceled the November 24 game; this time, however, the Cardinals had a quick solution. They booked the Dayton Rosies, another AFL team, as a replacement and beat them easily, 31-0. The club had achieved another noteworthy win on November 13, beating the Chicago Gunners 13-0. The Gunners had an important Midwest team for several years and featured star tailback Pug Rentner, formerly with the Bears and Redskins in the NFL. In 1937, before Rentner's arrival, they had shut out Kenosha.
The Cardinals finished the 1938 season undefeated (one tie), but obviously things weren't going very smoothly. The club wanted to bring in more high-caliber opposition, but that was difficult; most of the better teams by that time were members of leagues, and thus had other commitments that took priority. Obviously, joining a league was one available solution. The AFL seemed the logical choice, but Lance was dubious about that possibility. Instead, he said, he would prefer forming a new league with, say, the Chicago Gunners, the Calumet Indians, and a few other Midwestern teams, like maybe Des Moines.
As it turned out, though, that idea fell through. That left the AFL as the best alternative, so the Cardinals applied to - and were accepted by - the league early in 1939.
Through 1938, the Cardinals had been almost exclusively a homegrown team. But joining the AFL was a step upward for Kenosha, and Lance was aware that the club would need to go farther afield for players. Head coach John Reis and assistant Perry Lippert (line coach) were retained, as was much of the 1938 squad, including star receiver Dick Hegeman (35 receptions, 501 yards, 12 touchdowns), and backs John Cherny (270 yards rushing, 19-31 passing), Eddie Hartnek (264 yards rushing, 32-72 passing) and Art "Red" Horne (167 yards rushing). But the team also signed several notable newcomers during the course of the season, including backs Art Buck (from Carroll) and Vince Gavre (from Wisconsin), along with linemen Paul Berezney (from Fordham), Wally Kilbourne (from Minnesota), and Clem Naughton (from DePaul).
The final standing for the 1939 AFL showed three new members at the top: the Los Angeles Bulldogs, the Columbus Bullies, and the Cincinnati Bengals. But despite their new players, Kenosha, the other "expansion" club, finished with a 2-7 record, good (?) for seventh place in the eight team league. The team suffered mainly from an inability to win close games, losing to east Chicago by scores of 17-15 and 7-6, and to Cincinnati by 10-7. The low point of the season came in two losses to the Dayton Bombers, arguably the worst team in the league. Those were the only games the Bombers won all year; and despite the name change, this was the same club the Cardinals had routed a year earlier.
Both Kenosha wins came at the expense of the Louisville Tanks, three-time league champions, who dropped to 2-9 and thus kept the Cardinals out of last place. Kenosha's 34-10 victory in Louisville on November 19 featured the season's outstanding individual performance, by Art Buck, who scored four touchdowns, all on runs of at least 48 yards--three from scrimmage (longest 73 yards) and one an interception return. Buck also added the conversions after all four scores, for a total of 28 points, and gained 296 yards for the day, 195 rushing and the rest on returns of all kinds.
Also on the positive side, the Cardinals did manage to win four non-league games, including a 17-0 verdict over the Des Moines Comets, to finish with an overall 6-7 record. In post-season balloting by the players, Buck and backfield mate Art Blaha, along with center Tony Monik, were chosen as the team's most valuable players. They were officially designated "honorary co-captains" as the vote ended in a three-way tie.
So Kenosha could look back with some satisfaction (though with some misgivings as well) on its first season as a full-fledged pro football team. And for 1940, there would be changes. Most importantly, the club severed its ties with Cooper's, Inc.; from now on, the Cardinals would be run by the Kenosha Sports Association, which was headed by none other than "Gib" Lance, in his new role - at least the title was new - as president and general manager.
The AFL itself planned a few changes for the coming season. With Los Angeles joining the new Pacific Coast League, the league installed a new franchise in Milwaukee, to be known as the Chiefs. Green Bay protested that this was a violation of its territorial rights, but the AFL, feeling its oats after its most successful season, was willing to challenge the established league now. In fact, there were hints that the AFL was about to declare itself a second major league. Combined with the new team in Milwaukee - a natural rival for Kenosha - this news made the prospects for the Cardinals' 1940 season very good indeed.
But in July a group of eastern Businessmen persuaded three AFL teams--Milwaukee, Columbus, and Cincinnati - to defect, and along with soon-to-be-organized clubs in Boston, New York, and Buffalo, to form a new league, this one also to be called the AFL. The new league, lacking nothing in the way of nerve, immediately claimed major league status.
This development left the old AFL holding the bag - and a nearly empty bag it was. Louisville and Dayton, perhaps influenced by the unstable status of the league, announced that they would not field teams; that left the "league" with only three clubs: Kenosha, East Chicago, and the St. Louis Gunners. Realizing that a three team league wouldn't work, the AFL - the old one, that is - gave up the ghost.
Kenosha and St. Louis applied for membership in the new "major league" AFL, but were eventually turned down. However, the league did make arrangements for its teams to play the Cardinals in a series of "official exhibitions" - these usually meant Sunday or Wednesday night games just before or after the teams visited Milwaukee. St. Louis and East Chicago were left out in the cold, to schedule what games they could; Kenosha agreeably lined up dates with each club.
As far back as 1938, the Green Bay Packers had offered the Cardinals a game on Labor Day, but the Cards had refused because the team didn't organize that early. For 1940, the Packers repeated the offer; this time the details were agreeable to Kenosha management, and the team opened its season in Green Bay on September 7. In a surprisingly close game, the Packers won 17-0, using mostly second and third string players. Johnny Blood, playing his last game for the Pack, carried 7 times for 46 yards.
Encouraged by their performance against the NFL champs, the Cardinals were bolstered in a more tangible sense shortly afterward when the Packers released Blood, Feathers, Gillette, and several others, who were quickly signed by Kenosha. Blood became a backfield coach, joining the staff of head coach Reis and line coaches Lippert and John Biolo, like Blood a player-coach. With the addition of these new recruits, the team moved confidently into its "official" schedule with AFL clubs. In six games against the four top teams in the league (omitting tail-enders Buffalo and Cincinnati), the Cardinals compiled a 4-2 record, winning single games with Boston and New York, and splitting a pair with both Columbus and Milwaukee, the first and second-place teams.
Feathers and Gillette were the stars of the opening game with Columbus, combining on two scoring passes in a 13-7 win. Though on the receiving end then, Gillette turned passer afterward, with four scoring tosses in the next four games. Then in mid-October he left the team, along with blocking back Glenn Olson, to join the Cleveland Rams. At about the same time, Feathers was hurt, missing several games as a result, and Art Buck went into the service. These losses off the field, and back- to-back on-field setbacks at Columbus and Milwaukee, threatened to short-circuit the season for Kenosha.
But late in October the Cardinals picked up John "Weenie" Wilson, a 5'8" scatback just released by Milwaukee, and he took up the slack starring in two big late-season wins. First, on November 13, Wilson broke loose for two long scoring runs, of 62 and 43 yards, as the Cardinals beat the New York Yankees 14-0. Then on November 17 he completed a long touchdown pass to Johnny Dolan in the fourth quarter to beat his former teammates in Milwaukee, 13-3.
Just prior to Wilson's two-game spree, the Cardinals had slipped past the Boston Bears 17-14, on Ken Binder's field goal. At the time, the Bears were pressing Columbus and Milwaukee for the league lead, so victory was cause of celebration in Kenosha - though of course it was overshadowed by the subsequent win over the Chiefs.
By the time Kenosha had built up such a rivalry with the AFL's best that a third game with league champion Columbus was scheduled for December 1; but snow and cold weather forced its cancellation. Still, the Cardinals could look back on a very successful season, which they finished with a 10-3 record. At a post-season banquet given for the team, Harry Leysenaar, a tough runner and receiver, was named the year's "honorary captain," beating out other candidates like half-back Al Christiansen (who missed several games with injuries) and fullback Dan Koster.
Proud of their 1940 successes, the Cardinals were ready to take another step upward in 1941; in addition to home-and-home dates with both Columbus and Milwaukee, Lance scheduled six games with NFL teams, including the Bears, Giants, and Packers. Preparing for the tougher schedule, the club picked up two of the AFL's better backs of 1940: Ernie Wheeler from Boston and former Cardinal Art Blaha from the Chiefs. Top additions from the college ranks were end Dave Rankin from Purdue, back Les Bruckner from Michigan State, and guard Chet Peterson from Lake Forest. And in anticipation of large crowds, the team enlarged Lake Front Stadium, its home field, to hold 5,000 fans.
Even before the season started, though, things began to go wrong for Kenosha. Early in August, the team lost two of its top players from 1940, when Den Binder, quarterback and kicker, broke his ankle in a baseball game, and Frank Soeka, the leading receiver in 1940, underwent an emergency appendectomy. Neither would play a down in 1941.
Still experimenting with different lineups in the absence of Binder and Soeka, the team opened its season August 19 (its earliest game ever) against the Chicago Bears, NFL champions, and lost 27-6. A short pass from Wheeler to Al Christiansen accounted for the Cards' scoring. Considering that the Bears had beaten the Redskins 73-0 only eight months earlier, and were about to repeat as league champs, this was a very respectable showing for Kenosha; the record attendance of 6,200 was also encouraging.
A week later, though the Philadelphia Eagles demolished the Cardinals 35-6, in a game that seriously dampened whatever hopes Kenosha fans may have had for the season. The game was a complete rout, Christiansen's 4- yard run for the Cards' only score coming after the Eagles had already registered 27 points. For the game, Kenosha amassed only 65 yards in total offense.
Despite their poor showing against Philadelphia, the Cardinals received an encouraging note from NFL commissioner Elmer Layden a few days later, in which he complimented the city on its team and promised further NFL support, in the form of visits by league clubs. Then on August 31 the Cards traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, for a charity game with the New York Giants. The team made a much better showing this time, but still wound up on the short end of a 34-7 score, Wheeler's short plunge and Peterson's conversion accounting for all their points. Most local observers were satisfied with the club's performance, though, considering the strength of the opposition (the Giants would win the Eastern Division title in 1941).
Nine days later the team was back at Lake Front, hosting their namesakes, the Chicago Cardinals. Blaha starred for Kenosha, rushing for 40 yards and completing 5 passes for 74 more and two touchdowns, one of them to Wheeler, who also threw a scoring pass of his own as the home team took a 21-7 halftime lead. In the second half, however, Ray Mallouf (12-19 passing) led a Chicago comeback, throwing for two scores, and the game ended in a 21-21 tie. But even though the final score was slightly disappointing, the game clearly marked the club's best showing of the season to date.
A two-week layoff followed, and then the team returned to action against the Cleveland Rams September 23, in a game which turned out to be a disaster for Kenosha. Cleveland rushed for over 200 yards in a 34-0 laugher, and limited Cardinal passers to 7 completions in 28 tries, with 3 intercepted.
Next to visit Kenosha were the Columbus Bullies, who had played two tough games with the Cardinals in 1940. This time, however, it was no contest, Columbus winning in a rout, 34-7. Blaha was the only bright spot for Kenosha, gaining 51 yards on the ground, including a 17-yard run for the Cards' score. Even the Evening News could find nothing good to say about the game, calling it a "stinkeroo."
Remarks like that hurt, but a couple of days later there was worse news from Milwaukee. The Chiefs, scheduled to play at Kenosha October 7, with a return game in Milwaukee later in the month, canceled the second game after scouting the Cardinals' dismal performance against Columbus. In addition, Chiefs' management informed Lance that instead of splitting gate receipts for the Kenosha game (as they had originally agreed), they wanted what the Evening News called a "huge guarantee." This was probably only a tactic to make Kenosha call the game off; and it worked - the next day the game was officially canceled.
In the meantime, the team was off to the Canadian province of Manitoba, to meet the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The unusual game was played under Canadian rules which gave each team three downs to make ten yards, and an extra man in the backfield, called the flying wing (a position filled for Kenosha by Johnny Blood). In addition, touchdowns counted only five points. Even under the strange (to them) conditions, the Cardinals did well, building an early lead and then weathering a late Winnipeg rally for an 18-16 victory. Blaha was again the Cards' chief threat, running for one score, throwing to Blood for another, and intercepting four passes.
Returning home from Canada, the team was idle for three weeks owing to the cancellation of both Milwaukee games. With nothing much to do around Kenosha, Blood, Wheeler, and Johnny Dolan traveled to Buffalo where the AFL Tigers were in need of help after losing their opener to Cincinnati 29-0. All three Kenosha recruits played (Blood under his real name, McNally) for Buffalo October 8 against the New York Americans (formerly the Yankees), but they didn't help much as the Tigers lost again, 26-7.
After the game, Blood (5 carries, longest gain 8 yards) returned to Kenosha, but Wheeler and Dolan remained to help Buffalo get even with Cincinnati, 16-0, October 19. Four weeks later, Wheeler would return for the Tigers' final two games, both against Milwaukee, this time bringing with him Kenosha's Clem Naughton.
For the moment, though, Wheeler and the rest of his teammates were concerned with the Cards' October 26 game at Columbus. This time the club put up a good fight, particularly Blaha, who rushed for 84 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown in the second quarter that brought Kenosha within a point at 7-6 (Blood's dropkick for the conversion was blocked). But in the second half Columbus scored twice more, and came away with a hard-earned 20-6 victory.
A week later the Cardinals were back home to host Winnipeg in a rematch, this one also played under the Canadian rules. Blood again played the flying wing, and this time the home team routed the Canadians, 35-6. A key figure in the win was a new player who completed 10 of 25 passes, two for touchdowns. The Evening News would only say that he was "listed in the program as Pete Hogan of St. John's," but other observers indicate that he was in fact Paul Christman, the Missouri All-American, making his debut in the professional ranks.
"Hogan" wasn't there the next week when the Cardinals hosted the Packers in their season's finale, but it's unlikely that he would have made much difference, as the power house from Green Bay humiliated them, 65-2. Only Paul Berezney's endzone tackle of George Paskvan in the first quarter kept the Cards from being shut out, and that was small consolation. That play and Balaha's 50 yards rushing were all the crowd of 3,000 had to cheer about - unless of course they were Packer fans. In fact, there may have been quite a few of those in the stands by the time the debacle was over.
For the season, the Cardinals had failed to win in eight games against American opposition - and while admittedly they played tough teams, an 0-7-1 record wasn't satisfactory to anybody. The two wins against Winnipeg helped, but not nearly enough. At the team's annual banquet later that week, no one was named "honorary captain" for 1941 - a significant omission.
Though the team was officially through for the season after the banquet, many of the players weren't. Wheeler and Naughton went to Buffalo for the final two weeks of the AFL season; and when they took the field November 16 against Milwaukee they found three of their Kenosha teammates among the opposition: Blaha, Berezney, and John Biolo.
A few weeks later, several members of the Cardinals reassembled to play a charity game in Memphis, Tennessee, against the Richmond Arrows of the Dixie League. Actually, only 14 Kenosha players took part in the game, with Blood serving as head coach; the team filled out with a few NFL players, including Bruiser Kinard and Billy Jefferson. Despite the changes, the "new look" Cardinals kept their 1941 winless streak intact, losing another one, 29-13.
The game in Memphis was played on December 14, a week after Pearl Harbor. And with war declared against Germany and Japan, soon it was impossible to assemble even 14 members of the club - for civilian activities, anyway - as more of them followed former teammate Art Buck into the service. So, on that note, the Kenosha Cardinals closed up shop for the duration, never to reopen for business.
1939 KENOSHA CARDINALS
S-24 H 78- 0 *Austin (Ill.) Bears
O- 1 H 7-14 Dayton Bombers
O- 8 H 0-14 St. Louis Gunners
O-15 H 17- 0 *Des Moines Comets
O-22 H 15-17 Chicago Indians
O-29 H 21- 0 Louisville Tanks
N- 1 A 6- 7 Chicago Indians
N- 5 A 0-14 Columbus Bullies
N-12 H 7-19 Dayton Bombers
N-19 A 34-10 Louisville Tanks
N-23 H 41- 0 *Drewry's A.C.
N-26 H 7-10 Cincinnati Bengals
N-30 H ---- Columbus (can.)
D- 3 H 41-18 *Marquette All-Stars
D-10 A ---- St. Louis (can.)
1940 KENOSHA CARDINALS
S- 7 A 0-17 Green Bay Packers
S-18 H 13- 7 Columbus Bullies
S-29 H 20- 0 Chicago Indians
O- 2 H 35- 0 Chicago Brown Bombers
O- 6 A 0- 7 Milwaukee Chiefs
O-13 A 7-20 Columbus Bullies
O-16 H ---- St Louis (can.)
O-20 H 18- 0 Chicago Indians
O-27 H 29- 6 Des Moines Comets
N- 2 H 80- 0 Inland Marines
N- 6 H 17-14 Boston Bears
N-13 H 14- 0 New York Yankees
N-17 A 13- 3 Milwaukee Chiefs
N-21 H 46- 0 Chicago Gunners
D- 1 H ---- Columbus (can.)
1941 KENOSHA CARDINALS
A-19 H 6-27 Chicago Bears
A-26 H 6-35 Philadelphia Eagles
A-31 A 7-34 NY Giants (at St.Paul(MN)
S- 9 H 21-21 Chicago Cardinals
S-23 H 0-34 Cleveland Rams
O- 1 H 7-34 Columbus Bullies
O- 4 A 18-16 Winnipeg Blue Bombers
O- 7 H ---- Milwaukee (can.)
O- ? A ---- Milwaukee (can.)
O-26 A 6-20 Columbus Bullies
N- 2 H 35- 6 Winnipeg Blue Bombers
N- 9 H 2-65 Green Bay Packers
D-14 A 13-29 Richmond Arrows
(at Memphis, Tenn.)