Final Thursday was the 100-year anniversary of the assembly between the representatives of ten groups that might in the end type the Nationwide Soccer League. My write-up on that historic assembly turned out to be a large hit, and I am again with yet one more centennial anniversary submit. This time, we go from the automobile showroom to the soccer discipline.

100 years in the past on September 26, 1920, a group took to the gridiron as a member of the NFL—then often called the American Skilled Soccer Affiliation—for the primary time. Whereas it was not a “true” league sport as their opponent was not a part of the APFA, it marked the beginning of one thing large.

The Rock Island Independents

Take a wild guess as to how the Rock Island Independents obtained their title.

For the primary twenty years of its existence, the Illinois-based group took on opponents no matter league affiliation. Walter Flanigan joined the Independents as a participant in 1912 earlier than taking on as supervisor three years later. Because the group racked up wins, Flanigan wished to take his membership to the next stage, and he gained that chance in 1917 when he challenged the Minneapolis Marines, the self-proclaimed “North West Professional Champs”, to a sport on Rock Island’s residence turf. A group document 6,425 followers turned out for the sport, although they might fall to the Marines 7–3 (a rematch resulted in a extra lopsided defeat of 33–14).[1]

After being shipped off to serve in World Conflict I, Flanigan returned to the soccer world by cobbling collectively a slate of native video games (all of which had been shutout wins for the Independents). In 1919, he set his eyes on the nationwide championship.[1]

As mentioned within the final submit, there was no “true” nationwide champion as there was no nationwide sanctioning physique on the time. A group may win each sport of their regional league and declare themselves the nationwide champs with out a lot objection, and that was what many groups did. For the reason that Independents had been, nicely, unbiased, Flanigan had one other concept to pursue the nationwide title: tackle league groups.

To do that, he recruited Minneapolis star quarterback Rube Ursella to his aspect, and a wide range of Marines together with native fullback Jerry Mansfield additionally joined the Independents. Nonetheless, Flanigan’s recruiting might have been too profitable as a laundry record of gamers confirmed up; to weed out the scrubs, he organized a collection of foot races and wrestling matches wherein the losers had been kicked off the group. As soon as he had an acceptable roster, he set to work.[1]

The 1919 Independents would face a difficult slate in opposition to the highest groups from Ohio and Indiana, together with future NFL franchises Columbus Panhandles and Akron Indians. Apart from a 12–7 defeat by the hands of the Hammond All-Stars, a group that featured an finish by the title of George Halas, and a scoreless tie in opposition to a adorned Pine Village group, Rock Island would shut out each opponent.[1]

The Bulldog “Beef”

At season’s finish, the Independents boasted a 9–1–1 document, however Flanigan had one final sport on his thoughts: a date with the undefeated Canton Bulldogs for the nationwide championship on December 7.[1]

Effectively, Canton star Jim Thorpe mentioned his group had different plans. Like, that was principally what his reply was.

On November 30, Ralph Hay, chief of the Bulldogs, despatched a telegram to Flanigan asking what the Independents would provide in trade for taking part in the sport. A Rock Island fan had attended Canton’s win over Hammond the earlier week and was promised by the Bulldogs supervisor that he would contemplate a sport in opposition to the Bulldogs so long as the Massillon Tigers beat the Cleveland Tigers (since Massillon had misplaced to Canton twice earlier within the season).[2]

Massillon received and Hay saved his promise by reaching out to Flanigan, who provided him $5,000 or 45% of the ticket gross sales. Each numbers had been demanded by Thorpe earlier within the yr.[2]

The next night, Hay known as Flanigan and requested for the rating of the Rock Island sport in opposition to Akron. He supplied the reply (a 17–Zero Independents win), however expressed confusion as to why that was so vital for Hay. Hay then informed Flanigan to speak to Thorpe earlier than he may agree whether or not or to not play the sport.[2]

An hour and 17 minutes later, Flanigan obtained a telegram from Thorpe: “Have disbanded group. Can’t meet Rock Island.”[2]

Form of a lame excuse, but it surely’s possible Thorpe additionally turned it down because the Rock Island/Akron sport had solely attracted 1,700 followers.[1] Flanigan tried to succeed in out to Canton as soon as once more with by bumping the provide to $7,000 assured or 50% of the gate.[3] Calls to Hay went unanswered, whereas one telegram to Thorpe learn:[2]

We’re providing your group the biggest assure that it has ever obtained earlier than, $5,000 or a privilege of 50 per cent for the gate. In case you do not settle for Rock Island followers will say you’re quitters. Wire me your reply.”

Thorpe’s reply? No. One ultimate name to Thorpe redirected Flanigan to an operator who informed him that the Bulldogs participant was sick and couldn’t reply.[2]

True to Flanigan’s risk, Independents followers and media had been fast to model the Bulldogs as cowards. The Rock Island Argus, a really [2]

Is Canton’s famed Bulldogs afraid to threat their title of world’s soccer champions by coming to Rock Island Sunday?

By arranging issues so as and arriving at a logical conclusion, there could be however one reply. And that’s “sure.”

A fan letter to the Argus sports activities editor:[4]

Expensive Sir: Being an actual soccer fan I’m like an incredible many extra, upset as a result of the Canton Bulldogs have a nasty case of yellow. Now I feel it could be a pleasant factor for everybody that has tickets to maintain them and provides the cash which has been paid for admissions to the sport, to the group for the sumptuous displaying which they’ve made.

If anybody doesn’t like the thought allow them to go and money up. It appears to me that there can be a only a few who would ask for his or her a refund. It might additionally encourage the boys to come back again subsequent fall.

From P. G. M.

A Actual Fan

Flanigan wrote to The Each day Instances in Davenport:[3]

The Canton sport is all off. I provided Hays $7,000 in an try to land the sport however failed. They didn’t consider that we defeated Akron till they confirmed, report from Indians direct. It’s merely a case of chilly, chilly ft and a streak of yellow.

For the reason that Bulldogs weren’t going to play the Independents, they robotically declared themselves the nationwide champions.[1] Nonetheless, the Bulldogs additionally thought-about themselves the champs resulting from their undefeated document.[3]

Yeah, professional soccer goes to wish anyone to settle controversies like this. Perhaps a nationwide soccer league?

Becoming a member of the APFA

Though his opinion of the Canton Bulldogs might have soured after their failed championship sport, Flanigan was wanting to work with Thorpe once more.

On September 16, 1920, he boarded a prepare for Canton, Ohio to take part in a gathering of the highest professional soccer group managers and homeowners.

“Supervisor Walter Flanigan left final night time for Canton, Ohio, to attend the annual convention of main skilled soccer groups, whose representatives assemble yearly to plan the marketing campaign for the world’s championship,” wrote The Rock Island Argus.[5]

The assembly happened at Hay’s automobile dealership, however the particulars of that may be discovered within the final submit. Flanigan can be appointed to a three-man committee to jot down the brand new league’s structure, joined by Carl Storck of the Dayton Triangles and Stanley Cofall of the Cleveland Tigers.[6]

Upon adjournment, the American Skilled Soccer Affiliation was born. We now have a nationwide soccer league.

St. Paul Beliefs

Whereas the Marines dominated the Minnesota soccer scene, the St. Paul Preferrred Athletic Membership was not precisely a juggernaut by comparability, however they had been no slouch both. An novice group, the Beliefs entered the 1919 season with the declare that they’d misplaced solely thrice since 1914.

Within the novice soccer part of The Minneapolis Morning Tribune‘s September 11 challenge:[7]

A problem to Minneapolis fotoball groups has been issued by the Beliefs of St. Paul. The Beliefs are disirous of reserving video games with a variety of Minneapolis groups, particularly the Indians and the East Ends. The St. Paul aggregation claims a document of getting been defeated solely 3 times within the final 5 years. Video games have already got been organized with the Billows, Seatons, Hook ‘Em Cows and Nicolius. All communications ought to be addressed to C. R. Woesner, 325 Daly road, St. Paul.

The Marines took up the Beliefs’ problem. And promptly walloped them 36–0. Three weeks later, the Beliefs tied the Minneapolis Eagles in a scoreless sport.[8]

How did they do the remainder of the yr? I truthfully have no idea. Media protection of the Beliefs was just about nonexistent, or at the very least extremely tough to seek out on-line. The Professional Soccer Archives schedule solely lists these two video games plus two others with no scores, whereas searches on and different websites have been principally fruitless.

Eh, no matter.

Sport Day


Rock Island’s Douglas Park performed host to the Independents’ 1920 season opener in opposition to the Beliefs. Though Rock Island was thought-about the favourite and was returning its whole beginning lineup from the earlier yr, Flanigan and Ursella weren’t going to let their guard down.[9]

“A defeat at the moment would injure the field workplace to a giant extent in addition to placing an enormous crimp within the possibilities for a championship group,” wrote Frank Weir of The Each day Instances.[9]

Within the week main as much as kickoff, Ursella ran his group by way of three-hour practices that included putting in new offensive formations and audibles.[10]

The Davenport Democrat and Chief on September 24:[11]

Fearing over-confidence would possibly play a outstanding half in Sunday’s battle with the St. Paul’s Beliefs, Coach Ursella final night time wired for Rooster, star halfback, and Bob Marshall to report for work directly. Each males can be available for tonight’s drill at Douglas park. […]

From all indications Sunday’s argument goes to be a heated one. Flanigan at first figured that the St. Paul aggregation would provide solely sufficient resistance to afford his group a superb exercise however based on the dope which is coming from St. Paul the Beliefs are a stronger aggregation than early experiences indicated.

Fearing a shock, Flanigan notified Ursella to get Marshall and Rooster in harness directly.

The Davenport Democrat and Chief on the morning of the sport:[12]

Hardened by two weeks’ gruelling follow, Rock Island’s crack skilled soccer eleven is prepared as we speak to open what guarantees to be essentially the most profitable grid season within the historical past of the skilled sport within the Tri-Metropolis. The St. Paul Beliefs, a group of fame, will provide the opposition and despite the truth that this afternoon’s contest would be the preliminary efficiency for each elevens a bitter wrestle is regarded for. The sport can be performed at Douglas park and can be began promptly at Three o’clock.

The Islanders will enter the fray in he pink of situation, to make use of the previous ring adage. For 2 weeks Coach Ursella had drilled his group in alerts and formations, sprinkling in a number of spirited scrimmages between the regulars and second string males. The result’s that the Independents will begin the season in type that might turn into an eleven in mis-season situation.


Saturday the whole metropolis of Rock Island talked soccer and little doubt soccer can be talked by the natives of Rock Island for breakfast, dinner and supper as we speak. The town is soccer loopy.

Immediately’s crowd, little doubt, can be swelled by lots of of Davenporters whose curiosity within the Independents is simply as eager because the curiosity of the Rock Island followers. Moline additionally will undoubtedly ship an enormous delegation to the sport.

Concern Over Confidence

Whereas Coach Ursella is assured that his group is much superior to the St. Paul aggregation, he expressed worry of over-confidence in talking of the opening conflict Saturday.

“The Beliefs have performed good soccer for the previous three years” said Ursella, “and I do not consider a number of the males are taking the competition severely sufficient. I do not desire a shock sprung on this sport. I consider I could make the fellows understand they’re assembly a troublesome aggregation, nevertheless, earlier than they begin within the sport.”

Bruce Copeland of The Rock Island Argus:[13]

There, soccer followers, is the primary recipe of the season ready for the skilled delicacies of the Douglas park melting pot from which Rock Island hopes will trickle the championship brew on the shut of essentially the most eventful soccer marketing campaign in tri-city historical past.

Championship goals of months’ length will first be realized when lots of of pent-up soccer fanatics from miles round meet tomorrow afternoon at Douglas park and see the inexperienced and white jerseyed warriors jog on the sector for the primary sport of the season in opposition to the doughty Preferrred A. C. of St. Paul.

The sport will open a door to a brand new epoch in tri-city athletics after years of constant achievements and good sportsmanship. Past the portal can be discovered Championship Means, alongside which the Independents of 1920 will course; and there is not a fan in Rock Island who has the slightest doubt that their advance will lead proper as much as the shrine on the finish wherein the titular fires are burning.

Tickets had been $1.65 plus tax, although attendance was hampered by the climate. After 7,000 followers had been anticipated, solely 800 confirmed up.[13][14]

“As Rube Ursella says, ‘Let’s go!'”[13]

First Half

As rain fell on Douglas Park, the sport started with the Independents profitable the coin toss and electing to obtain. Left finish “Oke” Smith returned the opening kickoff ten yards to his group’s 25.[14]

The primary offensive play from scrimmage was a nine-yard achieve by Mansfield, adopted by a 20-yard run by Ursella. Just a few runs later, halfback Eddie Novak discovered a gap arrange by left deal with Dewey Lyle and scored on a ten-yard run for the primary factors of the day, capping off a four-minute, 11-play drive.[14]

Though St. Paul’s left finish Maidl Pavleck returned the following kickoff 20 yards to midfield, his group’s opening possession ended after only one play when halfback Cunningham Mikesh misplaced a fumble that Freeman Fitzgerald recovered. Mansfield broke free and reached the Beliefs’ 15, and a 12-yard run by Novak set the Independents up on the three. Two performs later, halfback Fred Rooster scored.[14]

The Beliefs’ subsequent collection ended with a three-and-out. After a five-yard run by Mansfield, Ursella accomplished the primary ahead cross of the season with a 22-yard throw to Smith to succeed in St. Paul’s 18. By the top of the primary quarter, Rock Island was in scoring vary on the two-yard line. A play later, Novak punched it in for six.[14]

Down by three scores, St. Paul started to see life when quarterback Parr A. Pahl discovered E. Dixon O’Brien for a “sensible ahead cross” that went 40 yards. That was in the end the one good play of the drive as Pahl tried an onside kick (earlier than 1923, the onside kick was authorized on scrimmage performs) that Rooster recovered. Each groups exchanged punts shortly after.[14]

Following St. Paul’s punt, Rooster’s grip on the moist ball slipped, however Mansfield recovered and gained 15 yards earlier than being taken down. A 28-yard run by Rooster positioned Rock Island at St. Paul’s 38, adopted by a 12-yard achieve by Paddy Quinn. Three performs later, Mansfield scored once more on an 18-yard run.[14]

A 52-yard run by Mikesh put the Beliefs in Independents territory, however they may not capitalize as time ran out.[14]

Second Half

After some substitutions, the sport resumed with Rock Island kicking off.[14]

A faux punt by Pahl right into a lateral to Mikesh on the primary play gained three yards. The 2 tried a double cross a number of performs later, although Mikesh slipped on the mud and fell. Because the offense grinded its approach into Rock Island’s aspect of the sector, yet one more double cross positioned Mikesh with a number of open discipline… till he slipped once more.[14]

All offensive progress was in the end stopped when Pahl was intercepted by Waddy Kuehl, who returned it 82 yards for a choose six.[14]

Mikesh was downed for a 12-yard loss to start the Beliefs’ subsequent play from scrimmage, pinning his group at their very own eight. Going through immense stress on the following punt, Pahl dodged the blitz earlier than delivering a fast kick to the St. Paul 32. A 12-yard run by Sid Nichols allowed Rock Island to enter the purple zone, the place they pounded their solution to the top zone but once more on a five-yard run by Mansfield.[14]

The offensive woes continued for the Beliefs when Pavleck’s cross on a faux punt led to him getting sacked (which was not a time period on the time) for 13 yards. Pahl was the following to attempt a throw, this time succeeding on a 21-yard completion to Pavleck. Mikesh was tackled for an eight-yard loss to finish the third quarter.[14]

Down by 42, the Beliefs started putting heavy emphasis on feeding Mikesh the ball. St. Paul discovered themselves in place to attain their first factors of the sport on a drop kick by Pahl from the Rock Island 45, but it surely was nicely quick and sailed extensive left, being caught by Kuehl at his 13.[14]

Nichols let the ball slip by way of his fingers on the following play earlier than Fitzgerald recovered. The Independents’ march would see two 22-yard runs, one other fumble recuperate, and a clumsy TD rating as Kuehl slipped as he crossed the aim line. Nichols missed the additional level.[14]

The ultimate drive of the sport noticed the Beliefs lose a mixed 15 yards. Remaining rating: Rock Island 48, St. Paul 0.[14]

The Independents recorded 427 yards on 45 whole performs, whereas the Beliefs had simply 85 on 52. Rock Island additionally outgained St. Paul in first downs (17 to 5).[14]


Regardless of the shutout, Weir praised the Beliefs, writing in his post-game report that they “displayed much more class than this rating signifies. The visiting group fought doggedly by way of the whole 4 quarters and pulled performs at a shock nature at intervals that netted lengthy beneficial properties. […]

“The Beliefs have a easy working soccer group and one which in opposition to a much less formidable opponent would present some wonderful outcomes.”[15]

The Davenport Democrat and Chief:[16]

The Independents confirmed a world of energy and plenty of spots the place sandpaper could be utilized profitably. Their offensive was all that could possibly be desired, however the protection was removed from excellent. Repeatedly the guests would carry the ball to the Rock Island 40-yard line with finish runs and line plunges, however that was their excessive water mark.

Not one of the Islanders deserve especial quotation, all performed their half nicely. Keuhl, Novak and Ursella had been extraordinarily intelligent at eluding the ends, whereas Novak was all the time good for 4 yards via the road.

Mikesch, St. Paul left halfback, confirmed a world of velocity and pulled off a number of dazzling finish runs via the whole Islander group. Twice he was stopped on the uncomfortable aspect of mid-field with solely Ursella between him and the 2 little uprights. Pahl and Pavlick additionally confirmed class. Les than 2000 bugs had been in attendance.


The rating doesn’t point out the category of the sport from the standpoint of curiosity, for though the Beliefs had been vastly outplayed in nearly each division of the sport, they remained a harmful vector all through the sport that threatened to flaunt the surprising and thereby cross the Rock Island aim line.

There have been a number of moments in the course of the one-sided contest when breaths had been baited from suspense when the Beliefs rallied sporadically and lower free with scoring stuff that was checked solely by essentially the most concentrated protection. The Beliefs fought gamely to the top by way of the falling rain that might deter nearly any group of such a light-weight weight because the season’s preliminary victims. Outweighed totally 10 kilos to the person, the Beliefs made the Independents exert their finest, hereby making it the most effective video games to witness.

Just a few days after the sport, Flanigan lastly obtained what he wished the earlier yr: a sport in opposition to Jim Thorpe and the Canton Bulldogs, scheduled for November 21.[17]

Effectively, till everybody on the Independents began getting harm in the course of the season (together with a very ugly sport in early November in opposition to George Halas’ Decatur Staleys), resulting in its postponement to November 28.[18] The sport was in the end known as off as Thorpe felt it was not financially sensible, regardless of Flanigan nonetheless having the ability to present the $5,000 assure.[19]

Flanigan and Rock Island would by no means play in opposition to Thorpe throughout their time within the NFL. Nonetheless, in an ironic twist, Thorpe would be part of the Independents for the 1924 season. The group folded after 1927.[1]


[1] THE ROCK ISLAND INDEPENDENTS by Bob Braunwart and Bob Carroll, The Coffin Nook: Vol. 5, No. 3 (1983), Skilled Soccer Researchers Affiliation


[3] Sunday’s Sport Joins Candy Desires As $7,000 Is Refused by Bulldogs from The Each day Instances, December 5, 1919

[4] “GIVE BOYS JACK INSTEAD REFUND” SAYS LOYAL FAN from The Rock Island Argus, December 6, 1919

[5] ARGUS TO GIVE BOOSTER SHEET TO HELP CAUSE from The Rock Island Argus, September 16, 1920

[6] Associating in Obscurity from the Skilled Soccer Researchers Affiliation

[7] AMATEUR FOOTBALL from The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, September 11, 1919

[8] Parks Finish Season Sunday Assembly St. Paul Beliefs from The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 19, 1919

[9] INDEPENDENTS OPEN SEASON WITH IDEAL A. C. TOMORROW: 1919 TEAM NOW GATHERED by Frank Weir, The Each day Instances, September 25, 1920

[10] Islander Group Drilling Arduous for First Tilt from The Davenport Democrat and Chief, September 22, 1920

[11] IDEALS NO EASY MARKS ON FIELD, R. I. BOSS LEARNS from The Davenport Democrat and Chief, September 24, 1920

[12] TIPPING OF GRID LID TO DRAW RECORD CROWD from The Davenport Democrat and Chief, September 26, 1920

[13] ST. PAUL TEAM NO SETUP FOR OPENING GAME by Bruce Copeland, The Rock Island Argus, September 25, 1920

[14] Pace and Brawn Win for Islanders; Rating, 48-0 by Bruce Copeland, The Rock Island Argus, September 26, 1920

[15] INDEPENDENTS, WITH FULL STRENGTH, WIN OVER IDEAL A. C. ON MUDDY FIELD, 48-0 by Frank Weir, The Each day Instances, September 27, 1920

[16] Independents Swamp Preferrred A.C. 48-Zero in First Tilt of the Season from The Davenport Democrat and Chief, September 27, 1920

[17] Rock Island Performs Thorpe’s Indians from The Des Moines Night Tribune, September 29, 1920

[18] Rock Island and Canton to Meet at Douglas Park on Sunday, Nov. 28 from The Davenport Democrat and Chief, November 16, 1920

[19] COLLEGIANS TO MAKE ISLANDERS STEP by Bruce Copeland, The Rock Island Argus, November 22, 1920

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