Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Guy Champ Chamberlin is a Pillar of the NFL

One of the greatest coaches in NFL history is Guy :"Champ" Chamberlin who coached from 1922-1927.  He won four championships, but he is rarely recognized as one of the greats by modern sports reporters, analysts, and writers.  The fact that Chamberlin played and coached in the first decade of professional football is likely the cause of the consistent lack of attention.  In Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey, Chamberlin  in one of 10 coaches featured.

Prior to his coaching career, Chamberlin played college ball at Nebraska Wesleyan and the University of Nebraska.  Chamberlin teams did so well with him on the field that people called him "Champ." He played for his childhood idle Jim Thorpe as a member of the Canton Bulldogs before the professional football league we know of now as the NFL existed.  George Halas signed Chamberlin to play for the Decatur-Chicago Staleys in 1920-1921.  The Staleys won the Championship in 1921.  

Chamberlin moved on to become player/coach of his old team, the Canton Bulldogs. Chamberlin scored seven touchdowns and 42 points to make him the leading scorer on Canton’s 1922 championship team.  In 1923, Chamberlin’s Bulldogs wrapped up a second NFL Championship with an 11–0–1 record.

In 1924, Chamberlin became player-coach of the Cleveland Bulldogs.  This team was born out of an amalgamation of teams from Canton and Cleveland that were owned by the same man.  Chamberlin’s Cleveland Bulldogs notched a 7–1–1 season, which earned them the NFL Championship—Chamberlin’s third in a row.  Chamberlin’s three-year championship streak would go unnoticed years later when Curly Lambeau accomplished the same record in Green Bay—and once again decades later when Lombardi repeated the three-season feat.  

In 1925, Guy Chamberlin became player-coach of the Frankford Yellow Jackets.  Frankford is a neighborhood in Philadelphia.  The following season in 1926, Chamberlin’s Yellow Jackets won the NFL Championship with a 14–1–2 record.  It was Chamberlin’s fourth championship in 5 years on three different teams.  Going back to Chamberlin’s seasons with the Staleys as a player, in an eight year period, he was a part of five championship teams.  

Chamberlin finished out his career with the Chicago Cardinals in 1927, a team that was struggling financially.  He was released by the team before the 1927 season finished.  Chamberlin would later say that he loved football more than anyone else.  He left it when he could no longer play thinking there was no long term future in the game.  He did not see the league continuing to exist as Lambeau and Halas had. 
Chamberlin holds an overall NFL head coaching record of 58-16-7, which likely includes a few losses that occurred after he left his last team.  

Guy Chamberlin’s play was inextricably woven into his total contribution to the game over his career.  Player-coaches George Halas and Curly Lambeau would continue their long coaching careers after their playing careers ended, but Chamberlin continued just one season after his playing career was essentially over.  When he was winning championships, he was winning them on the field as a hands-on coach.  

Chamberlin returned to his family farm outside Blue Springs, Nebraska, in Gage County a few years after his football career ended. He would live most of the remainder of his life in the area and in Lincoln about 50 miles away .  He farmed and then took on a number of jobs, his favorite was working with young men at a state prison reformatory.  Chamberlin displayed a good sense of humor and humility that won the young men over and they honored him by naming a baseball field they built in his honor.  It was certainly one of Chamberlin's most appreciated honors. 

In 1962, Guy Chamberlin was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame.  In 1965, Chamberlin was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 1967, the University of Nebraska created the Guy Chamberlin Trophy to honor his memory. 

April 4, 1967, Guy Chamberlin died in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the age of 73.  Many have forgotten Chamberlin, but the record books don’t lie.  He was one of the best.  He is one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey. Order your copies here  for immediate shipment.