Friday, February 13, 2015

Staleys in the Beginning of the NFL

Halas had recruited some of the top players in the country for the 1920 Staleys.  In addition to Halas himself, the Staleys featured Hall of Famers George Trafton, Jimmy Conzelman, and Guy Chamberlin for starters.  Trafton was a 6-foot-2, 230 pound bull who loved to mix it up.  He was a tough player who was known around the league for his aggressive style of play.  Conzelman was highly intelligent and played quarterback in 1920.  Chamberlin was a game changer—a peerless defensive end, and on offense an excellent rusher and receiver.   

Halas’s future Bears’ partner Dutch Sternaman, could play any position in the backfield.  Among others who joined the team were tackle Hugh Blacklock, back Jake Lanum, center John Mintun, and quarterback Pard Pearce.  Several of Halas’s recruits were players he knew from his time at Great Lakes and the University of Illinois. Playing for the Staleys gave the players a full time job in the Staley plant and paid them for their practice time. 

It was no easy feat to schedule a season of game each year in the early days when there was an absence of rules.  After easily beating two semipro industrial teams, the Staleys traveled to Rock Island to defeat the tough Independents, 7–0, in their first league match.  The Staleys shut out the Chicago Tigers, 10–0, beat Rockford, 29–0, and then had a rematch with the Rock Island Independents that ended in a 0–0 tie.  Halas’s men were too much for the Minneapolis Marines, 3–0, and the Hammond Pros, 28–7.  Once again they shut out the Chicago Tigers, this time 6–0.  

Halas had back-to-back games against another Great Lakes pal, Paddy Driscoll, who was a player-coach with the Chicago Cardinals from the south side of the city.  In the first game, the Staleys kicked off to the Cardinals and when the ball touched a Cardinal player, fullback Bob Koehler picked it up and ran it in for the Staleys’ score.  The extra point was missed.  Behind 6–0, Leonard Sachs picked up a Staleys’ fumble on the 20-yard line and ran it in for the score.  The Cardinals’ successful extra point gave them a 7–6 win.   

When the Staleys played the Cardinals the following week, the Staleys won, 10–0. 
The final game of the season matched the Decatur Staleys with the Akron Pros.  Akron’s 7–0–3 record was slightly better than Decatur’s 10–1–1 record.  It would take a win for the Staleys to become champions.  Halas’s friend and football adversary from the Cardinals, quarterback Paddy Driscoll, joined the Staleys for this one game in what was billed the league championship. The Pros had a huge star of their own—Hall of Fame running back, Fritz Pollard.  African American Pollard was an excellent runner and dangerous punt and kick returner.  When Pollard ran around end, Chamberlin, Halas, and others had their hands full trying to contain him.  

Regardless of the offensive talent in the game, defense ruled the day.  Two penalties ruined promising Akron drives in the first half.  One opportunity for the Staleys came in the third quarter.  The Staleys drove down to the 18-yard line and moved a few yards toward center on two more plays for a field goal attempt.  Dutch Sternaman’s kick was wide and the teams fought the rest of the way to a 0–0 tie.  When the team managers got together long after the season had ended, they voted Akron the league champion.

In 1921, the economy hit a downturn.  The Staley Starch Company determined that it could no longer afford the juggernaut that Halas had assembled.  One problem the Staley team had was a small playing field that could not bring enough fans in to support the payroll and expenses.  Owner A. E. Staley seeded funds to Halas that allowed the young coach to start up his own team in Chicago.  Halas made fellow University of Illinois alum, Edward “Dutch” Sternaman, whom he had recruited in 1920, co-owner.  Of the original 11 professional football teams, only two would survive: The Staleys-Bears and the Cardinals.  In the 90+ years since the league’s founding, the Bears moved from Decatur to Chicago; the Cardinals moved from Chicago to Saint Louis to Arizona.  

As for A. E. Staley, he and his son would lead his Staley Starch Company well into the 20th Century. In addition to his corn processing, he began the introduction of soybean processing and expansion of the company's research and development facilities.  
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