November 27, 2011

1926: Quakers Defeat Yankees to Win First AFL’s Title

There were some 15,000 fans present at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park on November 27, 1926 to witness the climactic showdown for the championship of the first entity to be called the American Football League in its first (and only) season.

The Philadelphia Quakers came into the contest at 6-2 and were ahead of the New York Yankees, who were 8-3. It was the third meeting of the two clubs, with the Yankees having whitewashed Philadelphia by a score of 23-0 in the first contest and the Quakers coming out on top by 13-10 in the second matchup just two days before on Thanksgiving at Yankee Stadium.

Philadelphia, coached by Bob Folwell (who had been the original head coach of the NFL New York Giants the previous year), had built a strong club around FB Al Kreuz, who was a star at Penn, and players lured away from the NFL such as tackles Century Milstead, previously of the Giants, and Bull Behman, who had played locally with the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Signed for the showdown with the Yankees was HB Doc Elliott, previously of Lafayette College and the Cleveland Panthers.

The Yankees were the centerpiece of the league, having been created (along with the AFL) by C.C. Pyle as a showcase for his client, the much-celebrated halfback Red Grange. The player known as “The Galloping Ghost” delivered, as did wingback Eddie Tryon, the league’s leading scorer. The team was coached by Ralph Scott.

Like the NFL at the time, the AFL did not have divisions and there was no postseason, so whichever team topped the regular season standings of the nine-club circuit would be the champion. The Quakers, who usually played their home games at Sesquicentennial Stadium (later Municipal Stadium and, still later, JFK Stadium), were one of the new league’s few good draws, as were the Yankees, who had use of Yankee Stadium as home venue. By contrast, several of the other clubs failed to last the season.

Both teams faced injury problems – New York was without its marquee player, Grange, for the entire contest due to a hip injury suffered in the previous encounter. Philadelphia lost Kreuz early in the game.

Five minutes into the first quarter, the Quakers took over at their 20 yard line following a punt into the end zone by New York’s Tryon. QB Johnny Scott ran for five yards and then Doc Elliott gained five more and a first down. Kreuz and Elliott had short carries that gained another five yards. Scott completed a pass and Philadelphia got a 25-yard boost thanks to a clipping penalty that put the ball on the New York 30. The Yankees stiffened, but the Quakers converted another third down thanks to some razzle-dazzle as wingback Adrian Ford lateraled to Scott who tossed the ball back and a forward pass to end George Tully gained 17 yards. Three plays later, Scott passed to Ford (pictured at top), who ran for a touchdown, knocking over Tryon along the way. Bob Dinsmore drop-kicked the extra point that put the Quakers ahead by 7-0.

Philadelphia was able to consistently stop the Yankees’ attack during the first three quarters and added to the lead when Dinsmore (pictured at left), filling in for Kreuz, booted a 15-yard field goal. Midway through the fourth quarter, however, New York began to throw the ball to good effect. The Yankees went 54 yards in just three plays, all passes, climaxed by blocking back George Pease scoring on a pass that he caught at the ten yard line. However, Art Coglizer missed the extra point attempt, leaving the score at 10-6.

With the late afternoon darkness settling in as the final period progressed, Dinsmore put the game away for the Quakers with another field goal, this time from 25 yards, that was set up by his own interception of a New York pass. The final score was 13-6 and Philadelphia clinched the league title.

The Quakers challenged their local NFL rivals, the Yellow Jackets, to a game that, when Frankford won that league’s championship, would have been an early version of the Super Bowl. While Philadelphia did get to play a NFL team, it wasn’t Frankford. Instead, they took on the New York Giants, who had finished seventh with an 8-4-1 record. In bad weather at New York’s Polo Grounds, the Giants soundly thrashed the Quakers by a score of 31-0.

It was the end for the Quakers. With most of the teams in bad financial condition (if they hadn’t thrown in the towel already), the league folded. However, the Yankees were taken into the NFL and lasted for another two years before going under.

Several of the players for Philadelphia and New York were recognized by All-Pro teams that were selected from both the NFL and AFL. Al Kreuz, George Tully, and Bull Behman were second-team choices by the Chicago Tribune. Red Grange was also a second-team selection, and Century Milstead a third-team honoree, by Collyer’s Eye magazine. Eddie Tryon was a first-team choice of both of those publications.