October 17, 2012

1926: Driscoll Dominates as Bears Shut Out Cards

In the early days of the NFL, one of the league’s biggest stars was John “Paddy” Driscoll. At a time when versatility was highly valued, the 5’11”, 160-pound Driscoll could run and pass effectively out of the quarterback, halfback, or tailback positions, was a good defensive player, and an excellent punter and drop-kicker. After playing collegiately at Northwestern and having a brief major league baseball career, Driscoll was with the Great Lakes Naval Training Station football team that won the 1919 Rose Bowl (and included George Halas, later the long-time head coach and owner of the Bears). After playing professionally in the pre-NFL year of 1919 with Hammond, he joined the Chicago Cardinals of the new league (then called the American Professional Football Association) for 1920.

From then through 1925, Driscoll scored 17 touchdowns, kicked 37 field goals and 31 extra points, and scored 244 points while receiving All-Pro recognition in five of the six years. He led the league in scoring in 1923 and in field goals on three occasions, including 1925 as the Cardinals won the NFL Championship. Driscoll also tended to be particularly effective against the cross-town rivals of the Cards, the Chicago Bears.

In 1926, a rival league, the first to be called the American Football League, was formed and Driscoll received a salary offer from that circuit’s Chicago franchise that the Cardinals could not match. Not wanting to see Driscoll go to the other circuit, the Cards sold him to Halas and the Bears for $3500.

Driscoll proved to be a good pickup for the Bears, and on October 17, 1926 they faced the Cardinals. It was a big game – both teams had yet to lose (the Cards were 4-0 and the Bears 3-0-1). There were 12,000 fans in attendance at Normal Park, home of the Cards.

Three minutes into the first quarter, Driscoll dropkicked a 38-yard field goal following his fair catch of a punt. Early in the second quarter, Driscoll passed to Halas, an end as well as the owner and coach, for a 40-yard gain to the Cardinals’ 20. He followed up with a run around end for 11 yards and shortly thereafter went off tackle for a five-yard touchdown. The multitalented back added the extra point to make it 10-0.

Later in the same period, center George Trafton of the Bears intercepted a pass in Cardinals territory, and while they weren’t able to move the ball on offense, Driscoll booted a 25-yard field goal. Before the end of the half, Driscoll completed the scoring with a 50-yard field goal and that was it. While the Cardinals drove into Bears territory on several occasions during the second half, fumbles kept them from scoring and the halftime score of 16-0 ended up being the final tally.

The Bears accumulated 10 first downs to 8 for the Cards. Paddy Driscoll accounted for all of the points against his former team as he kicked three field goals, scored a touchdown, and added the extra point. Backs Roy Lamb and Red Dunn were the top ground gainers for the Cardinals.

The first defeat of the season for the Cardinals moved the Bears into undisputed possession of first place. They didn’t hold onto it in the end, however, finishing second in the division-less, 22-club NFL with a 12-1-3 record. The only team to defeat them, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, claimed the league title at 14-1-2. The Cardinals slumped to 5-6-1, winning just one more game after the initial loss to the Bears (they played them twice more and suffered another defeat along with a tie). They placed tenth in the final standings.

Paddy Driscoll led the NFL in scoring for the second time with 86 points and also was the leader in touchdown passes (6, tied with Eddie Scharer of the Detroit Panthers) and field goals (12) – both were league records, the scoring mark lasting until 1941 and the field goal total remaining the standard until 1950. He also scored a total of six touchdowns and kicked 14 extra points and was named first-team All-NFL by Collyers Eye Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Driscoll stayed with the Bears until 1929, when his playing career ended. At the time, he was the NFL’s career scoring leader with 402 points and, not surprisingly, the career leader in field goals with 51. His 63 extra points were also a record and he was named to at least one all-league team in eight of his nine years in the NFL. Driscoll went on to become a long-time assistant coach for the Bears and was head coach in 1956 and ’57, when Halas took a hiatus. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.