National Football League (1902)

The first National Football League (NFL) was the first attempt at forming a national professional American football league in 1902. This league has no ties with the modern National Football League. In fact the league was only composed of teams from Pennsylvania, which meant it was actually regional, despite having locations in the two largest cities in Pennsylvania. Two of the teams were based in Philadelphia, while the third was based in Pittsburgh. This NFL was a curious mixture of football players and baseball players who adapted to playing football. Future Baseball Hall of Famer Rube Waddell was with the Philadelphia Athletics, and pitcher Christy Mathewson a fullback for Pittsburgh. Two of the three teams were owned by the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Athletics, with the third team suspected of being owned by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The league folded after the 1902 season.[1]

National Football League (1902)
National Football League (1902) (Pennsylvania)
SportAmerican Football
FounderJohn Rogers, Ben Shibe, Dave Berry
PresidentDave Berry
No. of teams3
CountryUnited States
1902-Pittsburgh Stars



Dave Berry Latrobe
League President, David J. Berry, who also managed the Pittsburgh Stars

Ironically the roots of the league lie with baseball, not football. It began as a part of the baseball wars between the National League and the new American League that began in 1901. In Philadelphia the AL's Athletics lured several of the NL's Phillies from their contracts, only to lose them through court action. When Phillies owner John Rogers decided to start a football team, the Athletics followed suit. A's owner Ben Shibe fielded a team made-up of several baseball players as well as some local football talent. He appointed his baseball manager Connie Mack as the team's general manager and named former University of Pennsylvania football player Charles "Blondy" Wallace as the team's coach. Each Philadelphia team was named after their respective baseball clubs and became the Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies.

However, both Rogers and Shibe knew that to lay claim (to what they hoped would be) the "World Championship"; they had to play a team from Pittsburgh, which was the focal point of football at the time. They called on pro football promoter Dave Berry, and a Pittsburgh team was soon formed around a championship team from Homestead.[2] This team was named the Stars, after the number of football players on the team who were considered football stars during the era. The team was owned and operated by Berry, the former manager of the Latrobe Athletic Association. However many historians believe that due to Berry's limited wealth and the amount of talent on team, that Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss and/or Pirates president William Chase Temple (who briefly owned other pro football teams in Pittsburgh only to see them fail in short fashion) may have secretly owned the team, a statement both vehemently denied.[3] The first league had no bylaws, no offices and no schedule-making powers. Having three of the top professional football teams in country helped make up for those shortfalls.[4]

These three teams are all that made up the 1902 NFL. Due to the animosity that existed between Philadelphia's Shibe and Rogers, Dave Berry was picked to the league's president. Attempts were initially made to expand the league outside of Pennsylvania into other major cities like Chicago and New York City. Investors in neither city were interested in joining the league at the time.[3]

1902 season

With all the baseball involvement, training did not get underway for the football teams until September 29, 1902, with the season was scheduled to open a week later on October 4. However, most of the players were already in shape. Besides the baseball players, many of the others had jobs that kept them in good condition. For example, Pittsburgh halfback, Artie Miller, came in after a summer's lumberjacking in the Wisconsin woods. To make the preseason even less stressful, the average football team in 1902 only used about a half-dozen plays and they were all standard.

1902 Philadelphia Athletics football team
The Philadelphia Athletics of the 1902 National Football League

The league played all of its games on Saturdays, since there were no Sunday sports events according to Pennsylvania blue laws in 1902. The Pittsburgh team played all of its home games at the North Shore Coliseum, while the two Philadelphia teams used their own respective baseball stadiums, Columbia Park and the Baker Bowl, for home games. Each team played two games against each of other two teams. When they were not playing each other, the teams played various teams from colleges and athletic clubs from Pennsylvania and southern New York state.

On Thanksgiving Day 1902, Berry billed a game between the Stars and the Athletics as being for the championship of the National Football League. The Athletics had split on the season with the Phillies, as had Pittsburgh. Although a Philadelphia victory on Thanksgiving would give the A's the championship hands down, a win by the Stars could tie the league race tighter. Mack readied his A's for the big game by playing an exhibition tour through northern Pennsylvania and southern New York. In Elmira, New York the Athletics joined in the first night game in pro football history.[1] Lights were set up along the sidelines and giant searchlights glared from behind the goal posts. The A's won the game 39–0 over the Kanaweola Athletic Club.

1902 championship first attempt

When Mack agreed to Berry's championship game, he was promised $2,000 for his team's participation. However, when he arrived in Pittsburgh, he saw that the stands were pretty much empty and since his $2,000 came from the ticket sales at the gate, it looked as if he wouldn't be getting his $2,000 and his team would be stranded, with no money, in Pittsburgh. Therefore, seeing no reason to take the field, Mack refused to play until his team was paid their promised share of the gate, $2,000. It looked as if the game would not be played. However Mack received a check for $2,000 from William Corey, the head of Carnegie Steel, who impatiently wanted to see the game, and the game soon began. Corey got his money's worth, if he liked evenly matched games. Both teams played at their best to a scoreless tie. It was a fair verdict, but Berry's "championship game" hadn't decided anything.

1902 championship

Another championship game was soon planned between Berry and Mack. Because of a lack of funds Berry almost ended up cancelling the game. However, he later promised to his players they would all share equally in Saturday's game, which was sure to be a sell-out. After some complaints were addressed, everything was set. The crowd was a little better on Saturday, but not much. About 2,000 fans showed up, and the players knew before the game began that they were going to come up short at pay time. The game looked like it might once again end in a tie. However a late touchdown by Ellis and another by Artie Miller led Pittsburgh to an 11–0 win over the Athletics.


Not many fans noticed the championship win. The Pittsburgh players were too busy suing Temple for their Thanksgiving Day money to do much gloating over their victory, and the story disappeared from the newspapers before the suit was settled. Most of the players tried it again with Franklin or Canton or Massillon in the next few years. The Philadelphia Athletics went home and beat the Phillies to wrap up second place. It was a nice win and gave them the city championship, but that was all that it was; the season was won by Pittsburgh the week before.[3]

Meanwhile, several members of the Athletics and the Phillies went on to play in the first World Series of Pro football on a team erroneously named "New York" at Madison Square Garden (the "error" was deliberate as the tournament's founder felt that the combined team was the best in the event, and bestowed upon them home field advantage for the tournament). New York and Syracuse AC played in the first indoor football game in front of 3,000 spectators, on December 28, 1902. Syracuse, with Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner at offensive guard, won the game 6–0 and went on to win the tournament.[1][5]

The league quietly folded, and the war between the baseball leagues was resolved the next spring. While the NFL thrived in Philadelphia, it never took hold in Pittsburgh, where professional football had already had its moment in the spotlight come and go over the previous decade. Public relations errors by Berry resulted in a lukewarm reaction to the franchise. Many Pittsburghers followed their local athletic clubs and colleges more than the Stars. In fact the Washington and Jefferson Presidents football team had a much greater following than the Stars. Professional ice hockey would become the sport of the moment in the early to mid-1900s (decade) as the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League began hiring professional players.

The league had been slightly ahead of its time; it would not be until 1920 that the idea for a true "National Football League" would come to be accepted.


With the win, A's players decided to call the Stars game an exhibition, and declared themselves the champs. However, the team had agreed to that season-ending championship game against Pittsburgh the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and they had lost it. This was recognized by all parties at the time as the championship game. Each team carried a record of 2–2 for league play. Pittsburgh had by far the better point ratio, scoring 39 points to their opponents' 22. Both the Athletics and the Phillies gave up more points than they scored in their league games. Finally Dave Berry used his power as league president and named his Stars the 1902 champions.[5]

Final standings

Team Games Wins Losses Ties Pts For Pts Against %
Pittsburgh Stars 6 3 2 1 39 22 .600
Philadelphia Athletics 6 3 2 1 34 44 .600
Philadelphia Phillies 6 3 3 0 41 34 .500

1917 restart attempt

In 1917, an unnamed representative from a professional football club in Detroit attempted to start a professional football league, based on the model of the 1902 NFL. The plan called for the league to be backed by Major League Baseball, with the teams to be based in Chicago, New York City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Several of these metropolitan areas and cities had existing professional clubs in the Ohio League and various other "major regional" leagues of the era, such as the Detroit Heralds, Columbus Panhandles, and the McKeesport Olympics (in the Pittsburgh metro area). Cleveland, though it did not have an Ohio League team at the time, was not very far away from the Northeast Ohio trifecta of dominant pro football teams: the Canton Bulldogs, Akron Pros and Massillon Tigers. Philadelphia also had a strong semi-pro football circuit, which included (among other teams) the Union Club of Phoenixville, 30 miles northeast of Philadelphia.

Under the proposal, teams would then begin play immediately after baseball season concluded and continue as long "as the weather is favorable." To build name recognition, it was determined that those baseball players with sufficient football skill would be featured on league rosters with the remaining slots filled by ex-college football players. The games would be played in the baseball parks such as Forbes Field, Comiskey Park, the Polo Grounds and Navin Field.

The unnamed agent pitched the idea to Frank Navin, the owner of Detroit Tigers, and Charles Comiskey, the owner of the Chicago White Sox. Comiskey told reporters, "If pro football can be made to pay it will be an answer to a problem that has confronted baseball owners since the game started. For years we have been going along using our ballparks three months in a year, only to see the property lie idle the other nine months." He then stated that he would take the upcoming week to think over the proposal.

The story was only closely examined by only two national newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Los Angeles Times. On January 4, 1917, an editorial in the Inquirer declared the idea "no good in Philadelphia" and supported their conclusion by citing a similar idea of fifteen years earlier, which was "long remembered as a failure". The commentary ended with a statement that college football was too big and would always draw a bigger crowd than the pro game. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times featured two articles on the pros and cons of a professional football league. Times columnist Harry A. Williams supported the idea of a league. However, he felt that the league would have a better chance by teaming up with teams associated with the Pacific Coast League instead of major league baseball, due to the warmer weather. The opposing opinion was given by Warren Bovard, the manager of the University of Southern California football team, who stated that football was tailored for colleges and not professional play. He then stated that pro football would have to rely on all-star games, which draw well at first, but fail to hold any long-term interest.

However, after Bovard's article, all mention of the new league disappeared from the papers. Comiskey's decision to take part in organizing a new professional football league based on the 1902 NFL was never made public. All interest in the story died by April 1917, when the country entered into World War I. At war's end, a flu pandemic swept the world, and virtually all of the professional football teams in the country shut down or drastically scaled back operations.[6] The modern National Football League, formed as a confederation of the existing professional football clubs and with no baseball backing, was established three years later in 1920.


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ Peterson, Robert W (1997-01-01). "Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football". ISBN 978-0-19-511913-8.
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^


1902 Philadelphia Phillies (NFL) season

The 1902 Philadelphia Phillies football season was their second season in existence. This season the team, was sponsored by the Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Club and played in the first National Football League. The team finished with an overall record of 8-3, including a 2-3 record in league play to finish third in the standings.

1902 in sports

1902 in sports describes the year's events in world sport.

Alliance of American Football

The Alliance of American Football (AAF) is a minor professional American football league, founded by Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian. It began play on February 9, 2019, six days after the National Football League's (NFL) Super Bowl LIII championship game. The AAF consists of eight centrally owned and operated teams. All teams except Salt Lake are located in cities on or south of the 35th parallel and all teams except Birmingham are located in metropolitan areas that have at least one major professional sports franchise. Of the eight teams in the league, all but Arizona and Atlanta are located in markets lacking an NFL team.

Baker Bowl

Baker Bowl is the best-known popular name of a baseball park that formerly stood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Its formal name, painted on its outer wall, was National League Park. It was also initially known as Philadelphia Park or Philadelphia Base Ball Grounds / Park.

Baker Bowl was located on a small city block bounded by N. Broad St., W. Huntingdon St., N. 15th St. and W. Lehigh Avenue.

The ballpark was initially built in 1887. It was constructed by Phillies owners AJ Reach and John Rogers. The ballpark cost $80,000 and had a capacity of 12,500. At that time the media praised it as state-of-the-art. In the dead-ball era, the outfield was enclosed by a relatively low wall all around. Center field was fairly close, with the railroad tracks running behind it. Later, the tracks were lowered and the field was extended over top of them. Bleachers were built in left field, and over time various extensions were added to the originally low right field wall, resulting in the famous 60-foot (18 m) fence.

The ballpark's second incarnation opened in 1895. It was notable for having the first cantilevered upper deck in a sports stadium, and was the first ballpark to use steel and brick for the majority of its construction. It also took the rule book literally, as the sweeping curve behind the plate was about 60 feet (18 m), and instead of angling back toward the foul lines, the 60-foot (18 m) wide foul ground extended all the way to the wall in right, and well down the left field line also. The spacious foul ground, while not fan-friendly, would have resulted in more foul-fly outs than in most parks, and thus was probably the park's one saving grace in the minds of otherwise-frustrated pitchers.

College Football Hall of Fame

The College Football Hall of Fame is a hall of fame and interactive attraction devoted to college football. The National Football Foundation (NFF) founded the Hall in 1951 to immortalize the players and coaches of college football.

From 1995 to 2012, the Hall was located in South Bend, Indiana.

In August 2014, the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame opened in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The facility is a 94,256 square feet (8,756.7 m2) attraction located in the heart of Atlanta's sports, entertainment and tourism district, and is adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center and Centennial Olympic Park.

Columbia Park

Columbia Park or Columbia Avenue Grounds was a baseball park in Philadelphia. It was built in 1901 as the first home of the Philadelphia Athletics, who played there for eight seasons, including two games of the 1905 World Series.

Columbia Park fell into disuse after the Athletics' move in 1909 to the larger Shibe Park, and was demolished in the 1910s.

Dave Berry (American football)

David J. Berry was a major football manager during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was the top promoter for the sport during that time period. He is credited with inventing the "all-star game concept" in 1898, and also helped to form one of the first organized football leagues in 1902.

Freedom Football League

The Freedom Football League (FFL) is a planned professional spring-summer American football league.

Independent Women's Football League

The Independent Women's Football League (IWFL) is a full-contact Women's American football league that was founded in 2000 and began play in 2001. It is one of three 11-on-11 U.S. football leagues for women, along with the Women's Football Alliance and the United States Women's Football League, and the oldest of the three. Laurie Frederick, Deborah DelToro, and K Disney are the league's founders.

The players are not paid to play; on the contrary, players must contribute funds to cover part of their expenses.

Philadelphia Athletics (NFL)

The Philadelphia Athletics were a professional American football team based in Philadelphia in 1902. The team was member of what was referred to as the National Football League. This league has no connection with the National Football League of today. The whole "league" was a curious mixture of baseball and football. During the league's only year in existence, two of the three teams that were financed by the owners of the Philadelphia Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies, hence the names Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies. The Pittsburgh Stars made up the third team and was suspected of being financed by the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.

Philadelphia Phillies (NFL)

The Philadelphia Phillies were a professional American football team based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1902. The team was member of what was referred to as the National Football League— not to be confused with the National Football League of today. The whole league was a curious mixture of football players as well as baseball players who adapted to playing football. The Phillies were owned and financed by baseball's Philadelphia Phillies just as the owners of the Philadelphia Athletics financed their team, the Philadelphia Athletics. The Pittsburgh Stars made up the third team and was suspected of being financed by the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.

Pittsburgh Stars

The Pittsburgh Stars or Pittsburg Stars were a professional American football team based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that were only in existence for one season in 1902. The team was member of what was referred to as the first National Football League, which has no connection with the National Football League of today. The whole league was a curious mixture of baseball and football. The Stars were managed and funded, on paper, by Dave Berry, the manager of the professional Latrobe Athletic Association. However, the team was suspected of being secretly financed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. During 1902, the league's only year in existence, the Stars won the league championship, beating out two teams that were financed by the owners of baseball's Philadelphia Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Recreation Park (Pittsburgh)

Recreation Park was a sporting grounds and stadium located in what is today Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The stadium existed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the park's heyday, the location was considered to be within Allegheny City, but in 1907, the entire municipality was annexed by its larger neighbor and eventually became Pittsburgh's North Side.

The field was the first National League home for the Pittsburgh Pirates (at the time referred to as the Alleghenys) of Major League Baseball. It also hosted many football games of the University of Pittsburgh (at the time referred to as the Western University of Pennsylvania). In November 1892, the park was the location of the first known American football game that included a professional player.

The park left a scant pictorial record. Only one known photograph, taken from a very distant vantage point, shows the grounds in its longtime baseball configuration. It was discovered in 2015 in a time capsule left by scientific instrument maker John Brashear. A much-altered facility appears in later photos, including several newspaper shots of football games.

United States Women's Football League

The United States Women's Football League (USWFL) is a full-contact women's American football league that opened with exhibition play in 2010 and subsequently played its first regular season in 2011. The league was known as the "Women's Spring Football League" from 2009–2015. It is the newest of three full-contact, 11-on-11 football leagues for women, along with the Independent Women's Football League and the Women's Football Alliance.

The USWFL played with 11-player and 8-player divisions from 2011 through 2013. In 2014, the league split into two leagues, with the 11-woman division retaining the WSFL name and the 8-woman division taking the name the Women's Eights Football League (W8FL). In 2016, the league played only 11-woman football with the Cincinnati Sizzle taking the league crown.

United States women's national American football team

The United States Women's National American Football Team is the official American football senior national team of the United States.

Women's Football Alliance

The Women's Football Alliance (WFA) is a full-contact Women's American football league that began play in 2009. It is one of three full-contact, 11-on-11 football leagues for women, along with the Independent Women's Football League and the United States Women's Football League, and the largest of the three. The league is owned and operated by Jeff and Lisa King of Exeter, California.

National Football League (1902)
Team seasons
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1902 teams
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