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 Athletics
Based inPhiladelphia, United States
LeagueNational Football League (1902)
Team historyPhiladelphia Athletics (1902)
Team colorsNavy, White          
Head coachesBlondy Wallace
General managersConnie Mack
Owner(s)Ben Shibe
Other League Championship wins1902 (disputed)
Named forPhiladelphia Athletics Baseball Club
Home field(s)Columbia Park



The Athletics 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 again through court action. When Phillie 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 Penn player, Charles "Blondy" Wallace as the team's coach. Each Philadelphia team was named after their respective baseball clubs and became the Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies.

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

However both Rogers and Shibe knew that to lay claim to the World Championship, they had to play a team from Pittsburgh, which was the focal point of football at the time. They called upon Dave Berry, pro football promoter, and a Pittsburgh team was soon formed. These three teams are all that made up the first NFL.

Upon hiring Wallace as coach of team, Shibe primarily put Mack in the manager position to watch over Wallace. Mack wasn't an expert on football, but he had always been careful with Shibe's money and his sports teams. Nevertheless, Wallace began signing the best football talent available. The Phillies had a headstart, but A's soon caught up until Philadelphia rosters began to look like a "Who's Who of Phialdelphia Football talent".

Rube Waddell

Many of the baseball players came from the Major League Baseball teams. The Athletics' star left-hander, Rube Waddell. When in the mood, he could throw a baseball better than anyone in the world, but he wasn't always in the mood. Newspapers of the time charitably referred to Waddell as "eccentric" while others ranked him between "screwball" and "nutsy." When football began, Connie saw a chance to keep his star in line for a few months more. He signed the lefty on as an extra lineman, against Waddell's recommendation that he be placed at halfback. While there is no mention of Waddell's name in any lineups or game accounts, Wallace may have let the lefty into a few games when the score was safe. Regardless, it was no secret to anyone that the Rube was there to be watched.

1902 Season

First Stars game

The league played all of its games on Saturdays, since there were no Sunday sports events according to Pennsylvania blue laws in 1902. The teams began playing various colleges and local football clubs before finally playing each other. On November 8, the Stars traveled to Philadelphia to play the A's. In the first half Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns but failed on each extra point attempts (PAT). In 1902, the PAT was more difficult than those of today. It had to be kicked from a point straight out from where the ball crossed the goal line on the TD. If the angle was bad, the scoring team's fullback punted the ball out into the field from behind the goal line. The extra point man had first to field the punt-out, and then, kick from where he'd caught the ball. If the fullback couldn't give the kicker good field position, he didn't stand a chance on his try. The Athletics also got a touchdown and added the point. Until 1912 a touchdown counted only five points, so the score at the half stood 10-6. However, the A's were not content to be the first team to score against the Stars; they added a second-half field goal—also five points, the same as a touchdown. Under modern scoring, the game would have been a 12-10 Pittsburgh victory. In 1902 scoring it was 11-10, Philadelphia.

Issues with Waddell

However was still more committed to baseball than football and worried more about losing Rube Waddell than any football game. In Elmira, Waddell was tempted to remain in a town that was the home of one of the biggest manufacturers of fire engines, which he loved. Mack had to then convince Rube to stay with the team.

Then the night before the first championship game try with Pittsburgh, Connie caught Rube sneaking into the hotel long after curfew. After being delivered a lecture by Mack, Waddell turned to return to his hotel room. However, a loaded pistol dropped out of his pocket and went off. The bullet missed Mack's head by inches.

First championship try

The Athletics had split on the 1902 season with the Phillies, as had Pittsburgh. Although a Philadelphia victory on Thanksgiving Day would give the A's the championship hands down, a win by the Stars could tie the league race tighter than a toper on Saturday night. The game going to be billed by Dave Berry, the league president and manager of the Stars, as the championship game.

Mack prepared the 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. Lights were set up along the sidelines and giant searchlights glared from behind the goal posts.

When Mack agreed to the championship game, he was promised $2,000 in return for his team's participation. When he saw that the stands were practically empty, he refused to play until his team was paid their share of the gate. With the stands almost empty, it looked as if the game wouldn't be played. However, Mack soon after 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 and sweated to a scoreless tie. It was a fair verdict, but Dave Berry's "championship game" hadn't decided anything.

1902 Championship

Another championship game was soon planned between Berry and Mack. The crowd was a little better that day, but not by much. Only about 2,000 fans showed up. With less than three minutes left in a scoreless game, neither team had yet been able to score a point. Everyone was about ready to contend with another tie. However, a late fumble led to a Pittsburgh touchdown and another touchdown soon followed. The Stars won the championship. Meanwhile, the Athletics went home and beat the Phillies to wrap up second place. It was a nice win and gave them the city championship.


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 name his Stars the 1905 champions.

In late December of that same year the 1902 World Series of Football was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. While neither the Phillies nor Athletics participated in this event, several members of both squads joined together on a team known variously as "New York", the New Yorks and the New York Philadelphians. The "New York" team played in the first indoor football game against the Syracuse Athletic Club. The Philadelphia Athletics Football Club finished the 1902 season some $4000 in debt. Mack reorganized the team for the 1903 season but the squad played only two games, a 0-12 defeat at the hands of the Watertown Red & Black and a 6-0 victory over the All-Syracuse eleven, before folding.



  • "Football Chronology II; The First Pros: 1884 to 1903" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association. 23 (2): 1–3. 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-26.
  • Carroll, Bob (1980). "Dave Berry and the Philadelphia Story" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association. 2 (Annual): 1–9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-15.
  • Peterson, Robert W. (1997). Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-511913-4.
  • Riffenburgh, Beau and Bob Carroll (1989). "The Birth of Pro Football" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association. 11 (Annual): 1–30. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-11-27.

External links

1902 Philadelphia Athletics (NFL) season

The 1902 Philadelphia Athletics football season was their first season in existence. The team played in the first National Football League and finished with an overall record of 10-2-2, including a 3-2-1 record in league play. The team claimed to have won the league championship, however the Pittsburgh Stars were given the title for having a better point ratio, scoring 39 points to their NFL opponents' 22.

1903 Philadelphia Athletics (NFL) season

The 1903 Philadelphia Athletics football season was their second, and last, season in existence. The team played independently of any league since the first National Football League ceased operations in 1902. The Athletics only played two recorded games in 1903, posting a 1-0-1 record.

Arthur McFarland

Arthur Lamont "Tiger" McFarland (July 7, 1874 – August 21, 1959) was an early professional American football player who played with the Greensburg Athletic Association as well as the Latrobe Athletic Association. He later played for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1902 version of the National Football League and for the 1903 US Football Champions, the Franklin Athletic Club. Sweet also won, with Franklin, the 1903 World Series of Football, held that December at Madison Square Garden.

At the same time McFarland was enjoying his professional career, he also played at the college level. While McFarland played professional football for Greensburg and Latrobe, he still claimed his amateur status by playing for the Washington & Jefferson Presidents. After playing two seasons for the Presidents, McFarland played his last two seasons for West Virginia Mountaineers.

For 1906 to 1908, McFarland was the coach of the Ohio Bobcats. He posted a 14-10-1 record over a three span. He died at hospital in Martins Ferry, Ohio in 1959.

Blondy Wallace

Charles Edgar "Blondy" Wallace (died March 5, 1937) was an early professional football player. He was a 240-pound, former Walter Camp second-team All-American tackle from the University of Pennsylvania. He also played two years at Peddie Institute, in New Jersey, winning state championships in 1896 and 1897. During his professional playing career he was involved in almost every major event in professional football between 1902 and 1907. Over that timespan he played for the independent Philadelphia Athletic Club, the Philadelphia Athletics of the first National Football League, the "New York" team and the Syracuse Athletic Club in the 1902 World Series of Football, the Franklin Athletic Club and the Canton Bulldogs of the Ohio League.

Bull Davidson

H. A. “Bull” Davidson was an early professional American football player for Philadelphia Football Athletics of the 1902 National Football League. He later played in the World Series of Football in 1902 and 1903, held both times at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In 1902, he played for a team simply known as "New York", which comprised ex-players from the recently defunct Philadelphia Football Phillies and Philadelphia Football Athletics of the 1902 National Football League. The following year, he played for the Franklin Athletic Club, which was considered the top team in professional football in 1903 by becoming the unofficial "US Football Champions". Franklin then went on to play in the 1903 World Series of Football, winning the event.

Davidson also coached the professional Maryland Athletic Club, and prior to that played college football for the Penn Quakers, where he lettered and captioned the team in 1901.

He is also referenced by the Pro Football Researchers Association as Curly Davidson.

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.

Hawley Pierce

Hawley Pierce was an early professional football player for the Philadelphia Athletics of the first National Football League and later for the Syracuse Athletic Club during the 1902 and 1903 World Series of Football. In 1901, he began his professional career playing on the 1901 Homestead Library & Athletic Club football team. Prior to his professional career, Pierce, a Seneca Native American, played for the Carlisle Indian School, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He was the brother of college and professional football's Bemus Pierce.

Howard R. Reiter

Howard Roland "Bosey" Reiter (1871 – November 11, 1957) was an All-American football player, coach and athletic director. He was selected for the 1899 College Football All-America Team and played professional football as a player coach for the Philadelphia Athletics of the first National Football League in 1902. He was the head football coach at Wesleyan University from 1903 to 1909 and at Lehigh University from 1910 to 1911. Reiter has been credited by some with the development of the overhand spiral forward pass, which he claimed to have developed while playing for the Athletics in 1902.

Jack Hayden (baseball)

John Francis Hayden (October 21, 1880 – August 3, 1942) was a reserve outfielder in Major League Baseball who played between the 1901 and 1908 seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics (1901), Boston Americans (1906) and Chicago Cubs (1908). A native of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, he attended college at Villanova University.

Lynn Sweet (American football)

Lynn D. (Pop) Sweet was a professional American football player who played with the Philadelphia Athletics in the first National Football League and for the 1903 US Football Champions, the Franklin Athletic Club. Sweet also won, with Franklin, the 1903 World Series of Football, held that December at Madison Square Garden.

Prior to his professional career, he played at the college level. For 3 seasons he played for the Bucknell Bison and then spent his last season of college football with the Penn State Nittany Lions. He died in 1918.

Paul Steinberg

Jacob Paul "Twister" Steinberg (June 4, 1880 – February 1964) was a professional football player in the early 1900s. As a member of the first National Football League, he played with the Philadelphia Athletics in the first professional night game in history. He also won the first, and only, two series of the first World Series of Football with the Syracuse Athletic Club and the Franklin Athletic Club. Steinberg was also the first Jewish professional basketball player. Harry March, dubbed the "Father of Pro Football", referred to Steinberg as, "one of the most elusive, fastest, slickest, shrewdest, and clean backs of the century."

Philadelphia Athletics (disambiguation)

The Philadelphia Athletics is a former name for the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball.

Philadelphia Athletics may also refer to:

Philadelphia Athletics (1860–1876), played in the National Association from 1871 through 1875, and in the National League in 1876

Philadelphia Athletics (American Association), played in the American Association from 1882 through 1890

Philadelphia Athletics (1890–1891), played the 1890 season in the Players' League, and the 1891 season in the American Association

Philadelphia Athletics (NFL), played in the 1902's "National Football League"

Rube Waddell

George Edward "Rube" Waddell (October 13, 1876 – April 1, 1914) was an American southpaw pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB). In a career spanning 13 years, he played for the Louisville Colonels (1897, 1899), Pittsburgh Pirates (1900–01) and Chicago Orphans (1901) in the National League, and the Philadelphia Athletics (1902–07) and St. Louis Browns (1908–10) in the American League. Born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, Waddell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946.

Waddell was a remarkably dominant strikeout pitcher in an era when batters mostly slapped at the ball to get singles. He had an excellent fastball, a sharp-breaking curveball, a screwball, and superb control (his strikeout-to-walk ratio was almost 3-to-1). He led the major leagues in strikeouts for six consecutive years.

Team seasons
Related topics
Early Pennsylvania American football teams 1890–1945
Western Pennsylvania Professional
Football Circuit
National Football League (1902)
Anthracite League (1924)
Eastern League of Professional Football (1926)
AFL I (1926)
AFL II (1936)
Early NFL (1921–1930)
Wartime NFL (1941–1945)
Defunct sports teams based in Pennsylvania
Australian rules
Key personnel
Important figures
World Series
Champions (9)
American League
Championships (15)
AL West Division
Championships (16)
AL Wild Card (3)

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.