Despite the fragile state of professional football with teams moving cities or not finishing their schedule, the National Professional Football League continued into 1937.

At the January 4 owners’ meeting, they voted Rochester into the league with Mike Palm and Harry Newman controlling the franchise. Newman had starred with the New York Giants in the National Professional League (NFL) for three years before switching to the Brooklyn Tigers in 1936. Newman and Palm transferred the struggling franchise of the Tigers to Rochester for the final two games of 1936.

At the February meeting, John Schafer was elected as the new president after it was agreed he could also continue with his position in the hotel business.

The propoesd teams in the league were Rochester, Syracuse, Brooklyn, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and New York. Philadelphia was provisionally added to the list as the league looked to have eight teams challenging for the championship for the new season.  The final decision was deferred to their next meeting.

In February, the Cleveland Rams were confirmed as the tenth member of the NFL. The Los Angeles Bulldogs’ bid to join the NFL was rejected with Chicago Bears owner, George Halas, suggesting transportation problems as the reason.

Bob Snyder moved from the Americans to the Rams which proved to ensure some security to his employment in professional football.

At the end of March, the group in Rochester interested in putting a franchise in the city held an informal luncheon to raise a minimum of $25,000 towards their aim.

The March 27 owners meeting saw tentative plans submitted to expand the league to include the Los Angeles Bulldogs. It was suggested the team would play their first six games against teams east of the Mississippi before two eastern clubs would travel to Los Angeles to complete the eight-game schedule.

The league’s April 18 meeting saw Hershey along with Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Buffalo approved to join the circuit. The owners also discussed a two-game home and away schedule that would not be based on regional locations but would be league wide.

Within days, Hershey were denying they had applied to join the league. “We haven’t even a field on which to play games,” Hershey officials admitted, although a new stadium was near completion. Hershey Chocolate Corporation’s press representative Alexander Stoddard said, “Nobody here knows anything about it.”

On May 19, league president Schaefer confirmed Jersey City as one of an eight teams in the loop with Los Angeles, Buffalo, Rochester, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York, and Cincinnati. The intention now was for LA to play all seven rivals on a single swing around the loop while their opponents would visit Los Angeles later in the season which would extend into January. Not such a bad idea for teams trading the wintery conditions on the east coast for the warmth of the Pacific coast.

The arrival of Los Angeles as part of the league was a groundbreaking move that would influence the growth of pro football. Having a team on the west coast signaled the league was now expanding on a national level.

The rival NFL had been restricted to teams in the east due to the logistics, time and cost of teams travelling to the west coast. The Bulldogs’ business manager Harry Myers was keen to promote the novel idea of air travel that would it make it easier and less tiring for teams to travel across the continent.

July 13, Bulldogs owner Gus Henderson told the LA Times he will challenge the NFL leader to a “world championship” game in Los Angeles provided of course his team wins their own championship. Henderson declared the Bulldogs would open their season in September and return to LA for their home opener on November 7.

In Pittsburgh, Dick Guy confirmed he would continue with a franchise in Pittsburgh despite his team losing money in their first season. Guy said he would be attending the owners meeting on July 25 when the schedule would be produced. The Amerks traded Pete Dranginis to the Shamrocks for halfback Russell Kepier as business continued towards another season.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a promoter in Charleston (West Virginia) approached the Americans about playing an exhibition game against the Chicago Bears on September 7. The newspaper suggested there was little chance of the game happening as the two pro leagues were said to have very little use for each other.

The schedule came out on July 28 with the league made up of teams in Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Rochester, Jersey City, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles.

The Americans open camp

Guy announced that Rudy Comstock would coach Pittsburgh again with Jesse Quatse as his captain and they started signing players in August with training camp beginning on the 23rd.

The new players included end William Reissig captain from Hays (Kansas) college and halfback Howard Bardes of North Carolina

Newspapers reported on August 6 that the Amerks were unable to rent the already installed floodlights for their night games at Forbes Field, so they were seeking an alternate set.

On the eve of training camp opening, Dick Guy announced that Rudy Comstock had decided not to return to coach the team as he was unable to get away from his business interests in Ohio. Jesse Quatse, who played under Comstock in 1936, was promoted to replace him. For Quatse, it would be his sixth year in professional football.

New recruits Bardes and Reissig joined veterans Frank Dreiling, Ed Bender, Dave Ribble, Mike Skulos and Bob Fife on the first day of camp.

Following a subdued first day of training, a buzz would have been felt on the second day with the arrival of more players keen to make the roster. Bob Van Horn, Vernon East, halfback from Washburn College, Bob Douglas out of Kansas State, Bob Rutherford from Center College, George Platukis fullback from St. Thomas and Paul Kubenacker end of Salem West Virginia. 

The biggest injection of energy was felt when Dick Matesic joined the practice after agreeing terms with the team. Following a season playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1936, Matesic had failed to settle terms with them for a new contract so stayed in the city while moving to a different league. He would bring experience and energy to the team.

New players added to try out were Paul Krumenacker, former Salem College back, halfbacks Douglass of Kansas State, Vernon East of Washburn College and Joe Cassidy from St. Mary’s College with guard Gerry Capatelli of Iowa University.

Nine-year veteran end Claude Perry joined the team to play and assist Quatse in coaching. Ed Tyson rejoined the Americans after spending time in Cleveland with the Rams.

With three outstanding passers in his squad, Matesic, Bardes and Platukis, Coach Quatse focused on the team’s passing skills.

Pittsburgh Press photo of the Pittsburgh Americans at training camp.
Left to right: Frank Dreiling, Tex Ribble, Jess Quatse, Howard Bardes, Bill Reissig, Mike Skulos, Bob Fife and Ed Bender

September for the Americans

As he prepared his team for the approaching season, Dick Guy arranged two exhibition games that would provide an opportunity to test his players while supporting charities.

Rain saw the first one at the Wilkinsburg Kiwanis Club for the benefit of under-privileged children cancelled and caused the second one to be postponed three days.

The inter club scrimmage to benefit boy scouts was eventually played at Mark Pleasant High School. Coach Comstock would have watched with a keen eye as he needed to confirm which players he would keep for the Americans’ season that was scheduled to begin in four days.

The veterans defeated the recruits 17-6. Both the veteran’s touchdowns came in the second period. The focus Coach Comstock had brought in training on passing paid off with the two scores coming from touchdown completions. Dick Matesic to Bob Douglas for the first followed by one from George Platukis to William Reissig who also kicked a 40-yard field goal.

The recruits replied in the third quarter when Vernon East intercepted a Matesic pass and returned it 80 yards to prevent the shutout.

The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph noted the lineup:

Veterans                    Recruits
LE Fife                       Dobbs
LT Quatse                 Bartell
LG Ribble                  Skulos
C Dreiling                  Van Horn
RG Tyson                  Coupellite
RT Bender                Perry
RE Reissig               Krumenacker
Q Matesic                  East
LB Platukis               Cassidy
RB Bardes                Rutherford
F Douglas                Saulis

The Bulldogs would be the Americans’ first opponents and their coach Gus Henderson arrived from Los Angeles ahead of his team to prepare facilities in Pittsburgh for their arrival. It was a unique concept for a west coast team to be part of a league centred around the east side of the country with all of its logistics challenges.

Professional football on the west coast was still in its infancy. The American Legion Pro Football League was formed in California 1935. Their “championship game” between the Los Angeles Maroons and the Westwood Cubs ended in a 7-7 tie. Another contest was arranged for the following Sunday, but rain forced that game to be postponed for a further week.

The Cubs won the rearranged game 10-6 and earned the right to meet the Detroit Lions the following Sunday when they were crushed 67-14 confirming the superiority and experience of teams from the east.

The precarious state of pro football meant the league did not survive, but it did give birth to the Bulldogs in 1936. The Professional Sports Enterprise Inc., of Los Angeles backed a new franchise with the intention of joining the NFL.

After ten years coaching football at the University of Tulsa, Elmer Henderson joined the Bulldogs as their head coach. “Gloomy Gus” Henderson was looking forward to the challenge of professional football. “The more I see of professional football the more eager I am for it,” he told the LA Times.

“I visited the training camps of all the National League clubs, and I want to tell you that the boys certainly conduct themselves in a business-like and serious manner. There is little horseplay in the training camps.”  The latter statement an obvious reference to college teams who were obviously more youthful in their outlook.

Organising exhibition games in Los Angeles, the Bulldogs beat the Philadelphia Eagles (10-7), the Pittsburgh Pirates (27-7), the Chicago Cardinals (13-10) and tied (13-13) with the Brooklyn Dodgers as they showed they were competitive enough to enter the NFL.

Their success against teams from the elite league saw a game arranged with the Chicago Bears which they lost 7-0, before they played the world champions Detroit Lions and they lost 49-0. The Bears and the Packers stayed on to play an exhibition game which they tied 20-20 while the Bulldogs wrapped up their season until they began preparing for their season in the league.

The Bulldogs team was composed mainly of Pacific coast players with no experience in pro football, but they were reinforced by three veterans. Former Chicago Cardinals halfback Al Nichelini, center Bernie Hughes and the ex-Boston Redskins Steve Sinko, who brought their pro football skills to the team.

The Pittsburgh Americans vs the Los Angles Bulldogs; September 10; 5,000

The hired floodlights did not provide adequate lighting for a football game, but for Pittsburgh fans, that may have saved them the embarrassment of seeing their team overwhelmed by the league’s newcomers.

Bardes was named as the starting quarterback for Pittsburgh with Matesic and East as the halfbacks and Platukis at fullback.

Tom Birks, writing in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph described the visiting squad as both large and classy who probably could have rolled up a larger score if it had been so inclined. Aside from Dick Matesic’s left-handed forward passing, the Amerks had nothing to offer in the way of an offense.

The Americans could have taken an early lead, but Reissig’s 46-yard field goal attempt went wide. The Bulldogs scored twice in the second period. The first touchdown came on a run around right end by Bill Howard after a drive of 65 yards.

The Americans missed an opportunity to get themselves back in the game when Dreiling recovered a fumble on the Bulldogs’ 23, but Pittsburgh failed to move the chains.

Howard’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Homer Beatty extended Los Angeles lead to 12-0 while Howard missed both conversions.

The Bulldogs added a 32-yard field goal in the third period before Beatty completed the scoring when he intercepted a Matesic pass he returned 45 yards for a touchdown. Beatty missed the extra point attempt as Los Angeles triumphed 21-0.

Whether it was the poor attendance or the being informed by Forbes Field officials that the present lighting system was inadequate, the Americans postponed their next scheduled game against New York.

With Pittsburgh’s contest rescheduled, the league’s next game would put the spotlight on the Cincinnati franchise. Coaches Hal Pennington and Marty Reddington were the enthusiasts who refused to consider the possibility of their team finishing in the red. “Not a chance,” suggested Pennington. “Cincinnati is a great football team. We are going to give lovers of the gridiron sports hereabouts the finest football ever played in this town, and we are sure it will be appreciated.”

Cincinnati’s captain, Bob Wilke of Notre Dame, was expected to bring his accurate passing skills to the league. The Cincinnati Enquirer noted that up at South Bend, the forward pass is the principal offensive weapon. It is not used as a last resort when all else fails as is so frequently the case in other sections of the country.

So, the fact that Wilke is regarded as one of the best passers produced at Notre Dame in recent years must mean he has something.

The Bengals added another star halfback in Ohio State’s Tippy Dye and Pennington was confident the team would dazzle their fans by making full use of a passing attack built around the two athletes.

Ex-Pirates center Cecil Mulleneaux who had been traded to the Chicago Cardinals refused to sign with the team and took up a place with Cincinnati.

Instability prevailed in the early days of professional football and as the season was beginning, the league was struggling to approve the franchise in Rochester. Eventually, a group of thirty “civic-minded” businessmen formed the Rochester Professional Football Team Inc.

This support secured the financial backing the team needed and with just two weeks before their first game, coaches Newman and Palm could start to train their players.

On September 22, the Bulldogs beat the Yankees 27-6 in New York and the game’s finances issued a big warning on the league’s viability. Los Angeles were guaranteed $3,000 for the game but only received $1,200 of the $1,585 gate receipts while the Yankees players received nothing.

The game the Bulldogs had played earlier in Pittsburgh told a similar story when it was revealed the visitors collected less than the $1,500 game receipts.

On September 26, the Boston Shamrocks beat the Rochester Tigers 16-0.

October for the Americans

October 3, the Bulldogs beat the Rochester Tigers 20-9.

The Post-Gazette reported the Americans game in Cincinnati, originally due to be played September 26, was to be rescheduled “after a misunderstanding.”

In the build up to the game, the Cincinnati Enquirer published daily articles about their team in sharp contrast to the few lines the Pittsburgh press carried on the Americans. The Enquirer noted it was rare to have a southpaw passer in football, but the contest would see a duel between Pittsburgh’s Dick Matesic and Cincinnati’s Mike Sebastian and John McAfee, all throwing with their left hands.

To add colour to the encounter, Sebastian was a former All-American from Pittsburgh University and had played alongside Matesic. Sebastian had played the season opener for the Rochester Tigers before joining the Bengals.

In their preview, the Enquirer highlighted the Bengals power, speed and deception drawn from many of the biggest names of college football coupled with several seasoned professional players.

The newspaper also indicated the Americans had plenty of power and they would use a modified (Pop) Warner system of attack with many unbalanced lines. The Pittsburgh team may outweigh the Bengals at almost every position, but what the Bengals lack in beef they hope to make up in speed and “razzle dazzle” football.

Rain postponed the game from the Sunday to the Tuesday evening which meant it would be the first game played under the lights of Crosley Field, home of baseball’s Reds.

Extra spice was added to the clash after an “incident” between Cincinnati’s Max Padlow and Matesic when they accidentally met the day before the game. The two players had history in their pro careers with Matesic believing Padlow hits harder than necessary.

The (0-1) Pittsburgh Americans at the (0-0) Cincinnati Bengals; October 5; 7,500

The Americans were comprehensively outplayed by the Bengals and suffered their second straight defeat. The loss of Quatse in the first quarter did not help as the Americans conceded a touchdown in each of the first three periods.

The game report from the Enquirer:

Getting the jump on the Amerks in the first few minutes, the Bengals lost no time in shoving across their first marker.

Bill Burch, Bengal right half, started the ball rolling by returning a kick 28 yards to the Pitt 42. On the next play, Wilke started the crowd cheering by crashing right tackle and cutting back to the left for 27 yards.

The Amerks stopped the drive momentarily by tossing Don Geyer for a three-yard loss, but Wilke passed to Russ Sweeney for 15 yards and a first down on the Pitt three. Wilke added two yards before Geyer went over for the touchdown.

The Bengals increased their lead early in the second quarter when the husky Ciccone leaped into the air to intercept a pass thrown by Dick Matesic, then galloped 53 yards to the Pitt goal. Ciccone’s sprint was made possible by hastily formed interference that mowed down the Amerks.

The final scoring drive required but few plays. Wilke started it from beyond midfield with a 20-yard run that carried the ball to the Pitt 40. A couple of plays later, Wilke wrapped his right duke around the pigskin and hurled it 15 yards into the arms of Joe Cavosie. Cavosie dodged a couple of would-be tacklers, then out-sprinted the others the remaining 20 yards to the Pitt goal.

Geyer place-kicked two of the extra points and McPhail the other.

The attack of the Pittsburghers featured long passes by Matesic. The long ones were kept fairly under control by the alert Bengal secondary and the short ones could not be strung together with enough regularity to score.

Pittsburgh’s only scoring threat came in the final period when they were held on their opponents four-yard line before possession was lost on downs.

The Bengals celebrated their debut in the league with a 21-0 win while in the other game played, the Bulldogs beat the Shamrocks 14-0.

The next game on the Americans calendar was a visit from New Jersey. Four days before the scheduled date of October 10, the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph reported the game was in doubt. The newspaper noted no arrangements had been made by Richard Guy with Forbes Field officials to play the game there.

The uncertainty was probably due to the disappearance of the Syracuse businessman who had agreed to back the Jersey City team. It appeared likely there would be no team playing in Jaycee.

The following day the cancellation was confirmed by the Pittsburgh Press adding the Americans would travel to Springfield for an exhibition game which they won 20-7.

October 12, Richard Guy announced the team’s next game against Cincinnati, scheduled for the following Sunday, was cancelled and that the team did not intend to play any more home games.

The league was gradually disintegrating. The Bulldogs declared they would play one final game in the league before staying in the east to play exhibition games against teams from the NFL.  They stated they would be asking for the return of their league forfeit money.

The Bulldogs beat the Shamrocks 14-0 before a shivering crowd of less than 1,000. Pro football games in Boston never drew large crowds, and for that reason George Marshall moved his Boston NFL franchise to Washington. With the cost of keeping his players in the east, Henderson’s decision to withdraw the Bulldogs from the league appeared to be a prudent one.

The Shamrocks were intent on defending their championship and signed former Yale star end Larry Kelley. Kelley was a history teacher and coach of the Peddie School football team. It was agreed he would be flown to play in the team’s games from Highstown, New Jersey and would not be required to practice with the team.

Before signing with the Shamrocks, he had been offered $15,000 to play for the Detroit Lions who had selected him in the ninth round of the 1937 NFL draft. The Lions also dangled a carrot in the form of a $25,000 per year position with an Auto City ad firm. He declined the offer saying he wanted to pursue coaching as a career.

The Shamrocks were losing money and it was hoped that his addition would boost home attendances. Kelley had an article printed in the Saturday Evening Post in which he highlighted that 70 per cent of touchdowns were either made or set up by forward passes. He was talking about collegiate football, but he was hoping to extend his skills into professional football.

Kelley would be joined by George Kenneally on the other end of the line. Kenneally had been an outstanding end in professional football for thirteen years and was now the general manager of the Shamrocks and coached their ends. He decided to quit the sideline and put himself on the field because of injuries to the team.

After flying in for the game, Kelley did not dress as he was apparently suffering with a cold. That may have been a polite excuse for not dressing for the game as controversy now surrounded his participation in playing professional football, both from Yale and the headmaster of the school where he was teaching.

The (0-2) Pittsburgh Americans at the (0-1) Boston Shamrocks; October 24; 7,750

The draw of Kelley saw the seats filled and although the fans were not rewarded by seeing him play, they enjoyed watching their team roll over the Americans.

The Shamrocks scored midway through the first quarter after a 56-yard drive that finished with a 1-yard touchdown run from Nick Morris. The Americans lone score followed a Dick Fife recovered fumble and his run of 70 yards for the touchdown.

Boston dominated the following exchanges. The Shamrocks recovered a fumbled punt on Pittsburgh’s 18. A lateral pass gained seven yards before Bill Pendergast passed to “Swede” Ellstrom in the end zone to put the Shamrocks back in front.

Two spectacular touchdown runs of 35 yards by Earl Bartlett in the third period sealed the Shamrocks 27-7 win as the Americans began to tire .

The Americans disappointing loss following the decision not to play any more games in Pittsburgh obviously forced the owner’s hand. On October 27, Richard Guy disbanded the team declaring he would begin working immediately on plans to prepare a stronger team for the league next season.

The pro football career of Larry Kelley never materialised. Denying the stories that his employers at Peddie School had pressurised him not to play, he announced he would not be playing, but would be reporting on the more important football games for a chain of newspapers.

The Shamrocks’ general manager wasn’t too happy with Kelley’s decision and declared that Kelley had a moral obligation to play at least one game. “Although we perhaps have no claim on Kelley according to the contract laws of the country,” declared Kenneally, “I am of the opinion that he has a moral obligation to play at least one game with us.”

The Bulldogs returned to Los Angeles for a 13-0 win over the previously unbeaten Salinas Packers in front of 16,000 fans, before fulfilling the rest of their league schedule.

November 14 saw the first professional football league game played on the west coast. Although exhibition games had been played against pro teams, the game against the Rochester Tigers on November 14 made history as part of the American Professional Football League. The Bulldogs overwhelmed the Tigers 48-21 and went on to be undefeated in the league.

November 21 Boston Shamrocks 45-26
November 25 New York Yankees 27-0
December 12 Cincinnati Bengals 14-3

Final league standings:
Los Angeles 9-0
Rochester 3-3-1
New York 2-3-1
Cincinnati 2-4-2
Boston 2-5
Pittsburgh 0-3

Pittsburgh Americans 1936 season>>>>

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