EPISODE #27: Jim Thorpe’s Oorang Indians with NFL Films’ Chris Willis

At the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, the National Football League was a mere footnote in the American sports scene, when matchups were played on dirt fields by vagabond athletes who would beat up or punch out their opponents for fifty bucks a game.  But one team during that era was different – the Oorang Indians.  Founded by an ambitious dog breeder, comprised only of Native American players, and coached by a national multi-sport superstar (and charter pro football Hall of Famer), the Indians barnstormed their way through the NFL in 1922-23 – becoming an instant hit in virtually every city they played.  NFL historian Chris Willis (Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL's Most Famous Traveling Team) joins Tim Hanlon to recount the story of this unique franchise and curious forgotten chapter of professional football history, including:

  • How a publicity-hungry dog kennel owner named Walter Lingo convinced the country’s greatest athlete Jim Thorpe to join him in hatching a pro football team in a league barely two years old;
  • How tiny La Rue, Ohio (population: 747) became (and remains) the smallest town ever to house not only an NFL franchise, but any professional team in any league in the United States;
  • How Lingo used the spectacle of the Olympic-famous Thorpe and his all Native-American squad to help advertise his kennel and sell his pure-bred Airedale Terriers;
  • Why halftime entertainment was more important to Lingo than winning or losing on the field; AND
  • Why players like Long Time Sleep, Joe Little Twig, Baptiste Thunder, and Xavier Downwind never saw NFL action again after the Indians folded in 1924.

Thanks to Podfly and Audible for their sponsorship of this week’s episode!

Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL's Most Famous Traveling Team - buy book here

EPISODE #25: Early Pro Football’s Memphis Tigers with Author Wylie McLallen

The Memphis Tigers professional football team of the late 1920s and early 1930s never played a down in the National Football League, but that didn’t stop them from becoming one of the era’s most successful clubs – including laying a legitimate claim as the sport’s national champions in 1929.  Author/historian Wylie McLallen (Tigers by the River: A True and Accurate Tale of the Early Days of Pro Football) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the story of the Tigers’ exploits in the Depression Era world of “independent” gridiron competition – as well as the team’s sizable role in helping shape the early years of organized American professional football, including:

  • Becoming one of the first competitive pro squads to emerge from outside the sport’s traditional Northeast and Midwest strongholds;
  • Notching signature 1929 wins over the NFL’s formidable Chicago Bears and previously undefeated champion Green Bay Packers;
  • Declining an offer to subsequently join the NFL in 1930, as team owners struggled to keep the team financially alive;
  • Leveraging their on-field success into forming a challenger (and decidedly Southern) “American Football League” in 1934; AND
  • Succumbing to macroeconomic realities in 1935, but enduring for future generations as the officially designated nickname for the University of Memphis’ athletic teams.

We love our friends at Audible and Podfly – and you should too!

Tigers by the River: A True and Accurate Tale of the Early Days of Pro Football - buy book here

EPISODE #23: The AFL’s New York Titans with Author Bill Ryczek

Before the modern-day New York Jets of today’s NFL – before Joe Namath, before the infamous “Heidi Game,” before the guaranteed Super Bowl III victory – there were the New York Titans.  A charter member of the upstart American Football League in 1960, the underfunded Titans played for three seasons to meager crowds in Upper Manhattan’s decrepit Polo Grounds, flirting with bankruptcy and collapse from virtually day one.  Author/historian Bill Ryczek (Crash of the Titans: The Early Years of the New York Jets and the AFL) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the Jets’ ignominious beginnings as the Titans, including notable performances by:

  • Owner Harry Wismer, the volatile sportscaster with a talent for hustling, a penchant for drinking, and a habit of bouncing paychecks;
  • Head coach Sammy Baugh, the prescient hall-of-fame player who refused to show up for a press conference announcing his signing until he was paid his full salary in advance – and in cash;
  • Successor (and first-time) head coach Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, who inherited a dispirited squad weary of uncertain finances, inadequate publicity, and front office instability;
  • AFL commissioner Joe Foss, the constant Wismer foe, whose tolerance was tested until ultimately pushed to seize control of the franchise; AND
  • William Shea, the New York attorney whose dream for a Continental League baseball franchise in a newly-constructed Flushing Stadium materialized too late to save Wismer’s foundering Titans, but eventually catalyzed the re-born Jets.

This week’s episode is sponsored by Audible and Podfly!

Crash of the Titans: The Team that Became the New York Jets - buy paperback edition here

Crash of the Titans: The Team that Became the New York Jets - buy hardcover edition here

Crash of the Titans: The Team that Became the New York Jets - buy Kindle digital edition here

       

EPISODE #18: Pro Football Historian Ken Crippen & the All-America Football Conference

Pro Football Researchers’ Association president Ken Crippen (The Original Buffalo Bills: A History of the All-America Football Conference Team; The All-America Football Conference: Players, Coaches, Records, Games & Awards) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the upstart pro football circuit that gave the war-weary NFL a formidable challenge in the late 1940s.  Crippen describes:

  • How a newspaper sportswriter from Chicago convinced big money investors spurned by the NFL to start a directly competitive alternative league;
  • The NFL’s public attempts to minimize the credibility, yet private efforts to contain the success of the AAFC;
  • The head-to-head battles between the leagues to dominate pro football in markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cleveland;
  • The immediate dominance and innovative approach of Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns, who many felt were the best team across both leagues;
  • Why the Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts were ultimately absorbed by the NFL, but the Buffalo Bills weren’t; AND
  • The controversy among football historians around why the AAFC’s game records are still not “official” in the eyes of the NFL, despite being recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thank you Audible for sponsoring this week’s episode!

The All-America Football Conference: Players, Coaches, Records, Games & Awards - pre-order book here

The Original Buffalo Bills: A History of the All-America Football Conference Team - buy book here

    

EPISODE #15: MISL Memories with Michael Menchel

This week, Tim Hanlon buckles up for a wild ride through the tumultuous early years of the original Major Indoor Soccer League with sports PR veteran Michael Menchel, in our longest and most anecdote-filled episode yet!  Menchel takes us on a head-spinning audio journey across some of the most memorable (and forgettable) franchises in professional indoor soccer history – including stops in Long Island, NY (the Arrows trade for Pete Rose!), New Jersey (scoring champ Fred Grgurev’s unique approach to car maintenance!), Houston (the “Summit Soccer” borrows its name from the arena it plays in and its players from the NASL’s Hurricane!), Baltimore (the marketing genius of Tim Leiweke!), and Hartford (what the hell is a “Hellion”?).  Plus, Menchel:  hits the road with Frank Deford;  spends a year outdoors among the Caribou(s?) of Colorado;  has a bad day in Rochester, NY;  and “settles down” in St. Louis wondering when and where the NFL football Cardinals will move next.  Thanks to Audible for sponsoring this week’s episode!

EPISODE #12: Author Jim Sulecki & the NFL’s Cleveland Rams

Author and Cleveland native Jim Sulecki (The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss his Pro Football Researchers Association award-winning book about the oft-forgotten first decade of one of the National Football League’s most enduring franchises.   Sulecki describes the Cleveland Rams’ inauspicious first season in the shaky second incarnation of the American Football League in 1936; its struggles to remain competitive against entrenched NFL powerhouses like the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, and Washington Redskins in the WWII-distracted years that followed; the team’s surprising 1945 championship season (including one of the coldest NFL finals ever played); and owner Dan Reeves’ not-so-unexpected move to the sunnier climes of Los Angeles just one month after winning the NFL title.  This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Audible.com!

The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon - buy book here

EPISODE #11: The USFL’s Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars with Publicist Bob Moore

Long-time Kansas City Chiefs public relations director Bob Moore joins Tim Hanlon to recount his pre-NFL baptism-by-fire tenure as communications lead for the United States Football League’s most successful franchise, the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars.  Moore recalls the instant credibility boost of snagging General Manager Carl Peterson from the cross-town NFL Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles; credits Peterson’s vision in building the USFL’s most consistently dominant team from his mastery of the league’s novel territorial draft system; laments the league’s irrational zeal to expand by six teams in the first off-season as an unwitting hastener of its ultimate demise; and explains how the 1985 USFL champion “Baltimore” Stars never actually played a down inside “Charm City.”  This episode is sponsored by our audiobook friends at Audible.com!

EPISODE #07: “Krazy” George Henderson & The Art of Pro Sports Cheerleading

America’s most famous professional sports cheerleader “Krazy” George Henderson (Still Krazy After All These Cheers) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss some of the wackiest adventures from his 40+ years of live performances – and how a self-described shy, mediocre schoolteacher ultimately followed his passion to a unique and storied career converting passive game-day attendees into cheering fanatics.  Henderson (along with his signature drum!) recounts how a school field trip to an Oakland Seals NHL hockey game led to his first sustaining professional gig; describes how he and the NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes changed the face of professional soccer in the mid-1970s; recalls how his success with the NFL’s Houston Oilers almost led to banishment from performing at pro football games; and breaks down the chronology of the formative elements of his most famous in-stadium creation – The Wave.

Krazy George: Still Krazy After All These Cheers - buy book here

EPISODE #04: Author Matthew Algeo & the NFL’s 1943 "Steagles"

Author Matthew Algeo (Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and the Eagles – "The Steagles" – Saved Pro Football During World War II) joins Tim Hanlon all the way from Maputo, Mozambique to discuss the marriage of convenience that literally saved the National Football League from collapse in 1943. Algeo describes how a desperate Art Rooney scrambled to save his Pittsburgh Steelers franchise, depleted by wartime military call-ups; how a hastily assembled squad of ragtag draft rejects practiced football at night while maintaining defense jobs by day (including one player who worked on the eventual war-ending Manhattan Project); why the "Phil-Pitt Combine" wore Eagles colors and played more home games in Philadelphia than in Pittsburgh; and, in a PODCAST EXCLUSIVE, why the story of the Steagles just might soon be coming to a theater near you.

Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and the Eagles - "The Steagles" - Saved Pro Football During World War IIbuy book here

EPISODE #03: Author Michael MacCambridge on Lamar Hunt & the American football league

Sports author/historian Michael MacCambridge (America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation; Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the legacy of Lamar Hunt – the most unlikely of sports executive pioneers – and the outsized role he played in modernizing 1960s pro football into the enduring American sports juggernaut it is today.  MacCambridge recounts how a strong rebuff from the stodgy 1950s NFL establishment galvanized Hunt’s determination to disrupt the football status quo, how the AFL’s “Foolish Club” of owners persevered through staggering financial losses, how Kansas City mayor Harold Roe “Chief” Bartle wooed Hunt and his flailing Dallas Texans franchise to the City of Fountains, and the karmic irony of the AFL Chiefs’ victory over Max Winter’s NFL Minnesota Vikings in the final AFL-NFL Super Bowl (IV) in 1970.

Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sportsbuy book here

America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nationbuy book here

ESPN College Football Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Gamebuy book here

Chuck Noll: His Life's Work - buy book here